On The Rack

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On The Rack - 2014/08/26

When travelling, I usually go as light as possible. Certainly when travelling by plane I try to go "hand luggage only", and when doing various mini-tours of talks, etc., I try to travel with just a single, small backpack. Sometimes it's not possible, but I usually manage.

In March 2014 I was privileged again to attend the Gathering for Gardner event in Atlanta, Georgia. I flew back into Heathrow because the very next day I was giving a Maths Inspiration talk in Canterbury, and then multiple talks in the Wolverhampton area. Net result was that I had one bag of checked luggage, and my usual backpack.

In the backpack I put all the absolute essentials - things I definitely could not afford to lose, and which I needed to have "to hand" upon arrival. Laptop, juggling kit, a few irreplaceable gifts, and so on. They were with me all the way. The checked luggage only contained the things that I could afford to have delayed, undesirable though that might be.

Arrived safely, and as things would have it, so did my checked luggage. So that was nice. I gave my talks, and finished with my host taking me back to Codsall train station. From there I was going to be changing at Wolverhampton, Crewe, and Chester.

There is no ticket office at Codsall, so I tried to catch the guard, but he was paying more attention to the two lads that got on and immediately went to the far end of the train. By the time he'd dealt with them, I was off at Wolverhampton.

I did catch him on the platform and he said just to pay on the next train. Which was right then. In fact, I caught a train that should have left already but was running a little late. That meant I'd make a better connection later. Which I did, and which was good.

On the Wolverhampton-Crewe train I bought a 1st class ticket as far as Crewe. When I finally got the train at Crewe I got a standard ticket to Chester, and then at Chester I got a standard ticket to home. It turned out cheaper, and while it was less convenient, I ended up home about 30 minutes earlier than expected and paid about 5 pounds less than the through ticket. So a good deal all round.

Now to understand this next bit fully you need to know a little about the trains that run on the Wirral line between Chester and Liverpool.

During the day they leave Chester roughly every 15 minutes, departing on the hour. They take about 30 minutes to reach my station, then they carry on into and back out of Liverpool. That takes another 30 minutes in total. Finally, they carry on back to Chester taking, you guessed it, another 30 minutes. Then they turn around and do it all again.

Times change in the evenings, and they're a bit squiffy in the morning, but broadly speaking that's how it goes.

There's another station - Hooton - that's about half way between home and Chester. So in 15 minute legs the trains go:

Chester - Hooton - Home - Liverpool - Home - Hooton - Chester.

That's a 90 minute round trip in total.

So I was coming home, and I caught the 15:00 (ish) train from Chester, arriving home at about 15:30. So far so good. I got in, took off my jacket, emptied my pockets, got a drink of water, and generally started to get settled. I was, at last, home again. True, I would have to be out reasonably early the next morning, but for now, I was home.

Rachel was here and we were, of course, starting to recount the various tales of our adventures over the last 10 days. At about 16:20, when I'd been home about 45 minutes or so, I went to get something from my backpack to show Rachel.

Where's the backpack?


The backpack was my hand luggage, it contained everything too valuable to lose, too valuable to put in checked luggage. It had my laptop, juggling kit, and various gifts that were irreplaceable.


Then I remembered putting it in the overhead racks on the train, and I certainly didn't remember taking it back down again. I couldn't remember taking it off the train. In fact, I nearly instantly became sure that I never picked it back off the luggage rack.

I'd left it on the train.

I grabbed my phone and money and dashed out the door, tossing the words over my shoulder - "I've left it on the train!"

I got to the platform at about 16:25 - just a few minutes before the next train for Chester was due. I took out my phone to start checking on the exact train times and progress - live updates of the trains are a real boon for me - and my phone died. It was out of battery. I was going to have to do this old-school - memory, and checking on the paper time-tables in the stations.

Only there are very few of those, and I didn't have time. The train was on its way in. I knew that this was not the train on which I had (stupid, stupid!) left my bag, but I still checked quickly. Then I dashed back to the train manager (or guard, or whatever they call them this week) to explain that I'd left something on an earlier train and was hunting for it.

We left the station, and at the next station I explained more fully. We agreed that the train I'd been on was about 30 minutes ahead of us. That meant it would turn around at Chester, and we should meet it at Hooton. In the schedule we'd get in about 2 minutes before it was due coming the other way, which he suggested would be just long enough to nip over to the other platform.

Maybe, but no way was I taking the chance. I got off two stations early, and went up to the ticket office to explain. The lovely lady there sent an email to all the train guards and stations to let them know what had happened, so if it got handed in anywhere they would email around and I could collect the message at any station.

So I went back over to the Liverpool-bound platform and waited. It felt like forever, but by now it was less than 5 minutes. Walking in small circles I was muttering "Please let it be the same guard, please let it be the same guard." because then I'd know if it had been found, and "Please let it be the same train, please let it be the same train." because then there'd be a small, but very real chance that it would still be there.

The tracks at Bromborough are long and straight, and I could see the train coming from a long way down the line. The train pulled in, the last door opened, and it was the same guard. Somehow I'd got it right, and this was the train.

I said to him - "I'm so pleased to see you!" - he looked a little surprised - I added "I left something on the train - hang on!" and I dashed to the middle carriage.

And there it was, exactly as I'd left it.

I retrieved it and turned to find the guard standing behind me. As he closed the doors and we set off I explained what had happened. He had, in fact, just got the email, so that system was working. I said I'd get off and go back to Bromborough to thank the lady there, but the guard suggested I simply get off at my home station and get them to call on the internal phones.

So I did that, then turned for home. With my backpack.

It turns out that the train before the one on which I'd left the bag had been delayed because of a passenger falling ill. That had delayed "my" train, so when it arrived in Chester with my bag, people were desperate to get off, others desperate to get on, and in the resulting mix no one noticed an unclaimed bag. Moreover, the guard didn't do the usual security walk-through, so again, no one noticed an unclaimed bag. As so it was left there for me to be reunited with it at Bromborough station.

Back at home I could once again start to wind down and show Rachel the various winnings, but it could have turned out so differently. Not so good, of course, for the people on the train(s) that had been delayed by the passenger taken ill, but that's what made the change-over in Chester both tight and busy, which in turn was what meant the my bag was ignored by everyone, and that is, of course, why it was where I left it.

I really, really hope I don't do that again.

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