To Oxford, for a conference, by train. A fairly uneventful journey, but one enlivened by two people who sat across the aisle from me. When they got on, the man said to the woman “I’m sure I know you from somewhere”, which sounded like the ultimate cheesy chat-up line, until it emerged that they did vaguely know each other: they were in the army, posted in Paderborn, and had mutual friends. Now, I wasn’t particularly listening to this couple as they embarked on their conversation, but since they conducted their chat as if they were in a private rather than a public space, I was more or less obliged to listen. So, what do I now know about them?
-that the man has had an operation for twisted testicles, which nearly went gangrenous, but that he was having sex less than three days later;
that his wife is a Filipino (I would have said Filipina, but that’s me being pedantic) and is very small;
-that he has the names of his children tattooed on his body;
-that he will not have the name of his wife tattooed on his body, because of the possibility, however remote, that they might one day split up;
-that he intends to have a protective angel tattooed on his back;
-that he breeds dogs;
-that several named members of the British military in Germany are “wankers”;
-that parts of Germany are boring because nobody speaks English;
-that the woman also has a tattoo;
-that she does not want any more children as one is enough;
-that she had to get a restraining order on the father;

Too much information, and rather intimate information at that, conducted at high volume, so that most of the carriage could hear. They obviously don’t teach them that discretion is the better part of valour in the army these days.
The return journey was enhanced by the presence of two groups familiar to all who have to travel on to Blackpool – the weekend revellers. In this case, a group of bullet headed thirty something men in football shirts, who had actual crates of beer to drink, and a group of three girls, who joined at Warrington. The girls looked about 17, but might have been younger. They were dressed comme il faut, that is to say in jeans sitting low enough to expose the pelvic bone, teamed with tops short enough to expose the studs in their navels, and their distressingly flabby midriffs. They carried no luggage beyond plastic bags, which clinked suggestively. Each had a paper cup from which a sickly sweet smell emerged. The cups contained, I soon discovered, Baileys, and it was clear that quite a bit of it had been drunk already. They talked loudly, mainly disputing the identity of the boy one of them had snogged the night before -“It was GARY!” and about what they were going to do in Blackpool- get drunk mostly, although as one of them sweetly put it “I’m fuckin’ bladdered already”.
I took my reluctant leave of the gilded youth and of the shaven headed men for the final leg of my journey, musing again on what ever happened to that famous English reticence and reserve.

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

9 Responses to “Eavesdroppings”

  1. Oh, Rob, you did a lot for my health today – if laughter is as wholesome as they say… Being a frequent traveler myself I can very much relate to your spirited accounts of the sentiments, experiences and recreational activities of your fellow countrymen – or is it -people?

  2. Glad to be of service Francessa… Is this business of conducting your private life in public just a British thing, or do Austrians do it too?

  3. Generally speaking: such behaviour as you describe it certainly goes across nations, races, ages, sexes. In addition, you can observe what is called an increased privatisation of the public (places) and personal “staging” in the public – of persons and groups, or what Habermas called “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” – all of this in connection with mass media culture.

    By the way, I hope you don’t object to my adding myself to your “My friend map”. It looked so inviting.

  4. Habermas, eh? I shall have to look him up…
    Of course I don’t mind you adding yourself to the map – that’s what it’s for. Glad you want to.

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