Train Journeys Designed to Torment Me

I have a tendency to get annoyed at a lot of life’s minor irritations. Life’s major irritations make me want to scream, but I should – of course – pick my battles. I just don’t follow that advice; in an ideal world, I’d fight all the battles, which would just leave me with no time to actually live my life. So I just have to seeth inside and watch life unfold.

I’ve spent a lot of time this week on trains and in cars (with someone else driving, thankfully – me behind the wheel of a car would be a catastrophe), and I was particularly distracted by a train journey across a large swathe of England just the other day.

I’d got a seat reservation, so I sat where I was told, and everything started off well enough; the coach was about half-full and everyone was intent on their own conversations and movements. Fine – so was I. But then it started. A group of four sat at a table, and one of them began laughing hysterically at something that had just happened to their group. I’m not objecting to that, but the laughter kept going on … and on … and on … before reaching shrill levels of mania that was just loud and shouty, without me even touching on it being rather fake.

I was wondering how best I could gag her without getting into trouble, but was quickly distracted by a chap opposite me taking a series of work-related calls about some complex financial issues he and colleagues were collaborating on, but his voice dominated the conversations, and I began to wonder if there was even anyone at the other end of the phone call. I started to believe that this was some kind of ongoing monologue he was having in advance of a presentation; he certainly was carrying on in a strident voice.

Then the sneezing bullying started. Do you know a sneeze bully? We’ve all enountered them at some point; the people who sneeze loudly, frequently, and seem unable to contain the contents of their nose in a tissue or – socially acceptable when no other means are available – their hands. Well, there was a lady who was obviously unwell, and I feel for her; or at least I did until the sneezing bullying started. Loud, obnoxious sneezes began to reverberate around the carriage, one after the other after the other, and I was desperate for one of those masks you often see worn particularly by Chinese people in big cities. I was convinced I was about to catch some awful airborne virus – I’m still convinced, two days on, that it’s laying low in my system just waiting to strike.

And then there was the crisp eater sat directly behind me. She was eating from an apparently-endless bag of crisps, with her mouth open as she ate. I know this because the sounds emitting from her mouth were so bad I found myself turning round to check if she was choking; she wasn’t, merely eating, and she returned my gaze with an insolent look that seemed to indicate nothing but contempt. I’m more than up to that challenge, however, and adjusted my own look to match before turning back to try and read my newspaper. Only then did she start multi-tasking, making a series of short phone calls at high volume (not full volume, as I strongly suspected she had a lot more sound to give) telling what seemed like everyone in her phone book what time she was due to arrive at her particular stop. I was heartened that she was getting off well before me, which would at least assure me of some peace and quiet.

I began wondering if it was just me, that I was being somehow unreasonable or objectionable, but I noticed other people looking annoyed at the thoughtlessness of a minor few. I then wondered if the people being objectionable knew what they were doing; did they possess enough self-awareness to understand how they were perceived by others? I wish I knew the answer to that one; some people, I think, perform irritating actions quite deliberately, and perhaps even get weird pleasure out of what they’re doing, but others are completely clueness. How sad, that the bubble of their consciousness is so small that they can’t look outside it.

But I’m not writing this to be overly philosophical, although now I’ve made that point, I hope it makes you think for a while the next time you’re stuck on the train or bus or tram with people like I encountered this week. It it does make you think, then maybe it’ll distract you for five minutes away from the noise.

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