If ever you need proof that compassion and community is alive and well in Britian, get yourself stuck on a stationary train for two hours in the middle of Oxfordshire. We're not yet ten minutes into the promised two-hour delay, and the lady in the seat across from us has already started dolling out the extra strong mints. That's Blitz spirit for you.
When the voice over the tannoy informs you that you're going to be spending a vast, indefinite chunk of your day on a non-moving train in a field with no buffet car of refreshment trolley, the first thing you do, naturally, is assess your fellow passengers. You look at them each in turn and make mental notes on who is likely to a) have emergency food you may be able to buy off them, b) start to smell, c) be fascinating company, possibly resulting in an enduring life-long friendship, and d) become crazed under the pressure of the situation and start wailing, screaming or licking people.
Unfortunately, a specimen for d) is sitting next to me. He garnered immediate attention when we got on the train because he is playing, not inconspicuously, with an iPad – being the first time I'd seen one in real life, naturally I have been staring as though he were playing with a perfectly proportioned, miniature unicorn. Someone with an iPad, surely, will be able to get us out of this fix? After all, it's too small to be a laptop, too big to be a phone and too pointless to be a genuinely impressive possession, so the least it can be expected to do, after all the hoo-hah, is magically getting hundreds of passengers off an enormously delayed train and back to their respective sofas, safe and well and maybe with a frappe latte in their hands.
Attention was quickly deflected from the iPad Man's iPad, however, when I noticed his shoes. At this point the train was still moving and so it all seemed like an amusing diversion rather than the first clear sign that we were in the presence of a psychopath. iPad Man was wearing slip-on rubber shoes, rather like the ones people wear for windsurfing, but with INDIVIDUAL TOE COMPARTMENTS.
Not, to clarify, the slightly freakish shoes with one separate toe on each foot and the rest a four-toe compartment, which I have only just learned to look at without retching, but entirely freakish shoes with five separate toe sections on each foot. Like foot gloves. Gloves for feet. Judging by footwear, the most reliable barometer of human behaviour that we have, he will definitely be the one who goes mental and tries to claw his way out of the carriage with plastic cutlery.
But iPad Foot Glove Man aside, camaraderie is at a high. We are chatting, moaning together, debating what to do when the oxygen runs out and comparing notes on who looks like they'd be good to eat first (NOT me. I'm fleshy but definitely use too many skin products to be considered organic). I volunteer to go on a water-hunting mission, which quickly ends when I start having Evian-based hallucinations. Meanwhile, the tourist group behind us is making no secret of the fact that they have a half-full bag of Doritos about their person, but has made it very clear that they are Not Willing to Share.
"Thank you for your patience", says the driver over the tannoy. It's a nice sentiment, but one I have never quite understood – do we have an option of not being patient? Do they tentatively expect us to start rioting, throwing things and charging into the driver's carriage braying "Fiiiiiine, if you won't drive this ruddy thing WE WILL…"?
Of course not. We sit obediently, we read Sunday supplements from cover to cover, and we formulate conspiracy theories on what might be happening with the people in charge. Then when the train finally begins moving we whoop, hug each other and then resume normal Impersonal Travelling Strangers mode all the way home.