The other day I did something I do very often; bought a train ticket at Paddington to travel from Zone 6, which on my route happens to be West Drayton, to Maidenhead. The reason why I don’t go to a machine and buy a ticket from Paddington to Maidenhead is (a) because the machines don’t like me and (b) because I have a Freedom Pass (please don’t remind the Government, hell bent on making more cuts, that Freedom Passes exist for us old folks).  The ticket machines aren’t programmed to cope with anyone who only has to have a ticket from West Drayton to Maidenhead but is starting out at Paddington. As far as the machines are concerned, I’m an anomaly.

Anyway, I arrived allowing time to stand in the usual queue in the ticket office.  But, for the first time in four years of frequently making this journey, there was no queue; no one at all with at least four windows open with staff waiting to serve customers. This was so unusual that I remarked that it was a first to the man who served me.  He said, ‘Ah, there’s a first time for everything’ and I replied, ‘Yes, but most of my first times are over’.  We laughed and that was that.

Hardly a profound exchange, but I sat on the train pondering first times.

The first time:

I remember anything (3 years old, my father shovelling snow)

I went to school

I had my tonsils out

I went to the Isle of Man to live (January 1951)

I was told a dirty joke

I kissed a girl (Diana)

I went abroad (to Singapore)

I met the girl who was to become my wife (at a party in Singapore)

And so on.

And then I thought to myself that even though, by definition, I can’t have these first times over again, in the normal course of events there will be more first times; dying for example, to the best of my knowledge a first and a last.  I have just read a review of Julian Barnes’s elegy to his late wife who was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died 37 days later.  Perhaps inevitably, he recalls last times not first times. ‘I remember, sharply, last things.  The last book she read. The last play (and film, and concert, and opera and art exhibition) that we went to together.  The last wine she drank, the last clothes she bought. The last weekend away.  The last bed we slept in that wasn’t ours. The last this, the last that’.

I have decided to focus, not on last times but on first times – even though many firsts double up as lasts.  I could, if I wished, before my last first, deliberately set out to add to my stock of first times.  I could embrace a First Times Philosophy – akin to the maxim about today being the first day of the rest of your life.

I could, for example, get off the train at West Drayton.  Setting foot in West Drayton, as opposed to always passing through on a train, would be a first.





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