Our last day in Cambridge has not gone according to plan. Although the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built around the year 1130 and generally known as The Round Church lives up to expectations, the Fitzwilliam Museum does not. The museum’s neo-classical exterior is magnificent, but isn’t the real point of a museum to go inside, wander around a bit to take in a few of the exhibits in a cursory sort of way, and then have a large mocha and a slab of cake in the café?
Who in their right mind would close one of the country’s great museums on a Monday at the height of the summer tourist season? Ah, silly me, that would be the management of the Fitzwilliam Museum, I suppose. Disappointed, we decide to leave Cambridge and return to Platypus Towers on an earlier train.
We’re standing on the platform at Cambridge station. The train is due in about 20 minutes, and we’re both a bit knackered. The weather’s hot and humid, and we’ve spent a good part of the last three days trudging the streets, doing the tourist thing.
Inevitably there are very few seats on the platform, and all but one is taken. I encourage Mrs P to grab it – I’m a proper gentleman, don’t you know – and I’m left standing next to her, looking tired and miserable.
Time passes. Eventually the guy seated next to Mrs P tears himself away from his mobile phone and looks around him. He’s in early twenties and, unlike me, is appropriately dressed for the weather in sandals, shorts and a lightweight shirt. He spots me and a caring expression crosses his lightly bearded face. He stands, looks me straight in the eye, then smiles encouragingly and politely asks, “Would you like a seat, mate?”
Would I like a seat? I ask myself. WOULD I? Of course I would, pal, only I don’t want you to offer me one, thank you very much! You think I’m old and past it, don’t you? Well I’m not! I’m not old at all, I’ve just got a lived-in kind of face, like Mick Jagger but with regular lips. I’ve had one hell of a life and if you’d done half of what I’ve done you’d look a damned sight older than me!
I don’t say any of this, of course. I just smile sweetly at my new-found knight in shining armour, and say “Thank you, I think I would.”
My saviour returns to his phone, probably fixing a hot hook-up on Tinder, the fit young bastard that he is, leaving me seated next to Mrs P to ponder what has just happened. I’m in my 64th year, having worked over 40 years and travelled the world, and this is the first time anyone has ever stood up to offer me a seat.
What an unwelcome milestone this is, another waymarker on the inevitable journey to decrepitude. God, I feel old.
At last the train arrives. Even though half the population of Cambridge appears to be travelling west today it’s only three carriages long, so I don’t get a seat.
I end up standing in the area where cyclists stow their bikes, next to the disabled persons’ toilet. There are just two seats in this part of the carriage. On one of them sits another young, bearded, shorts-wearing man, but this one won’t meet my eye.
In the last 20 minutes I’ve grown accustomed to the good manners of the younger generation towards their elders, and am therefore incensed by the brazen effrontery of this new guy. He knows I’m standing here and badly need a seat, but he just keeps playing with his phone, swiping right furiously. I hope when you get a date she doesn’t turn up, you ignorant slob, I think to myself.
The other seat is occupied by an older woman, elegant, grey-haired and immaculately dressed, library book on her lap. She glances up and sees me leaning uncomfortably against the side of the carriage. A look of genuine concern crosses her face.
“Would you like this seat?” she asks, oh-so-kindly.
I look at her carefully. In her left hand she’s clutching a Senior Citizen’s Railcard. For god’s sake, she’s as old as me, possibly older, and here she is offering me a seat. Just when you think life can’t get any worse, it bloody well does.
I quickly regain my composure and politely decline her offer. You see, I still have my pride, and in any case as I mentioned earlier I’m a proper gentleman.
But we reach an agreement, that kind lady and me. She’s getting off at Ely, and when she does she’ll make sure I’m able to slide on to her seat before anyone else grabs it, so I can do the rest of the journey sitting down. It’s a good arrangement, and satisfies both parties.
After all, when the going gets tough us old fogeys need to stick together.