Friday 4 March 2016

Snatched vs Took: an everyday story of the National Express coach company

She’s a weasly looking older woman, face sagging but still somehow pinched, and topped off and surrounded by a mousey frizz.
‘If you want to change your ticket it’ll cost money’ she says.
‘Well, it can’t be that much - what are we looking at? Can you give me a ballpark figure?’
Must go easy on her.
I know to my cost how touchy National Express Coach employees can be, I was once banned from travelling on their coaches for a whole day because a manager thought I’d snatched my ticket out of her hand. I was later arrested and cautioned by the police after another National Express employee tried to goad me (without success) into a physical response.
That was in 2005. The plane had landed early. I remember feeling quite happy, light-hearted even, after a trouble-free flight, unencumbered by the usual brace of guitars and suitcase of leads and pedals and so on. 
I'd practically skipped along to the National Express ticket office. I was greeted outside by a big blonde woman in a shiny black parka with fluorescent yellow safety stripes and a walkie talkie sticking out of the top pocket. She asked if she could help so I explained how the flight had landed earlier than expected and asked if I could get on an earlier coach. She ask to see my ticket. I handed it over, she looked at it, said I'd have to change the ticket and used it to gesticulate towards the ticket office which was up a flight of steps in a temporary hut. We were standing at the bottom of the steps.
She explained what I’d have to do, and where the coach stop was, I thanked her very much and headed on up the steps, remembering as I did that she was still holding the ticket. She’d been holding the ticket for quite a while, absently gesturing with it. I reached over the bannister - ‘I’ll be needing that’ I said with a smile, and plucked the ticket out of her upheld hand. 
Her eyes turned to stone:
‘You snatched the ticket out of my hand!’
‘No I didn’t’ I said, ‘I just took it.’
At this point I thought she might just be joking but she left me in no doubt.
‘You snatched!’
‘No I didn’t, I just took’
I thought this was all quite funny. 
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I really didn’t mean to snatch but I think you’re being a bit over-sensitive.’
‘Right - that’s it, you’re not travelling today.’
She pushed past me and screamed instructions over the heads of a line of passengers. ‘This man is barred from travelling by National Express today - on no account must he be issued with a ticket.’
I protested, said it was crazy - I already had a ticket - she surely couldn’t stop me from using it.
She told me she could do whatever she liked. I asked to see the manager and she told me she was the manager.
‘So I’ve been barred for snatching?’
‘Yes sir, that’s right.’
I shuffled off in a state of shock and found a quiet corner where I could think about what just happened.

I decided not to take it too seriously, they surely couldn’t stop me getting on the coach - I had a ticket. I waited until it was about time, found the bus stop and joined the queue. I remember talking to a nice retired couple but I can’t remember what we talked about.
The bus rolled up and just as I was handing my ticket to the driver a plump hand snatched it out of my grasp.
‘Oh no - he’s not travelling today, he’s barred!’
The driver looked nonplussed and busied himself with other passengers. 
‘Look,’ I said, ‘this is ridiculous, I don’t know what’s been upsetting you but it’s got to be more than just me.’
‘You are not getting on one of our coaches today’ she said, and fairly stamped her foot. Then she was joined by a male employee who wanted to know what the problem was. She explained before I could.
‘Unless you’re her supervisor,’ I said, ‘I really don’t see that this concerns you - it’s none of your business, it’s between me and her.’
‘Well I’m making it my business.’
He squared up to me, got really close: ‘You got a problem with that? What are you going to do about it, eh?’
I sized him up, figured I could take him on if it came to it and probably inflict a fair amount of damage - I’d been on a fitness kick for over a year, going to the gym and working out three or four times a week so I was feeling quite confident. I also noticed he’d left himself wide open to a knee in the balls.
‘Are you threatening me?’ I asked.
‘No, you’re threatening me.’
‘Right’ said the manageress, ‘That’s it, I’m calling the police.’
I decided at that point that it wasn’t worth hanging around to argue so I told her she should really sit down somewhere and think about her behaviour or maybe just go and fuck herself, and then I walked away.

I was going to have to catch a train. I was walking around the airport concourse looking for a sign for the underground when I was joined by two policemen, one on each side.
‘All right sir, would you mind coming with us.’
They took me to a private room, told me they were arresting me for assaulting a member of National Express staff, cautioned me and read me my rights. I was quite calm about it, told them what had happened - it was really down to your definition of snatching as opposed to taking. I pointed out that there were plenty of witnesses who had seen the National Express employee square up to me, obviously trying to provoke a reaction, and that there was no law against snatching. I admitted to having told the woman to fuck herself but that someone had to do it.
I could see they thought the whole thing was quite funny.
‘You’d better catch the train,’ one of them said. They gave me a form that said I’d been officially cautioned and directed me to the underground by a circuitous route that avoided the National Express office.

It made a great story, how I was arrested for snatching, but I don’t want a repeat, especially after a long flight with too much luggage, so I’m trying to be as tactful as I can with the infuriating woman at the counter.
‘Pwhhrrr - you can go on the earlier coach but it’s going to cost five pounds to change the ticket.’
‘That’s ok, I think I can manage that.’
My original ticket was an e-ticket displayed on my phone. She takes my phone off me and fumbles with it. The phone on the counter has been ringing all the while. She notices it, picks up the receiver, says yaesss into it a few times, puts the receiver down and looks at my phone as if she’s wondering what it is and how it got there. 
‘Now, where was I?’
‘We were changing my ticket’ (easy boy…)
Yaess, you should just be able to catch the earlier coach. That’ll be five pounds.’
I hand over a fiver and try not to grind my teeth as she fills out a new ticket by hand and with a leaking ballpoint pen.
As she hands me the ticket she says ‘it’s running twenty minutes late but it should still come along before the one you were booked on before.’
Keep cool, don’t want to get barred and arrested!
‘But even though it’s running late you have to go out and start waiting for it now.’
Why? I want to ask - in case it suddenly stops running late?
But I don’t dare, I just do as I’m told.