Minding My Own Business

Train journeys can be quite pleasant, if the carriage is quiet and the people aren’t too eccentric. I say that with the full awareness that I can be eccentric as well, but I like to think I can be respectful about other peoples’ comfort when we’re on a shared journey.

I was on the train this morning – a short, 30 minute journey that I’ve done many times before, and given that it’s early morning, it’s usually pretty quiet. There’s a usual blend of school-aged teenagers (a little noisy at times, and who seem unable to filter their volume and level of swear words) and commuters, all of whom seem to appreciate the chance to wake up quietly or with a quiet chat to a friend or colleague who’s got on with them.

Today, however, I found myself checking if there had been a full moon last night, because I seem to have found myself on the voyage of the damned. As I waited at the platform, before even getting on the train, two people got into a heated argument because one of them had collided his bike’s front wheel with hers; I would imagine it was accidental, but the way the argument was progressing, I suspected ther was going to be bloodshed before long. A nearby chap intervened in the end to calm things down, and both even snapped at him before settling into an uneasy silence. The man moved down the platform, and barked, “What are you looking at?” at me as he passed. Discretion was the better part of valour on that occasion, and I kept diplomatically silent.

When I got on my train and stepped on my usual carriage – we’re all creatures of habit to a lesser or greater degree, and I, like everyone I see regularly on the station, get onto the same carriage and usually sit in roughly the same seats – there was a wash of noise that flooded over me. It took me a second to realise that it wasn’t coming from one specific person, but from many; it was still half-empty – it was early – but my fellow travellers all seem to have had their volume buttons raised up to 11. There were two separate people on mobile phones – one seemed to be having an argument with a relative about the state of a house (interior furnishings, as much as I could make out) and the other rowing with some corporate bods who have done him a wrong – and two sets of two people having loud and intricate discussions about … well, I did my very best to tune them out, as I really didn’t want to have to listen to the endless diatribute of noise.

Sitting down at an empty table, I glanced around warily, wondering if there was anything else about to happen that would catch me off-guard, but it seemed alright; there were three or four empty tables, and no-one seemed to be about to kick off as had happened on the platform. I relaxed slightly; perhaps it was just people being excitable today for some reason. I could cope with it for half an hour for just one day.

But then someone walked through the train and decided to sit down on the same table as me. That’s entirely fine; it’s a public train, and I – sadly – can’t expect the entire carriage to myself. So he sat down, having rested his bike by the doors behind me, and seemed perfectly content for a moment.

Then it began. I was contentedly reading a book – I’ve just been rereading 1984 by George Orwell, and it’s still as good now as when it was first written – when I heard an attention-seeking throat-clearing from across the table. Automatically, I glanced up, and immediately cursed myself; the chap – in his early twenties, I suspect, with a fringe (just a fringe) hanging down over his eyes and an otherwise completely bald pate – was staring avidly at me, curiosity written all over his face.

“Excuse me,” he said – and ten points for politeness, “I’ve just rested my bike against those doors. Do you think they’ll be alright there?”

I glanced round; the story checked out. “You’ll be alright until you get to Westgate,” I told him. “Then you’re best moving your bike to the other set of doors. The train switches platforms usually.”

The look of curiosity deepend. “Why?”

“Not sure, mate. You’d have to ask the conductor.”

He nodded, got up, and walked off down the train. With utter certainty, I was sure he was taking me up on my suggestion. I felt slightly guilty that I’d misread the situation in terms of what he was hearing, but I hoped he was going to be okay. He seemed perfectly alright in himself, so I decided not to pursue it, and returned to my book.

I was getting to a good bit – although, as it’s a George Orwell tome, I should say an even better bit – when I was conscious of someone taking a seat opposite me again. I glanced up and saw the young man sitting there again; I tentatively smiled, as I was convinced he was going to say something – and I wasn’t wrong.

“I found the conductor,” he said. “He said we changed sides for the platforms because that’s how some of the stations were built.”

“Ah,” I said, nodding sagely. “Well … good. I’m glad you found out. I’m going to read my book now.”

Just at that moment, my stomach sunk; an idiot decided to play his music loudly through his headphones – so loudly, in fact, that I was utterly convinced he was going to lose his hearing by his next birthday. I was just debating whether or not I should confront him about it – I was getting irritated by this point, and I’m not the best at hiding my irritation – when the young chap opposite me stood up, moved across to this oik, tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stop being so inconsiderate. The oik seemed to briefly consider challenging him, but then glanced across at me; perhaps he thought I was with his challenger, and I was doing my best to give him a death glare, so to my great surprise, he turned the volume down and turned to stare moodily out the window without saying another word.

My new-found friend seemed unsure of what to do for a moment, so I nodded back at his seat and he seemed to take the hint. As did I. Putting my book aside, I had a lovely ten minute chat with him all about his collection of various figurines, etc, before I left at my station.

I was glad. Occasionally, train journeys get amazingly irritating because of thoughtlessness by others; they don’t consider their fellow passengers at all, so I’ve tried to learn to switch off from the annoyances. But there are moments when I get a short connection with someone, and I’m all the richer for it. This chap was a pleasure to talk to, after all that and despite my raised hackles at all the other contrivences; none of them were down to him, so I made myself treat him on his merits. He did the same for me, so how could I possibly challenge that?

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