Richard Herring: Travelling on the Tube has become a game of Tetris
Friday 4 Jan 2013
Although I largely make my living by being quite rude, I attempt to live day-to-day life as politely as possible (with varying degrees of success).
My wife and I were heading home after a night out. I was annoying her because I was making every effort to get out of the way of other pedestrians, even if they were making no attempt to show us the same consideration.
Why is it always us that has to move? she asked, perhaps not unreasonably. But I dont see it as weakness to respond to selfishness in this way, because the only other response is act selfishly too, compounding the problem. If just one rude person notices my politeness (which admittedly they havent so far) and decides to be less self-centred, then Ive won. Although, a world where everyone behaves graciously might be more chaotic. Wed all insist that everyone else goes first, creating an unbreakable etiquette gridlock.
I was feeling a bit smug. But obviously fate was ready to kick me in the plum-hammock.
When we got to the Tube platform, passengers were surging off a train, forcing us to keep left. This would have been fine but a woman and two teenagers (presumably her kids) were sitting on a bench with several shopping bags dumped haphazardly in front of them, taking up all the remaining space. One of the bags contained an umbrella, with the handle slanting outwards, extending their personal space to well over half the platform. They made no effort to move their stuff, so I tried to step around it. Predictably my trouser leg caught the umbrella handle and the bag was slightly jostled.
Dont you have eyes? the surly girl barked at me. This somewhat irked me, feeling an apology might have been more appropriate.
Yes, I do, I replied. Do you? Couldnt you see your bags were in peoples way? Can you see people trying to get by in both directions?
I might have left it there but her family joined in, lambasting me for daring to trip over their possessions, as if any public space they managed to cover with their stuff automatically belonged to them.
I dont blame the teenagers. Their screeching mother had clearly brought them up with this sense of entitlement. If you are reading this madam, your selfish children are a blaring advertisement for what a terrible mother you are. Youre welcome.
My blood was now boiling, so I turned and pointed out: Your bags are filling half the platform.
What do you expect us to do about that? asked the awful mother. This was a question of such staggering stupidity that I decided give her a lesson in geometry, as well as a useful cheat for the next time she played Tetris.
I grabbed the bag. Dont touch my stuff, the girl protested, but I ignored her and turned the bag sideways, pushing it against an empty seat, freeing up three feet of space. What was this unholy dimensional necromancy? The girl obstinately put it back in front of her. The family continued to harangue me and I seriously considered going back and stamping on their shopping. But I am a lover not a fighter (and I am not much of a lover) and decided that walking away was a better option for us all. Some of Londons punchier inhabitants might have been less reserved. Civility can sometimes save your life.
My wife was a little shell-shocked. I was aware that my behaviour was slightly at odds with my earlier sanctimony.
Isnt that what you wanted? I asked.
See Richard Herrings reworking of his 2002 show, Talking Cock: The Second Coming, on his nationwide tour. Visit http://www.richardherring.com/talkingcock2