Finance: The Trader - When limited company is a thing of joy

Doors opened, a mass of humanity bulged out and hordes threw themselves forward

BIG MISTAKE, drinking on a Sunday evening. I'd gone away with my pal Jane for a chilled-out weekend at her parents' house in the country, with sleeping, being fed and the odd spot of healthy exercise being high on the agenda.

It all went swimmingly, so swimmingly in fact that when her father offered us a glass of dry sherry at 5pm Sunday, we both took one without a thought. Before we knew what had happened it was 9 o'clock, supper was ready and we were both well over the limit.

"I'm not risking losing my licence," Jane said as crossly as someone who knows they're in a mess and it's all their fault. "I know everyone else in the City drink-drives, but I'm not like that."

"Well, it's no good looking at me like that," I huffed. "I'm not prepared to lose my licence either. I adore driving my car."

So we ended up staying the night, resigned to an unspeakably early start.Plainly, we weren't quite resigned enough.

Even by the usual standards of grimness for Monday mornings, this one took the biscuit. We both woke with throbbing headaches from our unaccustomed consumption of sherry.

"Should have stuck to vodka like we usually do," I muttered between gulps of black coffee. Then Jane's car wouldn't start.

Time ticked on, and my nerves began to fray. I was going to be hideously, hideously late. Everyone would be furious with me. I would lose my job. The end of the world was nigh. There wasn't time to wait for the breakdown people. What were we going to do?

"Well, darlings," said Jane's mother, who had kindly got up early as well, to keep us company, "there is this strange thing called public transport. I know you two don't use it much but lots of other people do. I think you'll find you can get a train to London." If only we'd known what we were letting ourselves in for.

The warning bells began to ring faintly as we walked into the small station: long queues at the one ticket booth, and no cappuccino stall. By the time we reached the platform over the foot bridge, the bells were deafening.

"Look at all those people," Jane whispered in awe. "They can't all get into one train, surely?"

It's fine, I told her confidently, I expect they'll have extra carriages for the rush hour. I mean, it's common sense, isn't it. Only common sense and the railways must have parted company while I wasn't concentrating. Along came four tinny little carriages already bursting at the seams.

The doors opened, the mass of humanity inside bulged out slightly, and the hordes on the platform flung themselves forward in quiet desperation. Before we knew what was happening, Jane and I were swept along with them. The next minute we were on the train and the doors closed.

"God," said Jane to my nose, which was the only part of me she could see through the sea of armpits, backs and heads. "This is worse than the Underground, and that's enough to drive anyone mad. When I was at Embankment the other night, the announcer kept on saying, `the gap... the gap'. So even he'd lost his `mind'."

At the next station more people got on, but as the doors closed a small opening appeared in the crowd. For a few seconds I caught sight of a poster point- ing out that an hour's travel to work each way adds up to three weeks a year.

I was too depressed to notice what was being advertised, if anything. "Jane," I said sadly to her left ear. "Do you think we could run an investment business from home?"

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