Last week I jumped on the last one of numerous trains, for a short connecting ride between Stockport and Wilmslow (10 minutes) to get me home for the weekend.
As I entered the carriage it was evident that somebody further down was speaking into a mobile phone with a very loud voice – I mean a VERY LOUD VOICE.
Suddenly, a fellow passenger sat closer to the culprit leaped to his feet and announced “ladies and gentlemen, if you think this person is speaking into his phone too loud will you please show your hands?”
One of those moments, perhaps, when he thought he would rally the crowd and enjoy a brief episode of leadership.
Sadly, the standing passenger failed to judge the mood of his audience, who stared at him in silence.
Mr. Loud, however, spotted the #fail and rose to the occasion, telling him to shut up and sit down – then carried on talking to “Neil” in his VERY LOUD VOICE about some meeting he had attended that day.
Witnessing this, another seated passenger decided to make his contribution to support the emasculated would-be leader, by asking the Mr. Loud to tone it down a bit.
“I’M SORRY NEIL, I’VE BEEN ASKED BY SOME CHUBBY BLOKE TO LOWER MY VOICE BUT AS YOU KNOW, I’M GOING DEAF SO I HAVE TO SPEAK LIKE THIS.”
The words “chubby bloke” were clearly a red rag to the er.. chubby bloke, who rose, pink-shirted and grey-suited, to express his outrage.
Now we had a real incident on our hands.
The previously silent passengers were galvanised by this turn of events and now started to add their vocal support to both camps with erudite comments such as:
“just shut up and sit down”
“you are making as much noise as he is”
“he can’t help if it he is deaf”
“you can’t go around calling people chubby”
“if you need to make a loud call, go and stand in the lobby”
A split vote seemed to be developing, and during all of this NEIL WAS STILL AT THE RECEIVING END OF A COMMENTARY – A VERY LOUD ONE.
Mr. Chubby decided it was high time to go and get a train manager.
Fortunately, we were on the two-carriage Manchester to South Wales Arriva service.
Had we been travelling Virgin it could have been Milton Keynes before the relevant official was discovered.
The train manager arrived – unexpectedly, a motherly middle-aged lady (the perfect Ward Sister type) – and asked all concerned to calm down.
Mr. Loud announced “I WANT TO REGISTER A COMPLAINT BECAUSE THAT MAN GOT HOLD OF ME BY THE THROAT AND ASSAULTED ME”, pointing at a startled nondescript individual possibly experiencing his second most exciting life-moment since opening his acceptance letter for a job at the bank.
At that moment, the train pulled into Wilmslow station and, much as as trip to Newport to see the plot thicken would have been fascinating, I was obliged to exit the stand off, never to discover the outcome.
What it did leave me with, however, was a reminder that civilisation skates on thin ice.
This week I’ve once again enjoyed numerous train journeys including an early connection from Hale to Stockport on Wednesday morning, prior to heading South for Stoke on Trent.
The Northern Line service from Chester to Manchester is notoriously unreliable, frequently late and delivered on rolling stock that wouldn’t look out of place in a 60’s black and white “B” movie.
The 07:28 from Hale is predictably jammed with grey-faced commuters heading into the City of Manchester, mostly wearing headphones and either playing Candy-Crush, reading The Metro or simply asleep.
A significant number of passengers (including me) disembarked at Stockport this week and crowded towards the stairs leading down from Platform 3 into the tunnel that connects them with the outside world and onward journeys.
This morning, half the staircase is cordoned off and so we are herded sheep-like into a single staircase – a demi-train of folk heading down and their replacements climbing upwards in the same narrow passageway.
One of the travellers heading down bumps into another climbing up.
Down: “Oy – what are you playing at?”
Down: “I said what are you playing at – can’t you look where you are going?”
Up: “What’s your problem?”
Down: “You should look where you are going.”
Up: “Fuck off.”
Down: “Fuck off yourself. You fucking idiot. Don’t don’t do that again.”
Up: “Oh yeah – why? What are you going to do about it?”
Down: “Just fuck off.”
Up: “Fuck off yourself you nob.”
Lager louts? Football fans?
No – just a couple of ordinary blokes in their mid-30’s who, a moment before, were thinking about life, the universe, how long LVG will last, the weather, their job, their bird, their kids, lunch et al.
All of this in the midst of a crowd still struggling to get where they want to go and washing around these two belligerents like a stream of wildebeest avoiding a potential kill site.
It seems that the last resort of the hurried protagonist is the insult.
Clearly, had Shakespeare picked up on this efficient and effective conflict resolution technique, all of his plays could have been much shorter and generations of secondary school pupils would have been spared hours of travail.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
a play in one act
Macbeth: “I’m quite ambitious but a bit of a wimp.”
