If you enjoyed the tale of Tap Water Man the other week, here’s another one for the bank.
Twice in the last two months it’s been my misfortune to be on a train in the immediate aftermath of a suicide. First time around there was plenty of warning. Our train spent a suspiciously long time waiting at Newton Abbot station, just ahead of the main road bridge towards which all eyes on the platform were turned.
"Ladies and Gentlemen… we apologise for the delay to this service”, came the call. “There’s somebody on the bridge up ahead… and it looks like they’re about to throw themselves off.”
Refreshingly honest, if alarming.
But more alarming was the spontaneous cheer that came from at least two of the tables in my carriage – all normal looking people, and not at all the kind you’d expect to be egging on a suicide candidate as if he were in goal…
Then came the tears. One woman stood up and shrieked in front of her crowd, and made an exit to the vestibule that was worthy of the bust of Olivier.
Others in the carriage were quick to make this their tragedy, too. Friends and partners were actually called, not texted, to let them know the terrible situation their loved one was suffering – oh, and that they needn’t rush to collect them from the station.
"Just to keep you posted, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are awaiting news from up ahead, where a man is about to jump from the bridge in front of the… we think… oh… he just has… Ladies and Gentlemen, the man has now jumped.”
Another cheer. Another one!
Elizabeth Taylor sprung into action, and delivered a sermon.
"How dare you!” she demanded. “I can’t believe how insensitive you’re being… towards me. Can’t you see that I’m upset”…
Today’s suicide should have been less dramatic for the people on my train – a man had been hit, but it was the train in front of ours which had done the deed – and yet…
There would be a long delay because, as our Train Manager tactfully put it, these matters “can take a while to… deal with”.
"My plane!” shrieked a woman. (I couldn’t decide whether she was due to catch one sometime soon, or attempting a Zelda-like command to launch some kind of rescue jet from her handbag. If it was the latter, it didn’t work.
"It’s okay” barked a woman in the male voice of Judith Furse. “We’ll march to the Guard’s office and demand a fleet of taxis to meet us”. Good idea! Most cab companies these days keep 160 spare cars and drivers for exactly this scenario. Let’s ring double-two double-two double-two…
The Train Manager explained that we’d need to return to the previous station.
"I suppose that means the buffet won’t be opening?” asked the fat man opposite me, in all sincerity. Dear God.
As we glided into the station, plane woman was behind me in the vestibule. She shook her hand at me in a gesture to hurry up and open the door.
"We’re still moving, madam – and the door is still locked”.
"But I’m short of time!”
Do you know, I’m full of nothing but admiration for the men and women of our railways who have to deal with situations like this most days. I don’t know how they do it. It’s one thing to watch somebody end their life in front of your machine, perhaps even play an uncontrollable part in their demise. But at least there’s good counselling for that. There’s surely nothing that can prepare you for dealing with the self-absorbed, senseless cretins who remain alive inside your train.
If it had been up to me, there would have been a few more deaths on the railway today…