Saturday, 5 February 2011

Riding With Strangers On Busses And Trains

There must be a sign over my head.

That or something about my general demeanour that singles me out as a Helpful, Able Person Looking to Ease Stress for Strangers - or HAPLESS for short

Because especially since the start of 2011 I seem to be back in Cub Scouts every week, endlessly rushing to the aid of the feeble, infirm or just bonkers.  There must be something calming, nay reassuring in my countenance that enables random strangers to approach me for directions I have no hope of supplying or other assistance.

It started on a Saturday in January.  Most Saturday mornings I meet up with an old friend and catch the bus back into town afterwards.  If I'm not meeting anyone else I catch the connection back home - as was the case on this day: so I decided to go into the main bus station and wait.

About ten minutes later the bus rolled in, stopping at the wrong stop because there was already another bus in its slot.  However, the bus doors did not open.  From my place on the sidelines I could see some debate between two staff and a single elderly passenger who was clearly too infirm to have walked to the stop and had intended to sit on the bus until it left again.  The conversation ranged on, until eventually the two staff issued the old man off the bus and onto the concourse outside the main building.  They muttered something about having to go back to the depot and that they would be back shortly, leaving the old man stranded outside the building with huge busses rushing past.

Now it was clear to even the most casual observer that this man was more than a few sacks short of a bushel in the brains department.  He must have been 70-80 years old, with a hearing aid in each ear, a stick for each leg and an expression on his face that suggested he didn't know his arse from next wednesday.

And so Super Pixie, suffering the curse of a conscience, went to see how he was and began trying to explain what had happened.  It took some effort to get the message through that they probably weren't going to come back and during the half-an-hour we waited for the next bus I also discovered that the old man was already overdue his next heart pill.

Of course, no staff could be found to help.  The busses are run by one company, the station by another and all the small offices in the station by a third company: with the net result being that their company slogan is "We Officially Don't Give A Crap" - and who was it that made sure the old man got on the bus safely and off again safely at the other end?  Muggins here

The next approach was actually on a train: but it was actually someone offering me help for a change, showing that despite what I think every time I look in the mirror I do not resemble an axe murderer.

I was on my way back from a business trip with a man the size of three sofa's sitting next to me when I happened to mention the name of my final station.  Sofa man chipped in, "Oh, I go past that station and can give you a lift if you want"

And it's a terrible enditement of the world that we live in today that I immediately assumed he was after my bottom.

After a second it occured to me that actually I was judging the world based on reading tabloid newsheadlines I realised that he was just being kind, and politely declined.

The third, and indeed fourth occasions were on the next train I caught for works purposes.  I was waiting on the station for the train to come in and a lady with two walking sticks and a very large case began explaining to me that she had booked assistance from the train line, but it hadn't turned up and would I mind helping her lift her luggage onto the train.

Again the conscience chipped in, so of course I asked her where she was going and it turned out that she had to get the same connection as me: so being Super Pixie I not only helped her onto the train but sat with her on the train, helped her off again and ensured that a porter was found at the midway section before I left her alone.

In the intervening half hour she had, of course, told me her entire life story (what with me being HAPLESS and everything)

Then the second train that I caught got delayed and a chap from Liverpool approached me in the corridor.  I don't know if you've ever had a conversation with a Liverpudlian, but there can be something vaguely threatening about their accent if it is at the harsh end of the spectrum, but nonetheless I advised him that he would be better off staying on the train until the main station where he would get a better connection than my middle-of-nowheresville station

And then the fifth one, actually the first one again, was this morning.  Elderly Bus Bloke - as we must now inevitably call him, was at my stop this morning for the third or fourth week since I initially helped him and had to be gently persuaded into catching the bus heading in the right direction (its a half-way terminus, meaning that if he'd caught the wrong one he'd have ended up standing in a lane somewhere looking bemused instead of where he wanted to go)

And half way through the journey he managed to drop both walking sticks on the floor, so of course muggins here couldn't just sit and watch him fall over and break something and leapt out of his seat, picked up the sticks and handed them back.

But my good deeds for the day didn't stop there - oh no.  Because it turns out that I am not the only member of my family who is HAPLESS, although we won't make any mention of common sense.

Most weeks before I see my friend it is my habit to pop in to my parents and visit them for an hour, wave a royal hand, answer endless questions and generally catch up.  This week, as I got off the bus I saw my mum standing in front of the school gates next to her house.  They were, for a change, locked.

