I wake up, sling my necessaries together for another haul to Scarborough doing the usual mental check as I prepare to leave:
a copy of "What We Believe But Cannot Prove",
Wallet? . NO WALLET???? A quick pat of last night's clothes and a scuffle through my bag(s). Still no wallet. A cursory glance in the fridge, in the cats playbox, a peek under the sofa, and a rattle of my Yamaha six string (all previously revealed hideouts of a disappearing wallet) and a scenario begins to unfurl. The wallet is missing. Time, my old enemy, is pressing as I have to ride down to the station to meet the ( delayed) 6.54 to Scarborough. Unfortunately, our chronometer is telling me that time, as is it’s wont in wallet-loss situations, has decided to up the pace and pass by a little bit quicker than normal.
It is, I reflect, not ironic that of all the fripperies and geegaws that I take to Scarborough on a daily basis, I have mislaid the one device that is capable of actually getting me to work, namely a wallet stuffed with currency of the realm, currency being exchangeable for train tickets. No, it is not ironic, it is painful, and I am stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I’m cursing as I try to conduct a lighting fast, quiet, exhaustive and increasingly frantic search of the premises. I try to do this quietly, as I don’t want to wake Nel. Not that Nel is’nt the milk of human kindness, but I distinctly remember the little redhead hacking at an alarm clock with a large kitchen knife after it had resounded too early once too often. Those kind of memories linger and advise the rememberer to tread quietly.
Inevitably, after lifting both sofas(twice), tripping over various cats(we seem to have more than the normal quota today), and repeatedly shuffling the clothes on my side of the bedroom (where I find several slot headed screws), Nel awakes. She grasps the problem perfectly. “Oh, Shit” she says, then blows it by asking the question hated by wallet-misplacers everywhere “Where did you loose it?”.
Nel leaves for work and the 6.54 has long gone. The wallet needs to be retrieved, of course, so I enter “lost property trains” into Google. Search results reveal that if I knew the exact location, time and had been careful enough to notice myself losing my wallet, the search would be a lot easier. The search results here,
show, sadly, a picture of complexity emerging that’s slightly daunting.
There are 24 railway companies, 15 different companies owning the stations, another enterprise owning the track, a group of apprentices tasked with track maintenance, several franchises in charge of food concessions, and independent cleaning and station maintenance companies. The British Govt has departments overseeing all of this, there are stakeholder groups of train users, the British Transport Police and an Ombudsman for complaints. Over 150 different organizations run this railway system.
As well as overlapping geographically, companies also lease each other’s rolling stock, staff, and even schedules. Consequently, although I was traveling on a Northern Trains route, the train could have been owned by Hull Trains, staffed by TransPenniners, running on National Train track, maintained by Railtrack, all thoughtfully provisioned by Pumpkin. The list of potential wallet-finders also includes Arriva, GNER, and the taxi company that own Hull Station. Each company has a different system for lost wallets. I’ll have to keep in constant touch with all these guys once the search kicks into top gear.
I muse that in a country that’s so small one of my friends cycled across it in a day, having all these companies on the case, the search for my wallet will be akin to blanket coverage – much more efficient than the bad old days where one national company ran a silly old centralized office with a single phone number to call. Such a brilliantly competitive system naturally puts good old England right on the cutting edge for models of public transport, and is the envy of Lithuania and Estonia.
However, patriotic musings must end, so I take a Paracetemol and duly call, at random, one of the fifteen telephone numbers I have scrawled down on a piece of paper. My piece of paper is also crammed with flowcharts and diagrams, and I have a large atlas at hand for reference (Mercator projection), plus my computer screen open on a Microsoft Project page to help with co-ordination of rescue efforts.
The first number is TransPennine on 0845 0000125. The Customer Services Officer is interested in the case, but I have the distinct impression she's surprised that anyone's lost property enquiry has reached as far as a phone call. Sarah, advises me that our phone call may be recorded to assist with quality assurance standards, and, having answered my call within 15 seconds, (in accordance with Customer Service standards), advises me to call back in 24 hours.
While I had not expected Interpol to be called in for at least 48 hours, Sarah's relaxed attitude surprises me, so I quickly inform her that I was hoping for a tad more urgency on TransPennine's behalf. I ask whether she can call Hull Station. "Impossible", she decides, “I don’t have that phone number”. "What should I do then ?" I ask. Sarah puts me on hold for "just a second", then says that correct procedure is for me to wait 24 hours, call the Complaints Department on a different number (0845 6001671) and ask them to ring the station for me. I have to wait the 24 hours because all lost property “nowadays” is searched for terrorist content, before being logged onto the database. Naturally, this takes time. The Lost Property Department, she explains, are usually the last people to find out about Lost Property because they are actually a call centre in India, and only work from on-line records. Finally, Sarah tells me that if my wallet is found, the charge will be 3.00 pounds.
This information is repeated, with subtle variations, in subsequent calls to the other organisations. It seems that 24 hours is the benchmark for urgency in the Lost Property world. I have been assured though, that after 1440 minutes, they will all take the matter very seriously, very seriously indeed. I take a break, secure in the knowledge that in 86,000 odd seconds, the urgent search for my wallet will spring into life as the dreadfully symmetrical tiger would, no doubt, have sprung after a good rest. Making a cup of Fair Trade tea, I gird my loins for another round of phone calls, this time to cancel Visa, Mastercard, English cashpoint cards and Canadian ATM cards, driving licenses for both countries, Canadian Citizenship Status card (Landed Immigrant), Ontario Health Cards, Insurance Cards, Mountain Equipment Co-operative membership Card and my Starbucks CoffeeClub card (Fair Trade only).
As one who believes that it is better to travel than arrive, I decide to make one more call - the classic long shot. I dial the number, and a gravelly voice says "Yeah". I explain who I am, and why I'm calling. The landlord of the Alma pub, Steve, who had served Bob and I some great beer the night before, laughs "This might be your lucky day - what's your name?"