Sitting on a Train

Sitting on a train to Derby, maybe our transport system isn’t so bad after all. Ninety minutes ago I didn’t know if I would get home today at all.

It’s over a year since Diane Weitz, the very capable Chair of the Cotswolds Branch of the Institute of Financial Planning, asked me to speak to their members. I had a notion of making the trip on my motorcycle, but a fairly dismal weather forecast made me think again. I hadn’t realized how dismal until my train was five minutes out from Birmingham New Street on a direct line to Cheltenham.

“Due to severe weather conditions I regret to inform you that this train will terminate at Birmingham. There are currently no services running to ….Cheltenham due to flooding on the line.”

The advice was to return home. I was due at the meeting at 1pm, and it was now 11.30. What to do?

I could only think of two options. Either follow the advice, or find another way. And I’m not a quitter.

I queued for information. Chaos seemed to have descended on the system. No-one was going anywhere fast. Time to make an exit.

           Waiting for news

That’s how I found myself in a taxi travelling down the M5 in the pouring rain. The driver helped put things in perspective.
He had worked, he told me, for a mobile phone company in his native Pakistan, and was now living on the outskirts of Birmingham. He didn’t really enjoy driving a taxi, but jobs were hard to come by and he had a young family to support. He’d had a job selling energy contracts to homeowners for NPower, but they had cut back and he was made redundant.

And yet, driving down a crowded motorway on a miserable, cold, wet November day, life here was still far better than it had been four years before in Pakistan. The corruption, lack of security and political instability – suicide bombers were a genuine risk – together with the ever present threat from neighbouring Iran were all effective disincentives to return. And the standard of living here in Birmingham, despite the difficulties, the hard work and the long hours, was still a lot better than before.

We turned off the motorway and I commented that we were near the Vale of Evesham, fruit growing country. Yes, he knew many people who had worked as fruit pickers. A bus had collected them at 4 am to drive them out to the fields where they worked until 8 pm for no more than the minimum wage. I can’t imagine that even the delightful Cotswolds scenery could make up for that punishing regime for most of the rest of us.

We got to the capacious office block that is The Grange in Bishop’s Cleeve, the venue for our meeting, with plenty of time to spare and one of us £70 richer. I said goodbye to my driver and wished him well.

My talk seemed to be well received. It’s heartening to know that there is a new generation of well-qualified and highly motivated financial planners coming through the ranks, and they seemed to appreciate my ideas to help them on their journey.
Diane very kindly drove me back to Cheltenham Station. I was ready for news of cancellations and the prospect of a night in the local Travelodge, but the train back to New Street was just leaving. So here I am, back on schedule.

The carriage is crowded with disrupted travellers trying to get to who-knows-where in the face of a blitz of scheduling changes. Some of them are vocally disgruntled. I understand their frustration and annoyance, but I also know that, in the midst of the chaos, there are many, many people in the world who would very willingly exchange their difficulties for ours. Things could be better, but they could also be a whole lot worse.

Andy Jervis

Postscript: Derby Station announcement; “We regret to inform you that the …service to Newcastle has been cancelled due to flooding. We apologize…etc, etc.”

That’s a helluva long taxi ride.

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