Tim Walker: Why I snarl when an inspector calls

Tales From The Water Cooler
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The Independent Online

You've probably seen this week's most newsworthy YouTube clip, of an alleged fare-dodger being chucked off a train by a fellow passenger. Given its limited context, your initial reaction will have been governed by old prejudices.

I'm prepared to believe the young man was an obnoxious little twerp. And yet, watching his forcible ejection, I instinctively sided with him. Why? Because I have a deep-seated and semi-irrational loathing of ticket inspectors. I'm a conciliatory fellow and, before continuing, I'd like to apologise to all the perfectly pleasant people who've punched my tickets over the years.

However, the angriest moments in my adult life have been provoked by small, uniformed men on public transport. Just last week, with the rest of our train full, my travelling companions and I sat down in the not-exactly-salubrious first-class section. Yes, we were in the wrong – and prepared to pay the upgrade fee for our brief journey. But when the ticket inspector arrived, he threatened to give us each a £20 fine instead.

My response – "Are you joking?" – got us off on the wrong foot. But it was a genuine enquiry. Do ticket inspectors earn a commission if they fine a passenger for a minor infraction? Or does the uniform simply attract the sort of person who prefers them's-the-rules rigidity to reason?

My tolerance for being spoken to like a naughty child was exhausted by the time I reached the sixth form. So, suppressing the swear-words that would probably have got me arrested, I argued until he walked away. (To his credit, we did stand in second-class for the last five minutes of our journey.) But who would you side with, if my red face ended up on YouTube?