There’s train strikes this week: 40,000 rail workers united to protect their pay and working conditions against extraction by private shareholders.
In January, rail minister Huw Merriman admitted that, not only would it have been cheaper to settle the dispute months ago, but that the negotiations were being used to suppress the pay of all public sector key workers, including teachers and nurses. Ouch.
But that’s all by the by.
For the purposes of this story, the train strike merely explains why I was in my car at Southampton Airport Parkway and why vehicle delivery driver Arthur was standing on the M27 slip road holding his red trade plates.
I checked my mirrors and thought, ‘That’s a crap place to hitch,’ before pulling over and hitting my hazards.
Arthur ran up, pulled the door and chucked himself into the passenger seat.
He’d forgotten about the strike and found himself stranded after delivering a Motorway car to their depot in Eastleigh.
‘I don’t normally hitchhike,’ he said. ‘It was only fifteen minutes, but I had a bad feeling standing there — I’m very grateful.’
Arthur’s next job was to pick up a Hyundai Ioniq from an industrial estate outside Poole and take it up to Tamworth — a 180 mile drive in an electric car with 106 miles’ charge.
‘Normally I don’t touch electrics — something always happens and you’re left sitting around for hours. I didn’t clock this one.’
Seeing as I was on my way back to Bournemouth anyway, it was easy to save Arthur any more trouble. And I got to learn a little about the vehicle delivery trade.
For Arthur, it was all about supplementing his pension and getting him out of the house. A long day for £230.
This isn’t his usual patch. He normally operates in the band of territory south of Birmingham and north of London — ‘It’s much easier when you know where you are. I haven’t been to Poole since my honeymoon, 1975.’
Arthur’s phone rang: ‘Yes, love?’
His partner, Chris, was checking in and I got to hear Arthur’s take on his morning.
‘No, thanks, love, I’m fine, it’s all good now. This chap’s picked me up and I’m on the move. Good thing too — I was feeling a bit down back there, stood on the side of the motorway. Then along comes this miracle.’
I laughed. Not a bad way to start my day, being called a miracle. But it also made me wonder how we’ve come to be ruled by sceptics.
Arthur was standing on the side of a road rushing with cars driving his way. Every single one could have picked him up. It should be no surprise — much less a miracle — that someone stopped for him inside quarter of an hour. And yet he’d been anxious.
Sceptics are those who doubt their own humanity and the humanity of others.
Sceptics are those who believe that we’re not all in it together, that we’re not all playing for the same Team Human, that, contrary to all evidence, we’re not sociable animals, our nervous systems constantly regulating to each other.
I’m currently reading David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn Of Everything. It’s a remarkable work that will transfuse into my stories over the coming years. But one idea jumped out today: we humans are only fully self-conscious when we’re talking, laughing, rolling, relating with others.
But sceptics would rather believe that we’re each autonomous and independent economic units, acting in our own self-interest to the exclusion of others, certainly others beyond our immediate genetic milieu.
They couldn’t be more blatantly, even biologically, wrong, but somehow their scepticism has cast a spell over society.
Fearful sceptics have bewitched us into believing that it’s absurd to believe in humanity, their perverted tyranny twisting our minds such that a show of solidarity from a stranger is ‘a miracle’.
The good news is that the journey from false sceptic to true believer is no more than a single step.
All you need do is pronounce the believer’s creed: ‘I believe in my own humanity and the humanity of others’ and you’re ready to perform what those ridiculous sceptics have convinced us are fantastic miracles.
Of course, we can’t be miracles to everyone we cross, not all day every day. But keep your eyes open, hold out a hand, drop a smile and, from time to time, be the miracle.