Witches: “Man up you dick. Take a chance.”
Lady Macbeth: “Yeah – man up.”
The King: “Any chance of staying over at yours next Friday?”
Lady Macbeth: “If you don’t kill him I will and if you want to be swinging your sporran in my direction again any time soon, you’d better sort yourself out.”
Macbeth: “OK, OK, I’ll sort it.”
Lady Macbeth: “Well?”
Macbeth: “Actually I could get into this – I’ve done a few others in. Adults, kids, the full monty. It’s fun.”
Lady Macbeth: “So now I’m married to a serial killer? Great. How do you expect me to show my face around here? Why do men never read the instructions?”
Macbeth: “Oh shit – what have I done? It was her – she made me do it.”
Banquo’s ghost: “Boo!”
Lady Macbeth: “I can’t sleep. I married an idiot – bollocks – I’ve had enough.”
Macbeth: “They’re coming to take me away ha ha! You’ll never take me alive.”
Macduff: “Take that – my Mum had a section.”
Witches: “Told you he was a dick.”
Unfortunately, this level of brevity at a flashpoint seems nowadays only to descend to verbal abuse as the resulting sword fight would be unseemly, even if entertaining, at Stockport Station.
Duelling should be re-introduced as an alternative to litigation and hosted by Ant & Dec on Saturday evening, with bidding and profits to charity – it would knock spots of The Lottery and save us all from Strictly and X-factor.
An aggrieved chubby passenger, obstructed commuter or even dental patient could simply challenge their antagonist to a dawn (or televised) reckoning and save us all the expense and stress of listening to an argument, verbal abuse or a Fitness to Practice Investigation.
“Choose your weapon Mr. Moyes – pistol or sword?”
But there’s more……
Having negotiated the journey from Platform 3 to 2 the same morning, I boarded the ill-fated 08:15 to Stoke on Trent and headed for my reserved seat on a packed Pendolino.
As I sat down my recently heightened senses were conscious of a certain atmosphere between the middle-aged lady sat opposite me knitting and a twitchy young man seated across the aisle.
She all tweed and he all Friends of the Earth schoolteacher.
Within minutes they re-engaged in what had clearly been an altercation that began soon after Manchester Piccadilly (that’s 15 minutes earlier).
Here’s the plot:
Young man has bought a train ticket online but hasn’t collected the ticket as he thinks that showing the guard the email on his Samsung smartphone will suffice (we seasoned travellers and Apple-heads guffaw at this point);
Knitting lady has taken the seat because it doesn’t show as reserved;
Young man requests his seat and she politely declines as she has started knitting;
Young man losing both battle and bottle, has called for the guard;
Knitting lady is knitting with a small show of triumph in her demeanour;
The guard arrived as I sat down to relax for 30-minutes reading.
He explains to Young Man that his email counts for nothing and that he will have to repurchase a ticket.
Young man has now lost battle, bottle, money and face.
How do you knit triumphantly? I wouldn’t know but somehow she managed it. I’m sure that cardigan will always remind her of the moment.
Young man has to pay up – guard is as bothered as Dave Cameron at a Lib-Dem fund-raiser.
Guard wanders off.
Young man (to Knitting lady): “Well I suppose you are pleased with yourself now?”
Knitting lady: “It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.”
Young man: “Well perhaps you could have said something or done the right thing?”
Knitting lady: “It’s none of my business.”
Young man: “Well you can just get back to your knitting now and keep your condescending smirk to yourself.”
Knitting lady: “I will thank you and you can stop your patronising comments.”
An uncomfortable tension hangs in the air as palpable as that after a kneeling fart during Holy Communion.
By which time, I’m wondering whether something in the world has changed in the last few days (apart from my Paleo nutrition) and that people are getting more short-tempered? Or is it just like this all the time and I happen to have bumped into three examples?
I leave you to ponder these events with a quotation from The Joker in Batman:The Killing Joke (1988).
“Ladies and Gentlemen! You’ve read about it in the papers! Now witness, before your very eyes, that most rare and tragic of nature’s mistakes! I give you: the average man. Physically unremarkable, it instead possesses a deformed set of values. Notice the hideously bloated sense of humanity’s importance. Also note the club-footed social conscience and the withered optimism. It’s certainly not for the squeamish, is it? Most repulsive of all, are its frail and useless notions of order and sanity. If too much weight is placed upon them… they snap. How does it live, I hear you ask? How does this poor pathetic specimen survive in today’s harsh and irrational environment? I’m afraid the sad answer is, “Not very well.” Faced with the inescapable fact that human existence is mad, random, and pointless, one in eight of them crack up and go stark slavering buggo! Who can blame them? In a world as psychotic as this… any other response would be crazy!”
Only one in eight?