Settled by the train window, the sun streaming in, the elderly man reminded me of a character in a Graham Greene novel: smart hat, straight back, distinguished nose. He was heading, via London, for the coast. Where, I asked? "Brighton. Or Weston-super-Mare. I don't know yet," he said, with admirable free-spiritedness.
"I remember the golden age of steam," he said to no-one in particular. He tried to get a small boy interested in the semantics of the albatross insignia on his uniform, but all he wanted to do was spot Wembley Stadium.
I tried to buy a ticket but the inspector's machine was broken. The man flashed his free pass – "43 years on the railways got me this," he said. He offered to escort me to the ticket gate to back up my broken machine story. But when we pulled into the station, there was no barrier.
He looked concerned, and for a moment I thought he was going to march me to a ticket desk. But then he cracked a smile: "Good job his machine was broken, eh? And to think, I had to work for my free trip." And he shuffled off across the concourse.