I was recently at London Paddington station, waiting to catch a train to Reading. It is one of the big termini, with trains heading for destinations in the west of England. It was at this station in 1934 that my grandparents arrived on their way to their honeymoon. As they alighted from their train, my grandfather shut the door, and my grandmother’s little finger was caught, and chopped in half. She spent her wedding night in St Mary’s Hospital next door, and, forty years later, showed her admiring grandson the little finger, complete with a claw-like nail that curled round and had to be cut by the doctor.
It was at this station I arrived as a young lad, on an exciting trip to London with those very grandparents. Feeding the pigeons at Trafalgar Square, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, touring the Royal Mews and seeing Princess Margaret enter a hotel all waited for me. But, first, Granny had to take me to the toilet, before we got on the Tube, for my first ride on the London Underground. The toilets at this time were occupied by a quite simply enormous ginger station cat. I had never seen such a large cat. It was large in its frame, but hugely fat, sitting on the landing like a benevolent ball of wool, squinting carefully at all that passed. Such a creature ensured I insisted on going to the toilet every time I passed through Paddington.
As I waited at Paddington on this recent visit, I was aware that I needed to commune with nature. I knew the cat would be long-gone but nonetheless, was pleased to find that the toilets were in the exact same place. I descended the stairs to find that a 30p charge was being made. To my annoyance, I only had a 10p, and two 5p pieces, and several pound coins. I came back onto the platform and looked for someone who appeared friendly to help change a coin. I asked a smartly dressed gentleman if he had any change. As he fished around looking for it, he commented that one never had change when one needed it. He had lots of change, but not the change needed, although he did have a 20p piece which he offered. I protested that I did not have the right change, but he insisted, saying that the calls of nature were more important than mere economic situations and gave me the 20p piece. I gratefully accepted hurried downstairs before a natural disaster occurred, thankful for such kindness from someone I would never see again. When I got to the barrier, 20p and 10p held aloft to give as my offering and pass into the inner sanctum of the Great Western Washroom, I found, to my surprise, that the display showed that 20p had already been inserted. I put my 10p in and entered, grateful for two random acts of kindness in a few minutes.