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Thursday 6th February 2003

At Baker St tube station I saw a lady in her late middle age struggling with a heavy suit-case up some the stairs to the Metropolitan Line. I offered to help her and she reacted as if I was Jesus Christ returned to earth (which as you know if youÂ’ve seen Christ on a Bike I might very well be). But to be honest, I am not always so helpful. Sometimes I behave like the other commuters who were passing her. I look straight ahead, walking swiftly, as if I have somewhere very important to be. As we know commuters canÂ’t afford to waste a single minute of their day, even if it means that a little old lady has to die of a heart attack.
This time my conscience got the better of me and I helped.
I have to say the suitcase was phenomenally heavy, I have no idea how she would have got it up the steps on her own. She walked ahead of me, thanking me profusely. I had done something useful with my day and I also felt better about myself. It takes so little to be polite and yet the rewards are so great. I was thinking that if everyone in London did things like this maybe it would be a less miserable place to live.
She was a bit lost and asked me “Where’s platform 5? I need to get to platform 5.” I looked around. We were on platforms 3 and 4, across the tracks I could see platforms 1 and 2. We wandered up the platform – I was heading up more stairs to the Hammersmith and Shitty line (where incidentally I had to wait 8 minutes for a train. What a surprise!).
Now I had invested time in this woman, I was duty bound to help a bit more. But I was a bit flummoxed. There was no platform 5. “I’m sure it is platform 5. Bakerloo line, platform 5.” The Bakerloo line was miles away. I had just come up from there. It was down the stairs we’d come up and then down an escalator and still a bit of a walk. I had carried this old cow’s bag of concrete up all those steps for nothing. And yet if I’d hit her, it would have been me that was in the wrong.
“Oh, that’s back down there,” I said, not wishing to commit myself to a return journey.
By now we were well up the platform and she thanked me for my help and turned back. I could have offered to carry the bag down for her again, but there was a danger I may have got trapped into a never ending cycle of good deeds. I suspect this is how slavery initially began. Someone was helpful, then the person they had helped wanted just one more thing, before the helper knew it, heÂ’d built the Pyramids.
She didnÂ’t expect any more assistance, but as I waited for eight minutes on a platform, I felt slightly ashamed that I hadnÂ’t just got her bag back down those stairs. It was on wheels and the escalator was working, so it would just have been nice to get her on her way. I vowed always to help people wherever I could.

On my way home that night I was tired and was experiencing my first proper hangover of the year. I was lucky enough to have a seat, but an elderly Japanese couple got on and were forced to stand. I was so tired and grouchy I just couldnÂ’t be bothered. I buried my head in my paper.

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