Brief Encounters

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.

5 Responses to “Brief Encounters”

  1. Sounds like the train journey from hell. I never know whether to say anything in circumstances such as these. It can make thing so much worse but occasionally it can make things better.

    Last time I was on such a journey I was sharing a carriage with a young lad. Studded jacket, ripped jeans, music box with loud thumping music – No headphones attached to it. Awful it was. The train came to a standstill and I couldn’t hear the announcement because of his music. The guard came through and explained that there was something wrong with the brakes and we were going to be there for sometime. My heart sank. The teenagers behaviour became unbearable. He was rummaging in his bag, turning his music up and down, bouncing from seat to seat and occasionally trying his phone. In the end I asked him if he was anxious but all I got was “Uh!” I re-phrased the question and asked him if he was worried about something. Imagine my surprise when he stuffed his music box in his bag, took off his jacket, combed his hair and came and sat next to me. By the time I got off the train I felt like his adopted mother. 🙂

  2. Hope it was better on the way home, Rob! My carriage was quiet apart from a teenage girl piercingly explaining to her dad how he was wasting his time trying to phone home (he couldn’t get a signal) because she’d already sent a text message. I didn’t know people still called them text messages rather than texts. Oh, & the girl opposite me kept falling asleep & just waking in the nick of time to stop herself falling into the aisle. That was quite absorbing as a spectator sport.

  3. On my regular monthly Dorchester to Waterloo trips I used to sit in the buffet car. Nine in the morning and the car would fill up with just released prisoners from Dorchester nick.

    They all had black bin bags with their belongings in, including cans of Export lager. I used to try and make myself invisible as they all used to get off at Bournemouth but they always ended up talking to me and offering me a tinny! They were quite sweet though and would tell each other off if they swore (which they did) because I was a lady.

  4. Whilst not wishing to curb the children’s natural enthusiasm the Father’s reluctance to deal with his kids’ behaviour is a vicious circle, the kids have no social parameters within which to work, subsequently get disapproval from others (understandably) and therefore they are made out to be the ‘bad’ guys when it is their Father’s cowardice which is the crux of the problem. This reminds me of the people who take their dog out and look away at the vital toilet momemt, in their tiny brains (presumably) if they’ve not seen it done it’s not been done – nope, clean it up!! Tip from an ex-soldier – if you find a table to yourself, get 8 cans of special brew and leave them on the table in front of you – it’s guaranteed no-one will sit next to you. Never mind the age of the train, age of the strain more like it…

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