Nobody talks on the Underground.

Everybody knows the rule, time on the tube is your own private time. You don’t look at anybody else, and you certainly don’t talk to them. Well, I’ve had a glimpse into a different world over the past couple of days.

Thursday evening I’m on the platform at Liverpool Street, waiting for a tube. There’s a girl sitting on one of the benches and I see a guy sit down next to her and start chatting, they don’t appear to know each other, but they’ve both had a bit to drink. They’re waiting for the same train as I am, and when we all get on they’re sitting across the aisle, a few seats further down. She appears to be very chatty, and soon enough she draws the guy across from them into their conversation (I recall the opener was her saying to him, “You look p*ss*d off”), and another guy next to him. At this point the original guy is looking as though he wishes he’d picked someone else to chat up, but the damage is done and he’s started something far bigger than himself now. As the contagion creeps down the carriage, I hold out for a few minutes, then start chatting with the woman next to me. Mainly about the people across the carriage, but also about the Sainsbury’s Chicken Salad that is on the seat between us, still in its plastic bowl with film top and cardboard sleeve, which looks as though it had just been picked off the shelf and placed there. Eventually the others get off, and I end up chatting to the woman until my stop. So, Claire the South African that lives in Theydon Bois and works near Bank, it was good talking to you! Maybe it is a little odd that under normal circumstances, certainly if it had been earlier in the evening, the unopened, pristine chicken salad would have gone without comment.

Friday morning, on the way into work, the train is pulling into the next station, Loughton, and as it pulls in I spot someone that I think I know. Coincidentally, the train is stopping so she’ll be getting on the door nearest me. Fairly sure I know who it is, but still not trusting my memory, I figure I’ll wait and see if she recognises me before potentially making a fool of myself. “Hello, Rob” I hear, “I haven’t seen you for ages!” At the time I was thinking “ages” was about seven years, but in retrospect it may be closer to 10. Now it turns out she lives about half a mile from me, although neither of us lived in this area at the time. Small world and all that.

Friday evening, things were a bit more lively. The train was crowded and a girl was sitting on her boyfriend’s knee in the middle of one of the benches, both of them eating a McDonalds. Two other girls were standing near the end of the opposite bench, and when the people nearest them got up, were headed for the free seats. However, by the time they’d let the people pass, the couple (who must have seen the two girls) had dashed across and sat in the seats. I didn’t think much of it, but it did colour my view of the couple. A few minutes later I can hear voices gradually getting raised. A woman sitting next to the couple must have said something about them eating their smelly burgers in the packed carriage, and the argument was getting a little heated. Just as it started to calm down, a guy sitting next to the woman chimed in and asked them to keep it down — somewhat ironic given I’d been able to hear his iPod just before. Instead of calming things down, though, that just inflamed the argument and whilst the girl and the woman had eased off, now the two men were shouting at each other. At Leytonstone, the man that had challenged the couple got off the train, as did the other guy, with his girlfriend hot on his heels. Next thing I know there’s alot of raised voices going on, and the girlfriend and a couple of bystanders are ushering the man back in the carriage to avoid it turning physical. For the rest of the journey until they got off, the man sat on the end-seat, sulking in a child-like fashion (perhaps he was trying to look mean and moody), whilst his girlfriend talked a bit more amiably to the people opposite. It came quite close to getting violent.

So, people do talk to each other on the tube, maybe I’m missing something when I ride into work on my bike!

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