During a recent trip back to the UK, my faith in the British transport system was renewed. Given the recent increase in rail ticket prices (six per cent for the average regulated fare) and the effect that this is likely to have on commuters, perhaps I'd better qualify myself quickly: it was actually my appreciation of the people using transport that was bolstered.
I landed at Heathrow airport on a Friday afternoon, feeling mildly sleep deprived but keen to throw on my coat and embrace the winter weather. It was only when I lugged my suitcase off the carousel and promptly stumbled back into a trolley laden with (someone else's) presents that I realised there might be a problem. While the weight of my bag had seemed perfectly manageable when leaving Dubai, much like an overindulgent Christmas eater, it seemed to have gained several kilos very quickly.
So, starting to feel uncomfortably warm (the perils of wearing a coat in a busy airport), I wheeled it over to the first flight of stairs and took a deep breath. Before I even began to negotiate the first step, though, some kind soul stopped to enquire if he could help carry it. This happened again and again, every time I reached a staircase, as I made by way east across London.
A few days later, I stood, back to the wind, in Waterloo station, impatiently waiting for my sister. When she still hadn't arrived at 18 minutes past three, with the train due to depart at 3.20pm, I made a snap decision and handed her ticket to a man holding a charity collection tin, which thankfully I had contributed to earlier. Instructing him to pass it on if a girl who looked like me was to appear in the next two minutes, I boarded a train bound for the south.
As luck (and a touch of Christmas magic) would have it, she managed to hop on-board just as the doors were closing, bringing with her my favourite scarf, which in my haste I'd abandoned on the platform. Not only that, as the train made its way out of London, snaking towards deepest Dorset, a lady sitting behind us unwrapped a large box of homemade mince pies and immediately began to offer them around to all the passengers in the carriage. And for just a minute, to my mind at least, the world was all fuzzy and warm and filled with festive cheer, a feeling that lasted until my sister spilt coffee over my new book and the person behind me began to use his feet to drum a tune on the back of my chair.