Living in London, you tend to have a lot of conversations with other Londoners about the tube. Things that annoy you, outrageous incidents that happen, delays and other bits and pieces that everyone loves to have an opinion on and a moan about. Some people are quite proactive in their angst towards their fellow passengers, and this always surprises me.
The other day I was sitting on the tube as it waited in the station. This particular tube started in this station and then went north, and it was due to leave in 2-3 minutes. So it was starting to fill up. I was sitting quietly in my seat, reading my eReader. I always keep my headphones on when reading, even though nothing actually plays through them, because I feel it gives me a sense of isolation from the throng of people surrounding me. Sometimes I even keep my sunglasses on, as an extra layer of anti-social-please-don’t-talk-to-me protection. It also lowers the chances of accidentally making the dreaded eye contact with a complete stranger, which always throws me for 6. Seriously, I have no idea what to do when eye contact happens. Sometimes the other person smiles at me, which is kind of weird but I suppose polite, but by the time I register their grinning face I’ve already panicked and looked away, so now I feel like the prick who ignored the gesture of good will from a smiling stranger. But if they don’t smile I panic that I’ve offended them and then have to spend the rest of the journey consciously not looking in that direction lest they think I was checking them out or judging them or something. Yes. I have issues.
Anyway, back to the original story. I was sat reading a book, and across from me was a woman reading a newspaper. She seemed to be about 40 and quite well to do. There were a mixture of other people surrounding us, but for the purpose of this anecdote we’ll ignore them. Then a man entered the carriage wearing headphones playing dance music. He sat beside newspaper lady, opposite me. Well, before he managed to sit down he was told to turn off the music. I mean, technically he was asked to turn down the music, but we all know in reality he was told to turn it off. I class this as a telling rather than asking because he didn’t really have much of a choice. If he’d refused he risked an incident of an argumentative nature and an awkward tube journey in the least. As he seemed to be a very polite man he probably didn’t need that at 8am on a Tuesday.
It’s like when you ask someone to pass you a pen, technically you’re asking them but they really can’t refuse without appearing rude and starting a vein of bad blood with you. It’s only really asking when the other person feels free enough to actually make a choice. For example, “do you want to go to the café for lunch” could be met with, “yes, I’ll see you at 12” or, “Sorry, I’m staying in the office today” or “let’s eat in the park instead” and all of those answers are acceptable and probably won’t incur any awkwardness.
Whereas the situation on the tube annoyed me. Yes, his music was loud enough that I could hear it through his headphones. But I couldn’t identify the song. It was the kind of noise you could hear when the train is still in the station and everything is quiet, but once you’re moving no one would have heard it above the noise of the train except him. I didn’t really even register this noise until she piped up.
He’d barely been on the train for 2 seconds when she expressed her displeasure with the music. I don’t remember any declaration being made to crown this woman Queen Decision Maker for the train. I don’t know when she decided that her needs were more important than everyone else’s. It’s public transport. You’re crammed into a small space with hundreds of strangers. I think you have to accept that it might not be the best part of the morning. If you do take a dislike to someone who is basically minding their own business maybe the onus is on you to move to a different carriage between stations, or to wait 2 minutes for the next train. Quite frankly it would have been more annoying if he’d been having a conversation with the person next to him, as we’d have been subjected to that for the whole journey even when the train was at its loudest. No one would have dared ask him to stop a conversation. His polite demeanour also worked against him, as I very much doubt she’d have asked someone who looked a little more stereotypically ‘scary’ to shut off their music. While her wording was very polite, her tone was rude and impatient.
That also goes for people who scream at the rest of the carriage to move down the train. While I agree with the premise it still annoys me. Yes, I think people should move down the train and allow others to get on. But at the same time, people standing in the aisles are fighting a silent political battle with many delicate nuances. They have to be aware of everyone around them, who is leaving, who is merely moving about, and who by rights can take ownership of any particular seat should its occupant depart at the next station. By standing in the aisle you are more likely to get a seat, and even if you are forced to stand for your entire journey you have more space than those who are crammed in by the doors. It’s very rarely that you actually hear someone who manages to sound genuinely polite when they scream “CAN YOU MOVE DOWN PLEASE” while glaring down the carriage. The best ones are the people who keep going on, with remarks like “I need to get home, I’ve had a long day at work.” Well, fuck. Why didn’t you say so earlier. Let’s round up everyone who’s simply going to a social event, working a late shift or heading to an evening class and kick them off the train. Without all their extra weight blocking up the aisles the train can go super fast and your precious arse can be home in next to no time, watching Eastenders in the tub. Or whatever it is that you do. It’s obviously important, or else why would you have voted yourself Most Important Person on the Train.