This story has a very autobiographical feeling to it, and one can't help but wonder whether it actually happened to Dahl or not. His feelings about the English Public School system are well–documented (see Boy – Tales of Childhood or Jeremy Treglown's "Roald Dahl: A Biography"), and he loads this short story full of so many intense details that it seems unlikely he would ever make such a thing up.
Spoiler Warning! The story, if indeed it can be called that (since there really isn't much of a plot at all), is about a "contented commuter" named William Perkins. He is a distinguished businessman and prides himself on the regularity and precision with which he goes about his daily routine. One day his peace is shattered, however, when a newcomer joins the usual group waiting for the commuter train. After several days of grudging conversation with this obnoxious man, Perkins suddenly recognizes him as Bruce "Galloping" Foxley, an older boy who sadistically tormented and tortured him for years in school. The entire story then comes to a grinding halt as fifty–year–old memories begin to flood Perkins: warming the toilet seat for Foxley, cleaning Foxley's study, receiving a beating from Foxley. As Perkins becomes more and more shaken by these memories, he decides to reveal himself to the man and watch his reaction. He leans over and introduces himself: "My name is Perkins – William Perkins – and I was at Repton in 1907." Imagine his surprise, then, when his companion answers, "I'm glad to meet you. Mine's Fortescue – Jocelyn Fortescue, Eton 1916." He is NOT Galloping Foxley!
1. How does the narrator emphasise that he is a creature of habit? Why does he like the "unchanged and unchangeable" fellow travellers?
2. What seem to be the main characteristics of the people he passes during his daily walk from Cannon Street to the office? In what way are their lives "regulated nicely by the minute hand of the accurate watch"?
3. In what ways are we told that the stranger "was not one of us"?
4. Why do different newspapers feature in the story? Do we associate certain things with particular newspapers, and if so what?
5. What seems to you to have been the worst thing that Perkins had to suffer at school? Why didn't he write home to his parents telling them the truth?
6. Does Perkins want to expose the stranger in front of other commuters because he envies the stranger's good looks or because he wants a sort of revenge?
7. Do you think the stranger really is who he says he is, or is it in fact Galloping Foxley trying to avoid being discovered?
8. Do you agree with Perkins that "there's nothing routine and regularity for preserving one's peace of mind"? What are the advantages and disadvantages of organising your life around routine?
9. Using the very detailed descriptions we are given of both Perkins and the stranger, either write a character sketch of each, or draw each of them.
10. Further Writing: