I am a regular user of public transport; I don’t drive, so mass transit is very convenient. It’s also very odd. I have encountered a lot of different … ahem, characters during my travels. I’ve ranted about many of them, because I like to make sure I’m not going insane myself. It’s always a worry; the number of scary encounters I have on public transport occasionally make me wonder if I’m the odd one out somehow, that perhaps I’ve failed to tune my mental radio to Planet Bus or FM Train.
Once, for example, I was on the train back from Brighton with a friend of mine, the inimitable Di. We were whiling away the hours by discussing our purchases, watching the scenery, and just generally talking about our day and plans for future marathons.
The train had left Brighton at about 8.30pm, so we’d both mentally prepared ourselves, without needing to discuss it, for a certain level of well-oiled merriment amongst our fellow passengers. We weren’t disappointed. A couple got on at Brighton, just before the train was due to go, and they’d clearly had a good day. They were … ahem, merry, and so decided to broadcast, rather loudly, their well-oiled nature. They sang songs, for instance. Well, to be precise, they sang a single song over and over and over again.
I’ve actually blocked the title and lyrics of the song out of my head now, because I can’t bear to remember the awful, out-of-tune voices they presented to the carriage. They clearly thought they were excellent singers, and they were after a rise out of the carriage’s inhabitants; they continued to look round at each of us in turn, rather expectantly.
When the female discovered that I was a published writer (through a rather convoluted method that I won’t bore you with now), she was delighted. She proceeded to tell me that she worked for a “professional publishing house,” as she described it, and this immediately made me suspicious. Checking up on the internet later, it turns that the “professional publishing house” is actually a self-publishing company with a less-than-salubrious reputation. Any barge pole I happen to own in the future will not get anywhere near it, trust me.
I seem to attract strangeness on public transport. I don’t know why. I wish I could explain it, but odd people seem to – by accident or design – want to sit near me. I’ve had an occasion recently where a group of Americans sat in the same carriage as me and began to praise god in all his forms. Each to their own. I have no particular issues with people wanting to worship a deity of their choosing. I don’t believe in gods, but hey ho; if someone thinks differently, then fill your boots. I’m not a particular fan of public displays of affection, however; I have this vague sensation that it somehow demeans your personal faith by declaiming it loudly, but that’s another story.
So, when a group of Americans decided to loudly worship, and try to involve others in their worship, in an enclosed space, I felt uncomfortable. I also feel like I should contribute in my own atheistic way. So, I reached into my bag, where I (thankfully) had a copy of Richard Dawkins’ well-known book “The God Delusion”, opened it at the right page, and began to read very quietly to myself.
After a few minutes, I became aware of some muttered discussions going on in the carriage. I glanced up over the top of my book and saw a few people glaring in my direction. I wanted them to come and talk to me. I willed them to come and talk to me. I hoped they would ask me questions and show an interest; I would have loved a debate. Instead, they fell into an awkward silence which lasted for the rest of the train journey and I got to read my book. It’s an ill wind.
So yes … I attract odd people on the train and bus. People have tried to convert me, talk to me, and give me their life stories. Sometimes I don’t mind. Sometimes I try to remain focused on my book or newspaper or whatever.
I wish I made more notes about each of these characters, because I have a terrible memory and forget all too easy. In the future, I can see mileage in writing a book about my experiences on the trains (especially the trains), especially that I’d be terrified that people wouldn’t believe me. Sod it, I’ll write it anyway.