As mentioned here, I fairly recently took a change in direction career-wise.
My new job means that I now have to commute on the train and endure having my personal space invaded whilst simultaneously invading the personal space of others. This is a given when using the train so you’d think every other passenger would be accepting of it, but I’ve been surprised (perhaps naively) by the reluctance of other commuters to accept their travelling companions on their journey to and from work.
Every train to and from work is crowded but I’m usually fortunate enough to get a seat, although this sometimes requires elbowing a pensioner out of the way or running just to beat the otherwise frail and heavily-pregnant. I’m not a complete bastard; where there’s a pair of seats, I’ll sit at the window seat so that someone can occupy the aisle seat next to me- this seems like an incredibly obvious thing to do, given how crowded the trains get and how much women up the duff get in the way.
I could never sit on the aisle seat whilst the window seat remains unoccupied and wait to be asked to move. This is exactly what a substantial percentage of train travellers do. Most move when asked but others will move only in an obviously reluctant way; huffing and puffing as they move just to emphasise how unreasonable you’re being.
Likewise, some travellers will occupy the spare seat with their bag and become disgruntled that you’ve asked them to lift it 3ft into the rack above their head, which incidentally is there for people to put their bags on.
In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks is stranded on a dessert island with only a football for company, which he names ‘Wilson‘. The way that some travellers seem torn when faced with the concept of not continuing their journey with their suitcase by their immediate side leaves me wondering if perhaps it has a name as well as a face, which is crudely drawn upon the unseen side of the luggage. In blood.
It must be a typical British thing but in an effort to avoid any form of confrontation, surprisingly few standees will trouble a seat-hogger to ask that they relinquish their spare seat. People would rather stand for half an hour if it means not being on the receiving end of a menacing, inconvenienced glare or some annoyed huffing and puffing.
However, on the other end of the scale you get the odd militant seat-searcher, who will scan the train and swoop down on the poor soul who dared to put their bag on the seat next to them because they were naive enough to think that the train wouldn’t be busy.
Recently, I was on the train and sat adjacent to a tourist who had his large suitcase on the seat next to him. To be fair, it would never have fitted on the luggage rack and there’s no provisions on these commuter trains for full-size suitcases.
A woman boarded the train and although there were vacant seats available, she made a beeline for this poor guy and his suitcase. She demanded that he move his suitcase immediately as she pays far too much money to stand on the train when seats are available. It’s clear that English wasn’t this man’s first language but he immediately started to move so as to get his bag out. No sooner had he stood up than the woman told him not to worry, he was taking too long. She then took up an empty seat across the aisle, where she could maintain eye contact and continue to bore through the poor tourist’s skull with her angry glare for the remainder of the journey.
I’m a bit of a pedant sometimes but she was just a massive cunt.
You see many odd things on trains. Many odd things which remind me why I prefer to drive my car and avoid the necessity to occasionally rub shoulders with the odd cretin, who most definitely jumped a barrier or two to get on my train.
I can think of a dozen cretin stories, but my new favourite example cropped up just yesterday, after I’d started to write this article.
A scruffy lad boarded the train just as the doors closed at a station, skillfully dodging the doors so as not to spill his open can of Special Brew. He seemed to be magically drawn to another scruffy lad, whom he sat opposite to. Both scruffy lads were sat in opposite window seats in the row behind me and it was definitely the latter of the two who stank to high heaven of a cannabis factory.
The original scruffy lad asked me something about my phone and a text message in a very heavy, Eastern European accent. I didn’t even realise he was talking to me at first and he had to repeat himself several times before I understood that he wanted me to send a text message to his friend for him because he’d run out of credit.
Did I want to get my phone out and let an unknown person get hold of my mobile number?
No thank you, I did not.
I politely declined the request, stating that I’d rather not provide that service to him.
The original scruffy lad asked if it was because I didn’t have enough credit.
Sure, if that was what he considered as a reasonable excuse not to do him that favour.
I’m not sure how it happened, but the two scruffy lads got talking to each other about buying/selling drugs/stolen goods. Now, I’m no expert in criminal etiquette, but I always assumed you wouldn’t trust someone else unless they were introduced to you as “safe”. Or at the very least you’d exchange a password or secret phrase which was known throughout the criminal underworld.
Speaking of code words, I was recently approached by a prostitute, who simply came to my car as I parked at the station car park and asked if I was “looking for business”. Being naive and a bit confused as to which type of product she would possibly sell at such an early hour and in a dark car park, it took me a few seconds to realise what it was she was actually offering. I’m surprised she wasn’t more subtle; asking simply if I was “looking for fun” or if I wanted to take her somewhere… solicitation is illegal, right? Just for fun, here’s a video of the whore coming up to my car and then being turned away when she couldn’t provide any certification or medical documentation (sorry- no sound).
Anyway, back to the scruffy lads.
Somehow, they both got talking to each other. In summary, the original scruffy lad was Romanian and had Spice to sell. From what I’ve heard in the news, Spice is pretty nasty and leaves users in a catatonic state. Why anyone would want to pay for that is beyond me, but some of the people in parts of our world are pretty fucked up.
Scruffy lad #2 had cigarettes, weed and a bottle of whisky to sell. He was 27 years old, from London, had 5(!) kids, had a sixth on the way and was a descendent of the travelling community. The original scruffy lad was on the way to a particular station, even though he wasn’t sure where it was and invited scruffy lad #2 to come with him. Scruffy lad #2 agreed, but only upon the assurance that there’d be no funny business. Fortunately, I was getting off at the next station and to be honest, we couldn’t arrive at my station soon enough.
Despite the tattoos, the menacing looks and the “street” way in which they both spoke, my inner self was cracking up laughing. It was clear that both scruffy lads fancied themselves as gangsta-like figures, but to anyone else on the train it sounded like a couple of chancers who were off to perform homosexual activities with each other at a place neither had ever visited before. It’s quite possible that one or both of those scruffy lads now lay at the bottom of a river, but I guess that’s what comes of a life of crime.
I’m not a “people” person at the best of times, but given the choice between sharing a small table on a commuter train with a sweaty office worker or a mobile drug/alcohol/tobacco who shared everything with strangers, I know who I’d rather sit next to on a train.