To Milton Keynes for a meeting at the Open University, on the early train from Preston. I didn’t have a reserved seat, so found the first available one, and sat down. Just before we left, a big commotion announces the arrival of a lady in one of those very high-tech wheelchairs, her companion, her two dogs, and their combined luggage. They are at my table, and they are very loud. The dogs are nosing around excitedly, but not causing any problems. Madam, however, feels the need to say to each of them (stupid names for both, of course) to “lay down” repeatedly. She’s a south-eastern gel from the sound of it, so it’s more like “liie daaarn”. The dogs ignore her completely. Companion then reports that the disabled toilet isn’t working. “Oh for fack’s sake” she yells. “Fackin hell, that’s brilliant innit.” She decides to give the dogs some water, so a bowl is extracted from the mountain of luggage, and water put into it. The bowl is placed in the aisle. Water – and who would have predicted it?- is spilt.
The two humans then decide to set up a portable DVD player. Much fussing with the luggage again. Then “You’ve brought the fackin wrong connector, innit?” Eventually, the thing is set up. She is listening via one set of headphones to pop videos. I know this, because the other set of headphones is lying on the table blasting out the soundtrack, and anyway, madam is singing along tunelessly.
I want to leave, but am caught in a classic wishy washy liberal dilemma- if I leave, it will seem I am expressing my distaste of someone who is clearly severely disabled. At the first stop I make as if I’m leaving the train, and seek refuge in another carriage.
All is relatively quiet, beyond the inevitable “I’m on the train” mobile calls, when a man in his thirties gets on at Crewe, accompanied by two boys aged about eight. One is his son, and the other presumably his son’s friend. They sit with two other people at a table, Dad at a seat across the aisle. Boys then proceed to talk at the tops of their voices, to bounce up and down, standing up on their seats, to switch the reading lights on and off repeatedly, to have a competition to see who can make the loudest farting noises… you get the picture. I’m half a carrriage away and getting more annoyed by the minute. Dad’s reaction is to say “shush” at ninety-second intervals, whilst pointedly looking away from the mayhem his charges are causing.
I recounted this tale to ‘er indoors, who pointed out that they probably rarely went on trains, and that this was exactly the way they would behave on a car journey. I think that’s right. But if you allow your kids to behave like that in your car, then that’s your problem. In a public place it’s diffferent. The father clearly knew that these kids shouldn’t be behaving like this, hence the continual shushing, but wasn’t prepared to do anything about it. Is he scared? Embarrassed? I don’t know why. I’m sure if he’d actually disciplined these two mini hooligans, the entire carriage would have applauded. Last seen heading for the Autosport exhibition at Birmingham NEC, pursued by a collective sigh of relief exhaled by the remaining passengers…

CC BY-SA 4.0 Brief Encounters by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.