I opted to splurge and buy a first class seat for a train journey London to Durham. And received a first class lesson on acts of graciousness and kindness.
As the train moved off, there was a mild commotion behind me. A young mother had entered my carriage, pushing along a stroller with a wide-eyed baby, and balancing her backpack and diaperbag. No one really bothered as she muttered, “sorry, sorry” as she made her way forward. Coming in the opposite direction was the drinks cart.
Then the wheels of the stroller jammed themselves on the floor rivets of my seat (I don’t really know what else to call them!) and on the one across the aisle. Baby screeched and almost toppled out, if not for the timely grab by the lady seated opposite me.
The lady cuddled Baby, cooing a nursery rhyme, while gentlemen from surrounding seats rose to help. One took the backpack, one reached for the diaperbag, and two attempted to free the wedged stroller. Mum’s mobile and purse ended up with me.
It took a few moments to free the stroller, and to calm Mum and Baby. As her seat was actually in the next carriage, the lady continued to sing to the baby while walking off, accompanied by two men, one carrying the bags and the other carrying the stroller. Mum retrieved her phone and purse and followed, still apologising and thanking everybody. Meanwhile, the drinks cart had been reversed out of the carriage.
There was a round of applause when the three passengers returned, reporting that Mum and Baby were safely in their seats.
My recent travels opened my eyes to a great deal of beauty, both natural and manmade over centuries past.
But beauty was also right there in the acts of kindness, courtesy and graciousness I witnessed every day.
Such as the cheery “Good morning” and warm “Have a good day”.
Such as the door patiently held open and the simple “After you”.
Such as the orderly queuing and waiting for a turn in crowded loos, fitting rooms, and packed food courts.
Such as the lady who reached the front of a London store fitting room queue after 20 minutes, and told the sales clerk to let a pregnant young woman right at the back take her place, and that she was prepared to trade places.
Or the elderly man in Bath who was ushered into a coffee shop and given a cool drink to escape the 31-degree heat.
Or the endless rows of dog dishes of fresh water in Looe, regularly replenished by shopkeepers, so our canine friends would be happier trotting about in the heat.
Or the Cardiff Castle guides who stayed on to tell their stories past the closing hour.
Or the men and women who offered food and drink to the homeless and hapless in the sudden evening chill.
Or this little lad who toddled forward to drop some money. Then proceeded to join in the performance – his way. The singer was delightful and talented, and won more hearts by singing with him.
One of the nicest things about travelling is the unexpected and often endearingly unforgettable little things that you come across.
Here are some of my favourite things. (I’ve always wanted to say that!)
This is Shakespeare’s Wallbook in Stratford-upon-Avon. Every one of his plays is represented in chronological order. You can read more about it here.
Then there’s this gorgeous carousel in Cardiff, Wales.
Here are some of the most amusing traffic signs in London. They are done by Clet Abraham, who is regarded as a menace by some councils, and as an artistic genius by others. He uses vinyl stickers for his art.
And a poignant poem on a train:
And, perhaps the most unexpected of all, two 30-metre tall Kelpie heads seemingly rising out of nowhere, in Falkirk, Scotland. Kelpies are said to be supernatural water horses, each with the strength of 10 horses.