Ms Maggie has driven her Bakerloo line trains through and underneath London for many proud, happy years. TFL (The Fancy Lot in their offices with their spreadsheets and their problems) wrote to her twice annually for some time, urging her to navigate the Jubilee instead: newer trains, a smoother ride. The final dangled bone was that they’d give her a ‘little extra’, i.e. whatever change they had left over from their holiday that half-term. After skimming the familiar drivel, Ms Maggie would pen a simple, ‘No, thank you’, resisting the temptation to tell them what she thought of them and their offers. They must understand her though, because they don’t bother her any more.
The Bakerloo is London through and through, has been since 1906, and Ms Maggie would know. Sometimes she fantasises that she is London, too, Big Ben perhaps, or a post box. Waterloo, Oxford Circus, Baker Street, through Maida Vale to Wembley and onwards. Twenty-five years of it and it’s not yet routine to her. She’s often said to Trish, ‘Will I ever get through a day without that feeling of getting something brand new, the way I did when I first started?’ Some daily fresh blend of exhilaration along with the warmth of belonging. To sit at the very front, all dark and lights and signals ahead, knowing that up above lay a rainbow of urban sprawls and sophistication, all haphazard and refined!
No, the Jubilee wouldn’t do. Her carriages just aren’t in the business of gliding. They want you to experience the journey, feel your bum on the seat, imagine what’s outside, and they want you to stay awake! Or, perhaps that’s what Maggie wants for you. They jolt, and when you lurch, they, or she, is pleased.
She could never love buses, boats or planes, the way she loves trains. Steam is where it started, and how upstanding to be a part of locomotive glory, to be inextricable from days gone by. Trains tooting and passengers cheering as they were pulled away, to adventure, to love, to death.
Ms Maggie imagines where her nowadays passengers are headed. She wishes she could ask, but she thinks it’d be rude, and anyway, most of them would reply that don’t have the time to reply. So, without hoping or even waiting for an answer, she talks to her guests throughout the journey. She gives them all the up-to-date travel news – she never says ‘person under train’ mind, she knows her guests don’t want to hear that – and she tells them what’s good about each stop. She tells them to get off at Regent’s Park for the zoo, and Charing Cross for Trafalgar Square. She warns them that at Marylbone it will be busy, and tells them to move down inside the carriage. She makes sure they know that she’s in a bit of a hurry but that she won’t leave without them. She’s even recommended an Indian at Acton, once.
All of this makes her passengers smile and laugh and make eye contact with one another. Unsure if this is partly mockery, it’s sometimes nagged at her, but overall she’s happy enough to carry on and construes it as one big heart connecting to others just the same. She supposes that they’re surprised at her unprecedented chat and cheer, her willingness to help and even to entertain, however inadvertently. At the very least, she has a reaction from them, woken them from the dreaded mundane and they won’t forget this journey. At least, not today.
And when she’s home at the end of the day with her feet up and her cat, Tom, on her lap, she thinks what a good day it was, and how lucky that she’ll see one just like it, tomorrow.