The wrong kind of case

Who: Michael Henderson

When: 1988.

Where: Manchester, England

Train: Manchester to Altrincham

At 22 years of age I stared my career as a programmer with British Gas. I was sent on a 10 day COBOL course in Altrincham, Manchester. I know... COBOL right?? It was still in high demand at the time, in particularly with the super monopolies, such as British Gas.

My dad had previously given me his old brief case. It was definitely old-school: Large, angular and fairly well battered from years of use. I decided to use this case rather than purchase my own as I didn’t really have much money at the time.

So about 4 days into the course, on my morning trip I took my seat on the train. In those days, the trains still had seating in area at the end of carriage, at 90 degrees to neighbouring seating. That is where I sat, with my battered case in the overhead rack. A couple of other people I knew from the course were with me and we were engaged in some banter in preparation for the day ahead. The train was mostly full by this time.

About half way to the destination, the train made a regular stop, but then didn’t start up again. This was not untypical of British Rail, so we didn’t make much of it.

After a good 15 minute wait at the station, a guard entered the carriage. Without saying a word to the passengers, he walked to the end of the carriage where we were sitting and then gingerly reached up to my case and lowered it down making every effort not to tip it. When I realised he had hold of my case, I said : “Hey, hang on, thats my case!” or words to that effect. At this point, he noticeably relaxed and explained that someone had reported my case as a bomb. He then put the case back in the rack, walked back down the platform and 30 seconds later the train started up on its journey. My fellow course mates had much enjoyment of this for days to come.

Questions I will never know the answer to:

  • Who reported it as a bomb?
  • Why didn’t they evacuate the train?
  • Why didn’t he just ask before removing the case?
  • Why me?