As I walked towards her she also began approaching, leaning heavily on her walker and began explaining that my Dad had found a school bag in the garden, gone into the school to drop it off and returned to find that he had been locked in.

Usually on a Saturday there are various groups that meet at the school, but there was no sign of life this week so I walked my mum slowly around to the caretaker's house (two blocks away) and she knocked on the door.

There was a significant delay, which was soon explained by the figure of a man wearing nothing but a towel around his waist.  He vanished and returned having rapidly pulled on some clothes.  He listened slightly impatiently to my mother and then explained that he wasn't due to go into the school that morning, so my dad would have to go and knock on the hall door, where the people in the hall would let him out.

Now again, as with Elderly Bus Bloke it should have been clear to him that my mum is never going to out run Lynford Christie and would struggle to get back to the house, but he refused to help - and so I went around to the school front again and explained to my dad.

Dad then traipsed around the outside of the building for about 10 minutes whilst my mum toddled slowly back, banging on windows and yelling "hello" in a vaguely hopeful tone of voice - all to no avail.

And so we had to go and knock on my mum's next-door-neighbours house.  They, like the caretaker, were also not entirely dressed or up yet  (this being just after 9am on a Saturday) - but they willingly came around to the back of the house where the entry backs onto the high school fence (complete with razor sharp prongs)

I squeezed into my dad's garage and passed over our stepladder, whilst the neighbours brought out there much larger ladder.  Neighbour stood on the back of the large ladder to steady it and I climbed up, passing our ladder over the top of the prongs. 

Rather hesitantly my dad climbed to the top step and reached a problem.  The top of the steps wasn't high enough and he had no choice but to put one foot on the top handle, one hand on the top of the larger steps on our side of the fence and nowhere much to put his other foot or hand.

So up I went - putting my hand under his arm to steady him and take his weight as he slowly tried to turn his foot around and hit the ladder.  Finally one foot landed on our side of the fence, however the adventure wasn't over yet, as my dad decided half way down that he would try and pass our ladder back over the fence behind him and nearly lost his balance in the process.

So we persuaded him to let go and concentrate on getting down and then i climbed back up and passed the ladder back out of the school

So - the next time someone stops and asks you directions, or the next time an Elderly Bus Bloke is in distress, or even if you - rather bizarely - find that your ageing parent is unexplicably trapped in a nearby school: remember - it almost never hurts to be helpful


Friko said...

You could just run when you seen the elderly and infirm approaching?

No, I don't mean it, you wouldn't get that lovely glow you get when you've been good and helpful.

It is good to be kind, one of these days you might find yourself being 70-80 yrs, old and gaga and in need of a helping hand.

If you're lucky, that is.

The Bug said...

Good for you! See, you probably actually pay attention to the things around you. I'm so often inside my head that I will literally sit & watch a person struggle to open a door & think, "hmm - wonder if they'll be able to get that open," without even considering helping them myself. I'm useless!

the watercats said...

ninety nine percent of the world are wankers... thankfully, there are some of us still left with the mad idea that a smile and a helpful hand most of the time, never costs a thing.. you will also find that humans with these tendencies are the weirdos you see at bus stations etc with furrowed people watching brows... our's shall be heaven or something apparantly...

Argent said...

I have been known to sport a sign on my head too form time to time. I once accompanied a little old lady all they way home (over a mile) when she got off by accident at my stop. Would never have forgiven myself if I hadn't helped her, she was so lost...

I always imagine that I might need help one day and maybe the universe might remember I once wasn't a complete a-hole and send someone to help me.

Anonymous said...

I second what The Watercats said, and I believe the saying The Watercats was going for was "The meek shall inherit the Earth", though I could be wrong.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Friko - i would find it hard to walk away in that situation, though it doesn't bother most people. I always wonder how i would feel if my parents needed help and no one offered

Bug - yes: there are times when my brain doesn't engage and i sit there thinking "why doesn't someone..." and cant make the connection

Watercats - blessed are the cheesemakers?

Argent - i don't know whether i believe in karma or not, but it doesn't hurt to act as if bad actions have repercusions

Samurai - sometimes its hard to believe there are good people out there: but there are

English Rider said...

As a kid, I used to get stuck for ages holding open the door at our local Marks and Sparks, as everyone was older than me.
Doing what you can to ease the path of another is the only way to proceed through life.