The platform at Chichester railway station is positively heaving with youngsters. School is out!
I shouldn’t be here
at all. I should have caught the earlier train and been just about home by now. I missed it by a mere two minutes. Two minutes! That’s 120 seconds. So near, so far. Now I will have to fight for a seat on the 3 p.m. train to Brighton.
It was only half my fault. I had, it is true, decided that I had time to transcribe one more letter from poor doomed Private Ernest George Richardson to his parents.
Sitting there at Desk 14 in the County Archives Office, I listen to Ern trying, as ever, to reassure his parents far away:
“I think things are looking a
bit brighter now,” he writes from Egypt in February 1917, “I hope it will come to an end before this year is out. Anyway we must look on the bright side of things and hope for the best if the worst comes.”
Ern is always looking on the bright side. He is writing this particular letter home from a hospital bed where he has spent a month recovering from diphtheria. “I was not very ill with it,”
he writes, stoically, adding, “I hope you haven’t been worrying about me.” I suspect they were worrying, Ern, especially when they hadn’t heard from you for a month.
A quick look at my watch tells me I need to go, if I am to catch my train. I pack up my computer, say goodbye to a fellow Great War Project volunteer who is sitting at the desk opposite mine, and head over to the Help Desk to put in
my order for a couple of scanned photographs to be emailed to me. Which is where my timing all goes wrong. The ever-so-helpful man at the Help Desk takes ages tying and re-tying the string round the file I am returning until he is happy that it is just
right. He then takes a further age finding my Reader Card for return to me. After that, we have another discussion about why, as a volunteer, I don’t have to pay for the scanning of the photographs – even though we have had the same conversation
just half an hour before. The minutes – the seconds, even – are ticking remorselessly away.
I retrieve my possessions from my locker, return
the key to reclaim my pound coin, grab my coat (it was raining when I left home) and scoot out into the sunshine. Ten minutes to go. Can I make it? You already know the answer.
I buy myself a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich and a large latte in the station cafe. This is, I decide, the First Advantage to having missed my train. Had I caught the 14.25, I would have missed lunch and arrived home ravenously hungry. Instead I have
All The Time in the World – well, until 3 p.m. that is – to eat my belated, but delicious, lunch, read another chapter of “Numbers” which grandson Jack has loaned me, and do a bit of people-watching.
All the school kids crowding onto the station platform look remarkably well turned out, I observe. It is clearly the first week of term when shoes, shirts and other items of uniform are new. Shoes
are unscuffed; shirts look crisp and smart; ruck-sacks and school bags all scream “I’m new!” Some of the smaller children look far too young to be at secondary school. These are the Newbies. They are doing their best to look all nonchalant
as if they have been travelling by train from school to home for donkey’s years. They don’t fool me.
The 3 p.m train arrives and I am pleased to find
a seat just inside the door. A fellow traveller takes the seat opposite me, heaving an enormous trolley into the space between our seats. We have a chat about what we have been doing in Chichester today. She can’t believe I have spent the whole
day in the dusty archives, rather than shopping. I try to explain the fascination of the Great War Project but I can see her eyes glazing over.
I have to
change trains at Angmering; if I had caught the earlier train it would have stopped at my station. But, look, I have discovered yet another Advantage to Missing My Train. Decorating a whole wall at Angmering station are a series of fantastic, colourful posters
designed by pupils from a local primary school called Georgian Gardens on the theme of “See Sussex by Train.” I would never have seen them, had I caught the earlier train. I would have missed out, without even knowing it.
I am going to start a new page on my website. It will be called “If I Hadn’t ...” and will document all the positive things I have seen, or done, or experienced
simply because I missed a train (or a bus), turned up late (or early), took a wrong direction, or found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is called Positive Thinking, I believe.
Ernest George Richardson was really good at Positive Thinking.
I shall take him as my Role Model.