As I was leaving Shepherd’s Bush tube (Hammersmith and Shitty branch), the man in front of me came to an abrupt stop at the ticket barrier. He was a big, mean looking fella, with cropped hair and, by the looks of it, some kind of concession at the local tattoo parlour.
“My travelcard hasn’t come out,” he complained to a female Underground employee who was standing right in front of him, smoking.
“I’m on my break,” she replied, “Ask him. He’s got the key.”
She indicated vaguely in the direction of the ticket office. The hard-looking man (who I am guessing either is in the army, or used to be, or at the very least has a collection of magazines about guns) groaned and pushed passed me.
Unconcerned by this man’s experience I put my ticket into the machine, and although a ticket popped out of the slot, the gates did not open.
“I think there’s something wrong with this barrier,” I said to the smoking lady.
“I’m on my break,” the woman told me, as she sucked in more lung-be-gone.
A woman behind me had already pushed through the gate that is for people with luggage or prams. Everyone else followed. No-one checked our tickets. They were on a break.
A few yards up the street I looked at my ticket. I had bought a £1.20 single, but it had been magically transformed into a four zone travelcard. I thought I was some kind of necromancer, until I realised that the machine had given me the skinhead’s ticket.
Now, I wasn’t that far from the station. I didn’t even really want to have a travelcard as I was planning to stay in that night. If I were a decent and honest man I would have returned immediately.
But I carried on walking.
I realised the implications of this. Behind me, back in the station, the employee who wasn’t on a break would tut, reluctantly drag his bunch of keys off his desk and then slouch from his office to the gates. But when he opened the machine he wouldn’t find a travelcard.
The first ticket he’d find would be mine, then he’d look down through the others in the pile and find them all to be one way tickets. Suddenly the perfectly innocent man-mountain would look like a fare-dodging liar. Already narked off at having his progress interrupted, he would angrily declare that he definitely had had a travelcard, only to be greeted with the sarcastic reply, “Well if you had a travelcard why isn’t it here?” The smoking woman would refuse to get involved in the discussion, as she still had a quarter fag’s worth of break left. There might be a fight.
If I’m honest I enjoyed the mayhem I had left behind me. By pure chance, for once in my life, I was in control. Plus I had a ticket that was worth over three pounds more than the one I had bought. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to use it.
This was the perfect crime. I was like Thomas Crowne, except that my booty was a one day travelcard (four zone mind, I could go to Balham), whilst he stole priceless works of art. But then at least I’m not fictional. So take that Crown-o.
All right, maybe I’d been selfish, but they must have worked out what had happened and issued a replacement ticket. At the very worst that innocent man would just have got a criminal record.
The guilt has been eating away at me for days and I want you to view this article as my shamed confession. I call upon the authorities to punish me to the full extent of the law.
I just hope that tattooed bloke doesn’t read the New Statesman web page. There’s a pretty good chance he’s got a gun.