Friday, 18 December 2009


On the train to London.

'Tickets please.'
'Ah, you'd be the senior guard, I expect.'
'No, sir, I'm your train manager today.'
'I see. What will you be tomorrow?'
'Tomorrow's clients' train manager, sir. Was there something I could do to enrich your journey?'
'Well, yes, as it happens. That lady opposite...'

He gazed at me rather severely.

'Sir, I'm afraid we don't use the term 'lady' any more, as it's clearly redolent of an outmoded class structure.'
'Of course, forgive me. Well then, Doris there...'
'Yes, sir?'
'Well, she has two electronic devices in front of her. One of them is plugged into her ears, making a tinny, high-pitched noise. It sounds like an illegal rave for gnats. Meanwhile, she's playing some brain-dead game on the other device, which is continually making one or more of three noises.'
'Noises, sir?'
'Yes, one is kind of like weeeee-oooo, another is along the lines of nipnipnip and another goes tsziptszipbing! It's driving me mad, I tell you.'
'I see, sir. Have you remonstrated with the la... with Doris?'

I bridled.

'Of course not. I'm British. But I did give her The Look. You know, the one over one's newspaper.'
'And that had no effect, sir?'
'None whatsoever.'

He gave me a look of sympathy blended with adamantine unhelpfulness.

'I'm afraid there isn't much I can do, sir.'
'There must be something. How about bringing a charge under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 - action likely to cause harrassment, alarm or distress? I'm feeling all of those. I had a late night blogging and drinking red wine, I have an important meeting to go to, and I could do with some sleep!'
'Not within my jurisdiction, sir.'
'Well, damnit, man, how about the European Convention on Human Rights? Article 3 prohibits torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Surely we could do something there?'
'Article 4, sir, prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour. But I was at work at 6.30 this morning.'

We gazed at each other in mutual understanding and frustration.

'Surely I have some rights to the quiet enjoyment of my seat?'
'I see you have a reserved seat, sir, which suggests you bought your ticket online in advance of your journey.'
'Indeed I did - buying a ticket on the day one wants to travel involves spending enough to purchase a goodly proportion of the entire train.'
'Quite so, sir. So sir will have ticked the box marked "I have read and accept the Terms and Conditions", and sir will doubtless recall paragraph 194.3(b), which states "I hereby release, relinquish and abjure all rights of remedy, appeal or restitution for any fault, failing or variation of advertised service, whether alleged, imagined or actual, such release, relinquishment and abjuration to extend to spouse, partner, significant other, child (natural, adopted or fostered), friend, acquaintance, colleague, anyone who's ever read your blog and the cat from no 37."
'Well, yes, I rather admired that one. What would you say it means in English?'
'You have a problem? Tough titty. Enjoy your journey.'

I leaned back and thought for a moment.

'Well, listen here. What if I said there was a serious breach of health and safety imminent?'

He looked serious.

'Well, that would be a serious matter, sir. We take health and safety very seriously indeed.'

I looked him straight in the eye.

'If - just hypothetically, you understand - Doris here was to be dragged down the carriage, kicking and screaming, hauled into the toilet and shoved head first down the porcelain, would you say that there was a potential health and safety issue to address?'

He looked down for a moment, then met my eye again.

'Well sir, there would indeed. Of course, our responsibility would end at the point at which she left the train.'

Our eyes met once more. An understanding was born. I nodded slowly, handed him my ticket for checking, and folded a ten-shilling note into his hand.

Majestically, he moved down the carriage, ticket-stamping machine at the ready. Then... he turned.

'One last thing, sir. Please remember.... don't flush while the train is in the station.'


The reason I mention all this: should you happen to be walking your dog in the crisp, cold December night, along the railway line between Market Harborough and Wellingborough, and hear a faint tsziptszipbing! among the trackside vegetation - just walk on. Justice has been done.

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