Since I moved to London I’ve relinquished the luxury of having my own car. It may have been small, naff and only able to hold four people, but it was mine and I could go anywhere I wanted in it, when I wanted. (It was also “so cheap and lacking in street cred, it holds zero appeal to car thieves”, according to the paper, so it wasn’t all bad.)
Moving to the capital has seriously reduced my commute, but I have been spending a lot more time day-to-day on buses and the tube. Over my two years of working in London, I’ve been formulating a theory that public transport has the power to dramatically change behaviour in very short spaces of time. Living here has just confirmed my suspicions that travelling regularly with the hoi-polloi turns even the loveliest people into raging arseholes (even me), so I’ve come up with some rules. I’ve sent a copy to BoJo and anticipate that it’ll be sent round to everyone within the next couple of months. Remember, you read it here first.
The Science of Seats
Sometimes, during off-peak hours, I have been on buses and trains and there have been vacant seats. People are standing, often in front of and around the empty seat, but nobody wants to sit on it. To be honest, it’s the logical choice. When I was getting the train every day from London Euston to Milton Keynes my clothes became quickly soiled with impressions from the dirt, grime and God knows what else ingrained into the seat covers. My dry cleaning bill went through the roof (and there are few things in life as uninteresting to spend money on as dry cleaning). When there are no seats, though, there is always a mad scrum for any that become vacant. The old scarcity principle has never rung more true than on public transport, and on a bus or train, ‘demand’ translates to black looks and sharpened elbows (and, on one memorable occasion, a woman in a power suit and an expensive hairstyle screaming “cunt! Stupid spoiled cunt!” after another woman pipped her to the last seat on the 7:43am).
Either way, seat politics are complicated. I’m always more than willing to give up a perch for a tottering old dear or swollen-bellied mother-to-be, because, well it’s the nice thing to do. On the other hand, I’ve had stare-outs with fossilised old battleaxes before, the kind that wear pearls and look like they last ate in 1987. No problem with older people going round looking miserable the whole time – maybe they once swallowed something nasty and the wind changed at an unfortunate moment, or their impending mortality is just too depressing to bother working up a smile for – but lady, if you’re wearing four inch heels and expect me to even consider giving my seat up for you without a please or thank you, you can get stuffed. Soz.
Similarly, pregnant women. Clearly, you’ve got balls. You’ve shoehorned yourself into a situation where sometime quite soon you’re going to be enduring some of the worst pain imaginable. In your vagina. You’ve almost certainly done it deliberately. If you’re brave enough to do that, you’re definitely brave enough to ask a stranger if they wouldn’t mind letting you sit down on the train because your feet are all swollen and you’re hauling around an extra few pounds of nutrient-sapping gristle. Man up, and ditch those lame-ass ‘Baby on Board’ badges. (Incidentally, you shouldn’t even CONSIDER one of those badges until you’re a decent way in. I’m no obstetrician (and thank fuck for that), but I know for a fact that until you’ve got a visible bump I’m probably just as tired as you from hefting my handbag around all day. It’s heavy.)
Babies and Pets
I am not very good with children. As I get older, more and more people tell me this will change and one day soon I’m going to wake up with a burning desire for a womb-ful of tiny arms and legs. I’ll then follow it up with up to 48 hours of gruelling, torturous labour where there is at least a reasonable chance of suffering a prolapse and/or shitting myself. It’s Inevitable, apparently. That may well happen. It could be in two years, it could be in ten, but right now I do not want screaming children anywhere near me. And especially not on a train home after a long day at work when all I want to do is read the paper and have a bash at the crossword. We’ll keep this brief: do not let your toddlers run amok, kick the back of people’s seats or scream. Do not park your pram in front of three seats if the train is packed and there are people having to stand up. If you have a baby, I get it. Babies cry sometimes for no reason. Sedatives are no longer in vogue. However, do not be offended when I get up and move into the next carriage. Frankly, I’ve been at work all day and I don’t want to be sat next to your ticking time bomb for the next forty minutes. It may be asleep now but for all I know it could wake up at any moment and start yelling its head off.
Considering my low tolerance for screaming bundles of human flesh, I’m actually okay with pets on the train. On the whole they tend to be better behaved. I once sat on the train next to a gentleman with a Rottweiler. Not the aggressive variety that bites people’s faces off for jokes, but the friendly kind that only has a couple of brain cells to smoosh together. “How adorable!” I said to the gentleman accompanying him, who had a shaved head and a skull and crossbones tattoo on the side of his neck. “What’s he called?”
“Oscar,” said the skinhead. “But I call him Meathead.”
“Meathead!” I exclaimed. “Er. What a lovely name!”
Cats, too, are very welcome on any train I’m sitting on. I’m not really a cat person generally, but I don’t mind them on public transport because of the one time the pitiful mewing of a kitten provoked a two-year-old boy to wrest himself free from his mother’s grasp and tear down the aisle roaring ‘WHERE’S THE PUSSY!?’ at the top of his lungs. There are few things that unite a carriage full of strangers on a grey Tuesday evening, but I can personally affirm that toddlers screaming expletives while their red-faced mothers race after them – “shush, no darling, pussycat, where’s the pussycat,” – is one of them. The other that immediately comes to mind is, of course, the collective sigh and Mexican eye-roll that meets the announcement that someone has jumped off the bridge at Hemel Hempstead again (very depressing place, apparently), and that the service is going to be delayed by fifty minutes while they scrape the giblets off the tracks and bag up the teeth. “Selfish bastard,” fifteen hundred hardened commuters mutter under their breath. “Why couldn’t the silly bugger just have done pills like a normal person?”
