I didn’t ever think that crocheting would cause me any trouble. It’s not the sort of thing that suggests dramatic times ahead, does it? However, dramatic they were.
I have been crocheting for years, ever since I'd sat up in the kitchen with Mum one rainy afternoon and she'd shown me how, proving to me that there is a quicker and ever so slightly cooler way to create things with wool than knitting. Recently however, I’ve been doing something that has mortified Liam and makes him reluctant to admit to the world that I am his. I crochet in public. In cafes, in pubs, at bus stops and most especially – on the tube. You wouldn’t believe the looks I get - double takes even. (Although, I’m secretly quite proud of that.)
I’d sat down on the tube all in a fluster. I’d gone the wrong way around the Circle Line and only just managed to hobble onto the train with all my bags before the doors skimmed my back and closed firmly behind me, beeping aggressively. There were a few seats free, so I chose one by the doors and leant rather pathetically against the glass panel. I was still recovering from my operation and so was consequently exhausted and slightly in pain. I sighed, thinking that maybe I'd overdone it by conducting a ‘getting used to the tube again’ trip into Central London at peak time.
Reaching for my gigantic Mary Poppins holdall handbag, I pulled out my wool bag. I’d been working on an Afghan Squares blanket and could hardly see the crochet hook at the bottom for what seemed like hundreds of multicoloured crocheted squares littering the bag. An older lady with immaculate hair and a gold buttoned cardigan sat opposite me, watching curiously as I fumbled about in the bag.
I found the right hook eventually, after accidentally elbowing the man next to me, and put it carefully on my lap. The square I’d been working on had become caught up amongst three balls of double knit. I sighed and pulled the lot out of the bag, trying to untangle them. As I stretched out my arms to wind up the wool, I saw the lady with the gold buttons smiling at me. It's the same sort of smile I always get. The aren't-you-cute-and-sort-of-unusual look. I grinned back.
The train began to slow as we pulled into Earls Court. As the woman on the voiceover announced our arrival, the whole carriage jumped into life, shuffling towards the doors and eyeing up which seats would become free. The man next to me stood up quickly shoving his iPhone into his back jeans pocket. I leant forward to move my handbag out of his way to be polite, but completely forgot how my Great Grandmother’s crochet hook had been resting on my lap. In horrifying slow motion I saw the thin silvery hook roll gently over my knee, fall, hit the carpeted upholstery and slip neatly down the side of my seat.
I froze, as the hoards of people waiting on the platform at Earls Court station piled onto the train to Wimbledon, pushing and shoving for seats and breathing space.
Leaning my head against the glass, risking looking as if I was sniffing it, I peered into the narrow gap down the side of the seat.
A few stray hairs.
Something unidentified - that I hoped was a bit of old chewing gum.
I knew that somewhere beyond that darkness was my crochet hook.
I shuffled in the seat to get a better look. I even braved sticking a finger down the gap. I came back with bits of crap in my fingernail, but no hook.
I wiggled in my seat and leant around the glass thinking that perhaps I could see it from around the other side. People were beginning to look at me funny - although in true London style, no one in the carriage said anything. They just politely averted their gaze and left me to my own weird little devices.
A man poked his nose over his newspaper.
"'Have you lost something?" He asked cheerily, in a light Scottish accent.
"Yes. My... Well - Um - something fell down the side of the seat."
He tucked his paper under his arm, and craned his neck to look down the hole.
"You'll never get that back." He said. "Though you might try taking down all the details of the carriage. Cleaners mind find it, y'never know..."
The man wished me luck and got off as we pulled into Putney Bridge.
I whipped out my phone and quickly punched in all the details I thought might be useful in remembering my location.
Carriage 5601 - second set of seats back from front of carriage - first on left if looking forwards - Edgware Road to Wimbledon - reaching East Putney at 17:11 - slipped between glass panel and seat plastic.
Excellent. Now I wouldn't forget. Armed with all my information, the train pulled into Southfields and I jumped off, quickly counting the carriages to check I was definitely the second carriage from the front. I paused outside the driver's window, wondering if I should ask him to stop, before finally deciding on taking the stairs up to the barrier to find a station supervisor. The supervisor looked at me as I was particularly annoying as I launched into my speech. She was a short, angry-looking woman, with her hair scraped back into a greying ponytail on the top of her head.
