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You just can't help some people

Dear Friend,

Here’s a strange story that happened to me yesterday.

I was on the London Underground on my way to a meeting and a tourist was looking particularly lost and bewildered.

No surprise there — with its many branch-lines, offshoots and an insistence on anachronistic idiosyncrasies such as “Northbound Northern line” and “City branch”, it is no wonder the average outsider is at best slightly confused by the UK’s capital’s mass transit railway.

And that is when everything works, which of course it rarely does.

Like driving on the left hand side of the road, or three-year accounting, it just seems another example of the British being different for the sake of it.

Anyway, the lady tourist in question was on the platform, listening to the disembodied voice that was coming out of the ironically-named “Help point”, trying to decipher the incomprehensible advice that it was spewing out of its tinny loudspeaker.

The crackling voice stopped as I passed and she turned to me for assistance with a plaintive gaze.

I just seem to have the sort of helpful face that acts as a magnet for lost souls.

There is rarely a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me directions or even simple advice about what central London has to offer them in the way of eating, shopping or entertainment experiences.

I suppose people choose me because I look like I actually like helping.

Anyway, I asked very clearly where the lady needed to go, listened to her answer (she wanted to go the Barbican Arts centre) and explained slowly and clearly that she needed to get on the next train and stay on it for five stops.

I added that I’d show her where she needed to go when we got there because that happened to be my stop anyway.

The train came. We got on and she thanked me profusely.

I sat down and opened my paper, perhaps slightly smugly, but happy to have been a help.

The train stopped at the next station, the doors opened, she thanked me again, got straight off the train and wandered off down the platform.

I and other members of the carriage called out, but it was too late — the doors closed and we were off.

The old gentleman opposite me smiled — “some people just can’t be helped,” he said with a sage grin.

And he was right — this lady was destined to get lost in London whatever I did to help — I shrugged and smiled.

I smiled even more when I thought about the Barbican Arts centre. It is a hideous maze of some of modernist architecture’s worst practical jokes — in all their 1950-60s rampant post-war glory. Its six floors and various mezzanines somehow house art galleries, a library, a cinema, a concert hall and a theatre, amongst many other attractions.

Even in the unlikely event this hapless soul found her way to her intended destination, she would soon be lost again within the cavernous concrete bowels of what is effectively a multi-storey car park for culture vultures.

Sometimes I feel that the reinsurance market is a bit like this happy-go-lucky London visitor.

I mean we too often stumble around from event to event. We are not driving the train and rarely know quite where we are going or exactly how we are getting there.

It is also probably true that many of our numbers are also beyond help — forever condemned to repeat our mistakes, miss our stop and have some explaining to do when we eventually get home.

As the next soft market gathers steam, do make sure you enjoy the ride!

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