Twelve million people, and not one smile…

I think I’ll come home now, if that’s okay.

I’m in England. Been here for hours and that’s quite enough, thank you very much.

I haven’t had a smile since I touched down (in a Qantas plane, I might add. There were plenty of people smiling on that).

Interesting that a smile – such a simple, uncomplicated thing – should be so hard to find in a city of 12 million people.

I didn’t get one from customs and immigration, but of course they have their smile muscles surgically removed when they take the job. Over the years I’ve tried everything to get a smile out of them short of a custard pie (in my face, not theirs) but nothing works.

I didn’t get one from the man at the information desk, whom I approached brightly and with a spring in my step despite having travelled for 40 hours door to door and it being 5.30am. I smiled and I said g’day, so he’d know I was a visitor to his beautiful country. He looked me up and down.

“Can I help?”

He made it sound like it was last thing he wanted to do in his working day, despite the fact he was an information officer. He directed me to the National Express coach service that would carry me out of the nation’s capital city (quickly, if I was lucky).

That involved a short journey on an underground train, which we couldn’t board straight away because they had to check it with a metal detector. For bombs.

Eventually we had to board a coach. A National Express coach. There were four of us in the queue. A young woman with a big case; a middle-aged woman with a big case. And an elderly couple (my wife and I) with two big cases. There was no driver. When he did turn up (at the exact time the bus was supposed to be leaving) he threw open the baggage hold and climbed aboard the bus.

You could tell from the puzzled looks that we all thought maybe we should wait for him to help us put our cases in; and sure enough, he got off the bus again.

“Tickets, please.”

We got the message. The first woman struggled with her case, and I helped her stow it in the hold. The second did the same, but by now I’d really got the message and I didn’t wait in case the bus driver had a change of heart and drove off. I just loaded it on. Then I climbed in and rearranged them so there was room for our cases.

I’m pretty sure I was older, and less fit, than the bus driver, who (by the way) never smiled.

I spent the journey to Guildford, about 30 miles away, not admiring the office blocks or the motorways or the wall-to-wall traffic, but sending a text message to the National Express coach company telling them that I thought their service was outclassed in many third-world countries.

I haven’t had a reply yet.

When we got to Guildford we all hauled our own cases off the bus. To be fair, the driver did haul them within range of our hands with a little stick with a hook on it. Still not smiling.

“I suppose there’s some good reason why you’re not helping us with our cases?” said I.

“Yes sir, there is,” quoth he. But he never told us what it was.

We walked away and spotted my mate Patrick, who was waiting for us, and that became the first smile I saw since entering the country.

I have since tried to do the right thing. I went to the National Express web site to find a telephone number that I could ring to ask what this nonsense was all about. But from what I could see there was no telephone number. I could email a complaint, apparently, but what was the point? I’d already made a text message complaint and got no response.

Not even a smiley face.