"Hello - I've just come in on the train to Wimbledon - I've lost my Great Grandmother's crochet hook down the side of one of the seats - It's carriage 5601 on the train that's just left the platform - I'm sure it was the second back from the driver." I stopped to breathe.
She levelled her glasses that were balanced precariously on the edge of her nose, and raised her eyebrows, taking her time to speak.
"Well, there's nothing I can do about it."
I stared at her in disbelief.
She continued. "I'll never get through to Wimbledon - they never pick up the phone, you see. The only thing you can do, is get on the train to Wimbledon that's pulling into the platform right now, get off at Wimbledon, find your train, ask the driver.... "
But I didn't quite catch what I'd have to do after finding the driver. I'd already hurled myself down the stairs two steps at a time and launched myself through the train doors, risking splitting my stitches to save a crochet hook.
The train took off and clattered lazily down the track. I picked at a scratchy fingernail and leant up against the doors, praying there were no delays. I stared out the window, feeling useless.
Once at Wimbledon, I pushed past the crowd, looking desperately up and down the eight or so lines at Wimbledon for the train that had arrived from Edgware Road. I stopped halfway up the platform out of breath, there were people and underground tube trains everywhere. I clutched my stomach - it was really hurting now - and I looked desperately about for the train that could have been mine.
"Where's the train that's just come in from Edgware Road?!" I yelled at some poor unassuming station cleaner. He shrugged and continued picking up paper coffee cups off the floor. I took a chance, and raced to the platform right at the far end of the station. Then I saw the yellow sign change on one of the trains, indicating it was off to Edgware.
I knew there was a turnaround of about ten minutes at the end of the line at Wimbledon. I didn't have long. I pelted down the length of the platform to the driver's carriage, dodging commuters. My legs felt like jelly, my heart was thumping and the blood flushed to my cheeks. I hoped to God I wouldn't faint or pop a stitch.
I reached the driver, hysterically out of breath and rather erratically explained the situation.
He was a young guy around thirty and he clearly fancied himself. He had dark black wavy hair, thick and slicked with gel. He wore cologne so strong it nearly knocked me right over.
"Okay, yeah. Didn't I see you at Southfields a moment ago? To be honest love, I thought you fancied me."
Irritated and still hyperventilating, I brushed away a strand of hair that was all sticky on my neck and tried to catch my breath.
"No." I replied, perhaps a little too curt. "I had lost my crochet hook under a seat."
Then I remembered my manners and a little less aggressively asked; "You can help me get it back can't you?"
He grinned at me and winked, reached in to turn the train engine off and grabbed a large set of keys. We walked to the carriages at the far end of the train, as he whistled and jangled the keys (I swear to annoy me). A few minutes late in leaving Wimbledon, the carriages had now become quite full, and much to my mortification, in carriage 5601 every seat was taken.
"It's this one! I was sitting right there..." I said, pointing to my seat and making sure I'd counted the right number of carriages down and seats back.
"Okay, love." He swung himself into the carriage and announced loudly; "Caaaan everyone on these seats please stand for a moment, this young lady's lost something under one of the seats!"
I cowered behind him, my face turning a brilliant scarlet, hovering near the seats, getting ready to grab the offending crochet hook before anyone could see it and I might embarrass myself further.
As everyone collected their bags and newspapers and stood up as if their legs were made of lead, the train driver reached under the seats to unlock them, before winking at me again and lifting the four seats up just like Popeye.
Seeing a glint of silver, I rushed forward.
"Got it!" I sung to the carriage and quickly hid the hook up my sleeve before scooting the hell out of there as soon as I could.
"Thank you everyone! You can all take your seats again!" The train driver announced before following me out.
"Go on then, let's have a look." He asked me.
"At what?" I said.
"The hook, or whatever it is you lost."
As requested, I lowered the slim silver 4mm hook from out of my sleeve cautiously, as if I was offering him some illegal substance.
"Is that it?" He said. "Oh well, love. Each to their own." He clipped his keys onto his belt, nodded at me then whistled his way back down the platform to the driver's carriage.
A little bashful, but over the moon I'd got my hook back, I waited a minute until I saw him disappear into his compartment before I strode quickly to the back end of the train. I slipped into one of the carriages unnoticed, making quite sure it wasn't carriage 5601. Exhausted, I fell into one of the last seats available. I didn't dare get out my wool bag, it was only a few stops, and that wool bag had seen quite enough for one day. To think that a fifty year old crochet hook could stop the 6:20 from Wimbledon. Quite impressive, no?