Let me recount an incident that you may regard as so
trivial and so common that it hardly merits the time I’m going to spend
recounting it. I do so because it
engendered in me an unsettling sense of helpless despair.
One recent morning, heading to London
on a suburban commuter train, I was obliged to spend twenty minutes observing a
fellow passenger in silent revulsion, before sadly concluding that London, my London,
is headed pell-mell towards an Hogarthian anarchy, or worse.
The passenger was a thirty-something white male of
stocky build. Far from scruffy, he was dressed
in a style one might describe as smart-casual.
His head was close-shaved, a style probably calculated to hide a
receding hairline, but which contributed somehow to an appearance of
brutishness. The moment he boarded – at Wimbledon, in case you think it’s relevant – I
anticipated with the dread of inevitability the display of loutish behaviour
He talked throughout the trip into a mobile telephone,
for the first five minutes simultaneously eating from a paper wrapper from
which protruded what appeared to be a hot dog.
The emanating miasma of fried onions was eye-watering. Speaking loudly enough to cause heads to
turn, his conversation, evidently with a mate, dwelt on some mutual
acquaintance who they decided, in the vulgar coinage sometimes used to describe
an intimate area of the female anatomy, was singularly lacking in intelligence.
To the disapproving glances he responded
with a defiantly intimidating scowl. His
booted feet were placed on the seat opposite, which understandably remained
vacant, even though the train was crowded, until we pulled into Waterloo.
Having finished his snack he screwed up the wrapper
and shoved it down the side of the seat, disregarding the waste bin less than
leaning distance away. A fizzy drink
bottle and a banana skin followed the same route. A newspaper was thrown to the floor. These actions were accompanied by a belch
loud enough to be heard at King’s Cross.
Not one of us among the discreetly muttering head-shakers
said a word. Were we too afraid to
speak? I plead mitigation, for I have
been known occasionally to ask that feet be removed from seats or that litter
be consigned to the receptacles provided, so far without the punch on the snout
that my friends tells me is inevitable.
So, sadly, inertia and resignation replace indignation
I’m reduced to sending emails to the rail operator asking
that on-board staff be required to enforce the rules, or at least that notices
be posted, or announcements made. I’ve done
this before. The company doesn’t seem to
“Get a life!” I hear you saying.
Perhaps you’re right. But I prefer not to think so.