By Dawn M. Sanders

Something happened on the train journey I just took at the weekend and I felt compelled to write the story.

It was one of those ironic life lessons that leave you reeling from shock or dismay.

Trains: these days our trains are over-priced, over-crowded, fraught with delays or replacement bus services due to engineering work on the line or just awkward passengers.

I was travelling from Hereford to Sheffield via changing at Stockport

The first leg of my journey was crowded and they didn’t announce any of the stops.  In fact, the only announcement that was made was an apology for there not being any reserved seats on the train, but that was it.

I can never see the point of reserving a seat unless you have a particular need – to be near the toilet, wheelchair or pram access or a table to use a laptop.

On the whole though, we sit down and leave the train, so are on and gone, but people generally act as if sitting in a specific seat is their goddess-given right – no one pays more to reserve a seat, so what’s the big deal?

When I got out at Stockport I had this very conversation with my assistant.  He made comments on how selfish people can be about seats – making mums with babies move, taking the spot of a wheelchair user or just putting their bag on the adjacent seat.

So, when I borded the next train to Sheffield, the guy just helped me find a seat, but he didn’t tell me or realise it was reserved.

Sure enough, a woman came up and said something like, ‘is that where your sitting’ and I said yes.

“It’s mine” she said firmly, but then I told her I had just been assisted to that seat.

She then started to protest that she had reserved it.

“How was I supposed to know that – I’ve just been helped here.” I said.

I then told her if she had a problem with it, to take it up with the conductor.

The young-sounding woman sitting next to me said:

“She can’t see…”

I said: “Uh, thanks, but that’s not the point and not how I operate.”  In other words, it wasn’t or isn’t about having preferential treatment – just because I’m visually impaired.  I heard the woman demanding the seat going behind me and talking to someone who turned out to be the conductor.

I heard someone saying ‘she was put into that seat’.

“No, I was helped to it.” I said aloud, making the correction I’m not a piece of luggage.

The long and short of it is, she, the woman wanting the seat, insisted she couldn’t go backwards.

I was then asked ‘if I was able to move’ – just to the seat opposite.

Oh yes, amazingly, I got up of my own accord, visual impairment in tow and moved.

The woman sat down still insisting she ‘couldn’t go backwards.

By that time I was annoyed.

“You probably ‘can go backward’ you’re just being awkward.  You have your seat now, so chill out!”

As soon as those words fell from my mouth I regretted saying them.  My next thought would later definitely be a precursor to what would happen.

I thought hang on, there could be all sorts of reasons someone can’t travel backwards, maybe she really does have some phobia – people feel vertigo from heights, so the assumption is …   

The conductor then asked if we both were okay now and I told her I was fine and could care less as long as I had a seat.

Brains: We all have one, but they are the most complex organ in our bodies.

About ten minutes into the journey, the woman opposite me sank in her seat as I felt her legs come forward as she moaned and vocalised.

People started stirring, ‘oh hell’ I thought – something’s happening.

The conductor and someone else were summonsed – the woman was having a seizure.

I had never observed a seizure, so felt mildly traumatised by it happening right in front of me.

As the train staff tried to communicate with her, all she could do was try to speak in the form of moans.

When she could just about speak, the word she kept trying to say was ‘sorry’.

Even in someone’s worst moment that all-prevailing British overly apologetic trait comes beaming through…

Sitting there engulfed in having a seizure and she’s apologising?

During them trying to talk to her and keep her ‘with them’ epilepsy was mentioned as she had the medication in her bag.

When the conductor asked if she knew her name the woman said ‘no’ and struggled to tell the conductor to ring her daughter in law.

When she finally fully came to, the woman kept apologising, but refused water or taking a rest at Sheffield instead of going the length of her journey.

Fully regaining her awareness, she became awash with tears – saying: “If makes you feel so stupid – it makes you feel stupid when you can’t think…” – it was heart-breaking.

The train got to Sheffield and I disembarked, feeling utterly stricken with guilt and remorse at what I had said to her before the incident.

Maybe it was all chance – some synchronistic thing placed in front of me for not just getting off my own awkward butt from the start when she said that seat was reserved.

As someone helped with my suitcase I said:

“Are you a passenger?”  “No I’m the conductor.”

“Is that lady gonna be okay?” I asked feeling slightly perturbed.

“Yes, she’s going to be okay.”

I said: “I feel absolutely awful.”

The conductor said reassuringly:

“Don’t feel bad, she shouldn’t have gotten on the train.  We all say things when we’re annoyed.”

Maybe she was right, but I couldn’t help but feel like the greater deities in the universe were trying to show me something.

In her recent blog on assertiveness versus anger, Kirsty Major draws some parallels to this story.

So I walked to get a taxi from the front of the station – a bit jelly-legged

Suffice to say I was relieved to be getting to my son’s place for a much-needed visit and off that train.





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