The Kindness of Strangers
By Alan Russell
I first became aware of this phrase when I was given a copy of Kate Adie’s autobiography entitled ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. She chose the title to sum up how when covering disasters both natural and man-made seemingly from nowhere there would be an act of kindness towards her from another person that outshone all the chaos around them. The phrase is alleged to have made its first appearance in Tennessee Williams 1947 play ‘A Street Car Named Desire’.
On a simple journey from Ringwood to Heathrow Airport neither of us were exactly travelling through war zones, floods or hurricanes. And there was certainly no high drama of human emotion on the coach we were travelling on either. However, there was a bit of kerbside marital drama just before the coach arrived.
Somehow despite bringing our tickets we only managed to bring one. We had a furious debate about what our options were which were compressed as the departure time for the coach drew ever closer like the sword of Damocles born on the wheels of National Express. We went through all of our possible options to get around the problem. There was no fixing of blame, just efforts at fixing the fault. In the end we were left with just one option, albeit a long shot one that would enable us to travel together in relative harmony.
The coach pulled in. Its airbrakes hissed. The front door whooshed open and the driver came down the steps to the kerb.
We explained our problem knowing full well that this particular coach company could be sticklers for everything being right in terms of tickets. The young driver looked us up and down.
‘That’s alright, you look like honest people. I’ll take your case’ he said.
What a relief. We were on our way on the first leg of our journey to Inverness.
The advertised time for the journey from Ringwood to Heathrow is ninety minutes. Even in a car that would seem optimistic let alone a full sized coach. Our departure time from Ringwood was just after seven in the evening. Our arrival time at Heathrow was about eight forty five. Somehow it felt like we had been teleported from rural Ringwood to the concrete and cavernous coach hall at the airport.
We worked out which coach service would take us to our hotel and waited and waited and waited. We waited so long we watched at least two coaches come and go for the Hilton and the Sheraton but nothing for the T5 Premier Inn. I checked that we were waiting for the right coach.
Then about a hundred yards from where we were sitting a coach pulled in clearly showing ‘T5 Premier Inn’. We gathered our one suitcase and semi-jogged to the stop. In the driver’s seat was a grey haired and bearded man who looked a bit like the Coca Cola Father Christmas. Round, rosy cheeked and avuncular. He looked up from his dashboard when he became aware of us standing by the door.
The door whooshed open.
‘You’re not crew, are you?’ he told us and asked.
‘No’ we replied ‘but we are trying to get to the T5 Premier Inn.’
His eyes twinkled as he smiled just like Father Christmas is supposed to do.
‘Hop on, you’re crew now and don’t tell anyone or I’ll have to charge you a fiver each’ as he gestured for us to get on board.
The doors whooshed shut and we were on our way.
Having left home at six thirty, circumvented the problem of a missing ticket and been allowed to travel as persona non grata on a crew bus we checked into our hotel room in just over three hours.
All due to the kindness of strangers.