I’ve delivered two keynote speeches and one workshop in two different towns in one day. I’ve caught three different trains and traveled over three hundred miles today. I’m on the final leg and It’s early evening. I alight at Preston to get the next train to London (It leaves in forty minutes) and a gutted feeling hits the pit of my stomach. I’ve left my coat on the train. My favourite coat. So I grab the nearest train guard: Kieran. He looks at me with a wary pity. “where were you sat on the train?”. he asks. But the memory has departed with the train. Another train guard arrives: Barry. He demonstrates with a pen “There’s a front portion and a back portion of that particular train.”
The memory arrives. “The front portion ” I trumpet!. . “Wait on the platform. I’ll see what I can do.” says Kieran and walks away whispering into his radio. I stand alone by the track and envision my coat lowering into its grave surrounded by weeping clothing accessory relatives. An umbrella sobs “He… he held me” A handkerchief weeps “I was close to his heart.” A pair of gloves is inconsolable “he held me too”
“All is not lost… all is not lost…” Kieran echoes me out of hallucination “We’ve got it. The coat. The conductor will drop it off at Wigan. Your train to London passes through Wigan so we’ll have him there for you with the coat. We’ll put you in at coach c and wait for Wigan. He’ll be there with your coat”. Three train guards and myself stand and wait at the platform. We chat about what I do and they tell me they’ve been to Edinburgh Festival. I get to share that I wrote the anthem for the Preston Guild.
I can hear the London train in the distance. As it pulls in Barry gives me a book “I’m the illustrator. It’s doing really well. We’re going up and down the country promoting it” he says. It reminds me that creativity will always find its way.
As the train departs I can see over the guards heads. I can see that Preston station is changing. Automated machines stand like centurions at the entrance. They may print “thankyou” on the tickets but they won’t coordinate the return of your coat within two hours of losing it on a Thursday night when you’ve left your treasured possession on a train and you’re nearly too tired to speak.
Thankyou Kieran. Thankyou Barry. Thankyou Virgin Trains. All the machines in the world, all the zero hour contracts and all the streamlining practices of industry could not replace what they did on Virgin trains tonight.
The true value of organization in our great industries is in the workers.