Riding along in the train on the way to Reading one morning, I most definitely saw a lion. It was happily strolling around in a green area where there always seemed to be fairground equipment stored. Nobody else was looking – they were all either asleep, reading their papers or listening to their Sony Discmans (Discmen?) with their eyes shut. I told my husband when I got home that evening and he clearly thought I was a bit mad, although he was very nice about it.
People don’t always believe you when you tell them what you’ve seen, so much so that you can eventually end up doubting it yourself. Or it can work the other way round. People can convince you that you’re seeing something when you’re really not. A classic place for this to happen is at school, when the whole class gets to witness it. I was once convinced by a group of friends that they could see a particular girl (admittedly rather an eccentric one) up a tree. Eventually, I fell right into the trap and said “Oh, yes!”. Collapse into meanie mirth by everyone. Actually there was kind of an excuse, because that was the summer it was discovered that I had probably been quite badly short-sighted for about 5 years and I was pretty used to not really being able to see stuff which I knew was there.
This can all have its serious side as well, though. Think about witnesses to serious crime or crimes against humanity. There have been occasions when people have to ride out years of people doubting or even rubbishing them when they say that such and such happened. Or the same with whistle-blowers – you have to be brave, but you know when something has to be reported, even though it’ll cost and you know you may not be believed.
Some years after the lion sighting, we were having dinner with some friends. We were talking about the trains (you could talk for hours about what was wrong with BR back then!) when the guy half of the couple, Arnold, suddenly said: “You know, I saw a lion from the train near Reading once”. Cue rolling of eyes and wry grin from his wife. My husband’s mouth dropped open (the lion sighting had become a regular joke in our household) and I guess mine must’ve done too because Arnold sighed: “You don’t believe me, do you?”. “Oh blimey, yes!”, I said. “I saw that and nobody has EVER believed me! I totally believe you!”. It was a bit of a relief to both of us because we’d eventually thought that perhaps we must’ve imagined it because it was so improbable. So there you go. Fact often stranger than fiction, good examples of which are Brexit and the election this week of the creature from the orange lagoon.