Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

The look on her face said it all. I can always tell my friend Denise is upset about something when she is sporting an especially wide grin. Denise is from Jamaica and is a devout Jehovah's Witness. She takes most catastrophes by being alarmingly cheerful about them because they just go to prove that the end is nigh. Whenever I am with her and something goes wrong, she invariably laughs and exclaims: 'No good, Mey-lissah!' She then treats me to a lecture about how wicked the world is and how the day of judgment is coming any day now.

I'm inclined to agree with her most of the time. And this time was no exception.

I had invited Denise to Surrey for a day in the country. I keep promising her I will put her on a horse. 'Get on the train and come to Effingham Junction, ' I told her. 'I will pick you up from the station this end.'

But when she came through the barrier at Effingham Junction she had that big, wide, apocalyptic grin on her face. Oh dear.

She yanked open the car door and exclaimed in her lightning-fast patois: 'Mey-lissah! A policeman take me things on the train!'

It turned out Denise had committed the capital offence of travelling on her Oyster card beyond the point at which Greater London finishes, in the eyes of South West Trains.

Because I don't use the blasted trains much any more I had not thought to warn her, nor did I even know, that she cannot travel on Oyster beyond Wimbledon.

The ticket inspector wiped the floor with her. He confiscated her Oyster card and issued her with a terrifying-sounding 'MG11 prosecution notice'. We looked this up and discovered it meant a hefty fine, of £250 or more, and could even involve prosecution in the courts and a criminal record.

I rang the number on the calling card the inspector had left her - for customer services - and after the usual run around the houses I got through to someone grumpy who said they don't know anything about anything because nothing is anything to do with them, and certainly not this.

'Who is it to do with, then?' I asked.

He told me to ring the penalty line, where someone claimed it was nothing to do with them either. This was because it was not a fine but a prosecution. …

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