I’m holding Apple primarily responsible for the second-hand music epidemic. I’m willing to bet that at least three in five music devices are iSomethings, and most of those devices are owned by people who are using the shitty Apple-brand earbuds that came with them. How a company that prides itself on its cutting-edge design and pioneering attitude can put out such inadequate, shoddily-manufactured rubbish is beyond me, but the upshot is that it is now nearly impossible go use a bus or a train without being forced to listen to the tinny echoes of somebody else’s playlist. The only way to get out of it is to plug in your own music, which will, of course, make the problem even worse for everyone else.
Much more annoying, in my opinion, are the people who use their commute as catch-up time with their mates. Your fellow commuters have no interest in what you did at your weekend, how your date on Friday night went or what a bitch your boss is. Nor do they care about your relationship problems, brutal hangover or whatever other banal events have recently spattered your tiny little lives. The commute, especially in the mornings, is a time of tranquillity, when Britain’s workforce shuts up, sits still and reflects glumly on the prospect of another hard day at the grind. Some read books, or the paper; some attempt to work, hunched over their laptops with elbows folded in awkwardly like battery chickens with ties and comb-overs; some just stare fixedly at nothing, glassy-eyed. Clearly the commuter carriages aren’t the most cheerful of places, but at least everyone sharing in the cramped, uncomfortable hell knows the rules: no talking, no eating and no snoring. When people – usually teenagers or day-tripping pram-pushers – come on board and shatter the silence with their inane chatter, those of us on our way to our daily toil can quickly become extremely, and, indeed, unreasonably enraged. Next time you’re on a train filled with suits and women blearily applying mascara with a compact, spare a thought. Take your Kindle and pipe down. (If you’re one of the commuters, the very best way to deal with inconsiderate gobshites is to stare fixedly at their left ear until they become so uncomfortable they move. Don’t wuss out and look away, just stare. For bonus points, smile encouragingly.)
But the very worst are the people who bring horrible smells onto the train. It’s always the last couple of services of the night – the party trains – that are the most horrible, each carriage a swirling medley of malodours, an eye-watering blend of Burger King, armpit and stale, sweaty air. It is twice as bad when it’s been raining, because then you also get the smell of wet scalp wafting its way up into your nostrils. The most offensive, aggressive odour of all though, has got to be a toss-up between egg cress and tuna mayonnaise. I hate tinned tuna at the best of times; it is one of those substances, like dog shit and caustic soda, that instinctively seems to me like something you shouldn’t be putting in your mouth. The stench is nauseating. It is worse than wet dog, dead body, chronic halitosis and raw sewage combined. It is worse than eight week old milk. It is even worse than cider puke (and if you ever tried to strawpedo two litres of Strongbow for a dare, you too will know that is the undisputed gross-out champion of all vomit, like carbonated apple bile with a side of stomach lining). The tuna is an enormous great dirty slimy fish that is hauled in from the sea in nets, ground up into meat-slurry and vacuum-packed in to tins. Environmentalists have found tuna fish contain so much mercury that they advise pregnant women and children to avoid eating too much of it. Au contraire, science-y types: I think it would be bloody good if anyone who enjoys eating the stuff drops down dead tomorrow so I no longer have to endure its creeping, penetrating odour when I’m trying to do the cryptic. Enjoy it in your own homes, weirdos.
From the age of eleven I attended an all-girls grammar school, and one of the things they were very hot on – in addition to STD identification and netball – was CONSTANT VIGILANCE against the male population, at least 80% of whom were (apparently) collectively conspiring to harass and grope us en masse. For Mrs Frith and the other matriarchs whose business it was to see us through our school days unmolested, public transport was a hotbed of unsolicited touching and wolf-whistling. Men will sit next to us, we were told, and try to put their hands up our skirts. In such an event, the proper procedure is to grab the perpetrator’s wrist and thrust it into the air, bellowing ‘WHOSE DIRTY LITTLE HAND IS THIS!?’ at the top of your lungs. Other top tips included:
And so on. To their credit, nobody in my year ever became an obituary in the Bucks Herald, or the subject of an assembly as an Example To Others, but it does seem to happen. I knew someone at university who once told me they’d caught a man masturbating into the back of her coat, which is pretty revolting (especially considering aforementioned cost of dry cleaning). In any case, public transport is no place to meet people. Yes, in London the Metro has its Rush Hour Crush feature (I am completely undecided whether being the unwitting recipient of such a message would be bowel-knottingly cringey or the Best Story Ever, brilliant for the wedding, etc), but generally people want to be left alone on the train. This probably goes without saying, but in case there was ever any doubt: don’t start conversations with people, don’t read over others’ shoulders and for goodness sake, don’t crack one off into somebody’s trench. It’s not British.
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