Random Reasons Why I Love My Job – Public Transport (Or Waving My Comfort Zone Goodbye!)

Before I was signed by my wonderful agent, Laura Macdougall, I was a semi-recluse. When I say this to people they assume that I’m either joking or exaggerating, but it’s true. I walked our dogs, went to my place of (part-time) work, The Eagle Bookshop, and had the very occasional night out, but that was pretty much it. I only ever went into town (and by town, I mean Bedford not London) if I absolutely had to – about twice a year – and did all my shopping online. I’d been to London only a couple of times in the previous decade, and never alone. When Laura was arranging to meet me in London she asked me where I knew. St Pancras, I replied. Where my train will arrive. I reckoned I could just about find my way to the John Betjeman statue and that’s where we met. I should explain that I have no natural sense of direction, on foot, in the car or on public transport. Left and right are pretty much interchangeable for me. The husband will happily testify to my complete lack of map-reading skills. At the Festival of Writing in York a couple of weeks ago I got lost pretty much every time I tried to get back to my room. The festival was held on the university campus, and all the residential blocks looked the same to me. One evening a very kind lady found me wandering around and offered to walk me back to my block. If it hadn’t been for her, I’d have probably still been searching at sunrise.

But since becoming a published author I’ve had to get to grips with public transport. Bedford to London I can do. I got lost a few times in St Pancras, but it’s beginning to look like familiar territory now. I’ve worked out some personal compass points – John Betjeman (of course), The Betjeman (a lovely pub), Marks and Spencer (good for sandwiches), the ladies’ loos (no explanation needed) and Jo Malone (for actual not online shopping). From St Pancras I can get to the underground. I’m very good at the Victoria Line. I’ve used cabs. On my own. The first couple of times made me very anxious. Should I tip? How much should I tip? Can I get a receipt? Should I talk to the driver or not? I recently booked a train ticket online for the first time ever AND collected it from the machine at the train station, clutching a piece of paper with my ticket code written on it in very large print in case  I’d forgotten my glasses. I apologise to the person behind me in the queue if I was a bit slow, but I’d never done it before and I was being careful. Last week I surpassed myself with a three train and cab journey all the way to darkest Bracknell (it wasn’t dark, actually – it was lovely) I got there in one piece and I didn’t get lost once. Admittedly there was a hairy moment when I realised that West Hampstead Thameslink and West Hampstead are not the same station and I had to walk from one to the other to get my connection, but I found the station, the platform and my connecting train. A couple of years ago, any zone outside of St Pancras would have been well outside my comfort zone, but I’ve come a long way since then (shameless pun completely intended) and the rewards have been surprising. I feel more confident, more like the person I used to be a long time ago. I love looking out of the window on train journeys and eavesdropping on my fellow passengers. Oh – and then there’s this. This was pretty special. Amazing what you spot on train station platforms…

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