The Quiet Coach

As it happened, my second day with the Mathemateers was a trip to London. I’m going to tell you the story of that another time.

Today’s story is about the train journey.

No. Today’s story is about the inflexibility of booking systems and the lengths we British will go to to avoid being embarrassed.

There I was, a couple of weeks before Christmas about to click the ‘submit order’ button on the Virgin Trains website. One click and the booking was made. Myself, a teaching assistant and my not-even-nascent group of ‘low-ability’ maths children would go to London, by train, visit Microsoft headquarters, attend a workshop led by Miles Berry, and maybe even see some of the sights.

And then the ‘e-ticket’ came back through to me and it said ‘quiet coach’.

QUIET COACH? Why would an automated booking system put a group of 5-15 year old children on a quiet coach? I could feel the embarrassment of the situation and it was still a whole month away. Mid-December and I was worried about saving face in January. Immediately I rang up the Virgin Trains helpline. A very nice man from India answered the phone and told me he could do nothing about it, but he did give me the phone number of the customer care team. I rang them up and a very nice lady from India told me that as it was an ‘e-ticket’ nothing could be done.

I was stuck with a quiet coach. My mathemateers (as I now know them are lovely), but not guaranteed to be quiet. Sarah, in particular, has a hearing impairment and an enthusiasm that knows no bounds. By herself I knew she would ruin the ambiance of any so-called quiet coach.

So I fretted quietly to myself, wondering what I would do in that first week back. On the first day back in January, it was teacher training – I had some time in the afternoon to plan a solution, but I did nothing about it. Then the next day, I met the maths group for the first time and we came up with that name and I decided to¬†blog about what happens as I teach them. I still had nothing. All I could do was plan a lesson. So that’s what I did. Yes, the fear of embarrassment in a public place led me to plan a lesson for a train journey. I know.

And when the day came. After the taxi and wait at Birmingham New Street and the inevitable finding of seats (I always find asking adults to leave their seats due a reservation awkward) I pulled my lesson sheets out…

The lesson didn’t start immediately. I had to let the awe and wonder die down first. You see three of the seven children had never been on a train before. 2 of them had never been out of Birmingham. Only one had been to London.

So after about twenty minutes during which the classic question “Do they have different money in London?” was asked, I was getting increasingly conscious of the looks from various commuters on the quiet coach. So I started the lesson.

Do you know what? – it went really well. But that’s yet another story for another time.


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