Thursday, 24 April 2014

An Appeal For Calm

On Tuesday, I went out for the day with Ian.  Our day was pretty much as it always is when we meet up: a lot of trains, a lot of cooing over brutalist architecture, a lot of cups of tea (look out for our forthcoming book, Carriages, Concrete and Caffeine: A Spotter's Guide).  His company was of course excellent, and the experience was a delight.

There were, however, a series of minor incidents that cast a slight shadow over the day.  In increasing order of unpleasantness:

  • a drunk homeless man invited the entire carriage to snuggle with him under his duvet, before necking vodka from the bottle
  • two men collided slightly in the crush between people getting off and on the train; this resulted in a bellowing, furious row
  • a woman pushed a blind lady out of the way so that she could board more quickly; it was spotted by the ticket inspector and, after he remonstrated with her, she shouted angrily at him, leading to her being barred from getting on altogether
  • a bunch of teenage lads piled on a smaller boy, making him cry; when fellow passengers intervened, they turned on them, leading to one of the Good Samaritans getting bitten on the hand  

It was a weird, discombobulating series of events that seeped into us.  It caused us to become a little bit anxious, a bit subdued.  It made things unpleasant.

It's stuff like this - and the recent controversy over "Women Who Eat On Tubes" - that makes public transport a nightmare.  It knocks you out of sorts.  

When we all board a train together, we become a community.  I'm not saying we should all immediately join hands and make a caring circle; that would upset me just as much.  We are British after all.  But we're all trapped together inside a little tin tube for five, fifteen, five hundred minutes, and everyone wants that experience to be as painless as possible.  Read your book.  Have a chat with your friends.  Listen to music on your headphones.  But always keep one mantra in mind: is this polite?

The incidents above weren't polite.  They invaded the community of passengers, and sent a little shudder down the train.  People's moods shifted.  That incident made ripples, expanded in the tight space, raised blood pressures and tensions.  We were all trapped together - we could reach up and touch the ceiling, reach out and touch the walls, and none of us could leave until we reached another station.  The people who disembarked had a slightly higher heart rate and a slightly frazzled brain and went and spread that around a bit more.

Just be polite on trains.  If there's a delay, remember that everyone else is delayed as well; your appointment is not necessarily the most important one on the train.  If you missed your breakfast, and need to eat en route, perhaps consider a granola bar or a sandwich rather than a Big N Tasty Fried Breakfast Smorgasbord that'll stink out the carriage and make everyone else's stomach rumble.  If you need to text someone, make sure you have the keyboard sounds switched off.  If you have to beat someone up, have the decency to take it out onto the street, instead of clattering around a train.  Little things.  Think about other people.

In an ideal world, of course, we'd all have individual pods that swept us to our destination, like those tiny trains they have at Heathrow Airport, and we wouldn't have to deal with other people at all.  It won't happen though.  We live on a small, busy island and we're just getting closer to each other all the time.  Why not make life better for everyone?  Before you discuss your faulty uterus across the carriage, or cut your toenails, or see what every ringtone on your phone sounds like (and yes, I have witnessed all these things) ask, is this polite?  And then tuck your clippers away and take out a book and start reading.

Just a tiny thought.  Just enough to make everyone feel a little better.

5 comments:

The Shillito said...

There seems to be a mental change in people when they are on their commute to or from work. They might normally be a lovely person, but catch them on their way to work or way home, and they're a different person. For many, taking the train, tram or tube is a "necessary evil", not a luxury. Regardless of transport method, that time it takes to get to your destination is seen as a "pain", so people get irate. I was on a Northern train from Deansgate to Piccadilly the other day and it was standing room only. One guy was standing next to the doors at the end of the carriage with his large bag in front of the door to the conductors office. Of course, this meant that this door opened into his bag. The guy yelled "for fuck's sake". I turned round to him (I was standing next to him) and said "really?" He apologised, which was a refreshing change, but it was such a silly thing to get angry about.

Manners on trains are a different topic though. While I will argue my right to eat hot food on trains to the grave, I will agree that overall manners of people on public transport is awful. I had an interesting conversation with Virgin Trains the other day and found out that there are no railway bylaws for quiet coaches meaning they can't enforce it at all. It's more a vague request asking passengers to keep quiet (and more often than not, they don't). However, I've also found out that booking advance tickets gives you the option of "quiet coach" or "no preference", meaning you can't choose "not quiet coach", leading to people who will be loud regardless ending up in quiet carriages sometimes. Crazy.

Neil said...

On London Midland commuter services on the south WCML, *all* coaches are quiet coaches. Uniquely civilised.

The one that gets me most is people watching DVDs/playing music with the sound on on trains. Why does anyone think it is OK to do this? Not only that, but it *is* explicitly prohibited in the Railway Byelaws, so staff should be enforcing it without having to be asked to do so.

The Shillito said...

Funnily enough, the long distance London Midland services from Crewe to London are actually quite reasonable in terms of noise levels, at least mid-week in the middle of the day (when I guess nobody travels anyway). I don't mind that it takes 3 hours when I get a table seat.

Andy said...

Quite agree Scott. I know what you mean about people spoiling the journey for others.

I recently went to Glasgow, on the West Coast Main Line, I wanted to get photo's of the fantastic city, and go on the Charles Rennie Mackintosh trail. It was a blissful journey on the way down on the Pendillino, through the rolling hills. Had a grat time in Glasgow. The way back was different however. There was a massive row at the ticket barriers at Glasgow Central, some chap, deciding to have a fight with the gurad on the barrier, saying that 'he didn't let him through quick enough' and all hell breaking loose. After all this, I found my reserved seat on the train, and settled down, with my sandwich and i-pod. After we had just departed from Glasgow Central, some chap (too kind a word) and his girlfriend, tapped me on the shoulder and said 'shift son', I said ' sorry but this is my reserved seat', and next thing, he is starting to have a go at me, saying stuff like, who the hell do you think you are, sitting in places you think are reserved etc, etc. Thankfully the ticket inspector, was on his way down at this point ( I was in coach A first coach along), and then he started having a go at him.No matter how much the ticket guy from Virgin Trains tried to placate him that there was plenty of room further along, this t**t was not having it. He was asked to leave the train at Carlisle, and the Transport Police were waiting, so I'm guessing there was another altercation further on along the train...

Most people tend to be polite and considerate I have to admit, you get the odd toe rag now and again I'm afraid

On a brighter note, enjoying your blog, and cheers for the heads up on Glasgow on here, in particular the SPT Subway system, I agree with you, it's brilliant, I can see how much you enjoyed it now, and a fine city Glasgow is, Cheers :))

UbleyHalt said...

Why do men sit on trains with their legs spread apart thus taking up loads of room, and I'm a man myself. Why do people have such crappy headphones. Why do labourers with boots on rest them on seats. Why did the man opposite me last week chew on gum so loud. Why do people on crowded trains put their bags on seats. Why do people stand at the entrance of coaches and make no attempt to shuffle down the carriage. Why do people at Blackheath insist that they have a god given right to access all trains even when they are full the gunnels.