A Mischief Of Magpies

If the Sun were the size of a beach ball then Jupiter would be the size of a golf ball and a Mischief of Magpies would be as small as a pea.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

'Say hello to a fellow commuter' day

I was listening to the Today programme on Tuesday morning and they mentioned this story about encouraging commuters to speak to each other.
As I sat there in the bath (the place of all my best musings) I began to get increasingly angry at the attitude people have, not only towards London as 'an unfriendly city' but also towards the very real people living here in the cities of the UK.

The tone of the piece was very much 'say hello to someone on public transport this morning, do it!' and I couldn't help but notice the similar sounding ring this had to 'BACK THE BID!' - which still has me riled up many months after first seeing the posters.

Now, it's fair to say I have issues with being told what to do.
I don't like it.
I don't like it one little bit.
But I like it even less when it's from gormless idiots who haven't used public transport in years.

How do they know what it's like on a bus in Peckham at 8.30am?
Have they ever drunkenly attempted to get the last train back to South London on a weekday at pub closing time?
Have they ever sat as the only girl on a tube crammed with skin-headed football supporters?
No, they probably haven't, so QUITE what gives them the right to tell me to cheer the fuck up/be friendlier/talk to the sweaty knobber who is insisting on opening his broadsheet up to full stretch on the underground is beyond me.

More to the point, WHY should I?
Why should I stretch out the hand of chatty banter to the lady reading her book sitting next to me?
Isn't that invading her privacy?
And anyway, anyone who has ever tried to crack a joke or talk to someone on public transport in the morning will know, it falls flat.
This is not because you are necessarily an unfunny person, or an unattractive one - it just means that we're all expecting the worst.

Now I HAVE sat on buses and had people try and talk to me and 9 times out of 10 they are care in the community types who you REALLY wish weren't singing/shouting/talking one seat away from you.

If you talk to a woman on public transport she will automatically think 'HE'S GOING TO HURT/KILL ME' immediately - regardless of what you look like.
This is NOT because we're an unfriendly bunch.
A lot of men do the same.
It's not that we're all emotional cripples who are unable to crack a smile before 10am.
No, it's because most of us have had a bad experience on public transport.

I've been assaulted on public transport a few times and verbal abuse or harassment is almost a daily occurrence on some routes.
If it's not someone begging for money, or mugging you for your mobile/wallet, then it's the masturbators and flashers, the violent teenagers fighting on the back of the bus (and clocking a few innocent bystanders in their tussles) or the creepy bloke who is trying to chat you up, or just that really annoying black kid who saw that cola advert a few years ago and still seems to think some record company producer is going to be on the train and stick them in the spotlight if they're trying to sound all soulful when they sing the latest naff chart song.

If someone says 'hello' to me and tries to strike up a conversation on public transport, as a woman I'm TERRIFIED because I'm trapped.
The train, tube, bus or boat is moving and there's nowhere I can go to escape should he (or she) try anything.
And believe me, ALL girls will have the initial thought of 'what does he want from me and will I survive or make it to help if I try to leg it now?'.

As children we are TOLD not to talk to strangers - and that's for a reason.
It's because strangers are dangerous - whether you happen to have stood next to them on the train all the way from East Croydon or not.

And I REFUSE to take part in some ridiculous trend like this just because some idiot from overseas thinks it would be 'a bit of a lark'.
Oh DO fuck off!

No, it's not fun when some bloke sits next to you on a bus, trapping you in and slides his hand up your shirt.
No, it does not 'make your day' to have someone shouting abuse at you along a tube platform and following you, threatening you and the person who is holding your hand because suddenly they think they have a right to tell you who you shouldn't be sleeping with (even though I wasn't actually sleeping with them, in fact I should have been so lucky!).
No, it's not a good thing to have schoolchildren gang up on you on a bus and attack you.
So EXCUSE ME if I don't want to talk to people because I don't trust them!

Years of experience have taught me I'm better off keeping my head down and ignoring people who try to strike up a conversation.
I simply don't feel SAFE talking to passengers on a train, and anyone who is chipper enough to pipe up a 'hello' at that time of the morning deserves all the condemnation I can throw at him in one, quick stern glare.

Instead of spending money publicising such a futile exercise in 'how to piss off other commuters' why don't they ask the police to actually get ON a bus occasionally or to have more CCTV or have more seats for vulnerable people so they can sit near the driver on an empty bus at night?

Teach people to ring the Transport Police, or rally for help if they see someone being hassled, or have more alarms on the tops of buses etc - make people feel SAFER and we might loosen up a bit.
A lot of the problem is many of us are too scared to jump in as an individual in case WE are suddenly the attention of the violence/harassment - so give us more of a chance to help those in trouble; more alarms on station platforms, more staff on late at night, better lighting, working cameras, more trained professionals who can DEAL with that sort of violence or trouble.

How about more action and less crappy gimmicks?

People feel anxious enough already using public transport - don't make it any worse by jumping on the nearest bandwagon just to appear 'more like Australians'.

One of the reasons I CAME to London was so I could live how I wanted to live - not how someone else thought I should.
The whole point of moving away from a small-minded town into a faceless city was so I could escape the small-minded bigots, or at least thin them out in the crowds, not so someone else could impose their ideas of an ideal city on me.
The beauty of the UK is in how WE do things - as soon as we start adopting what 'other cities' are like we lose all our identity.

Just you remember that when a chipper-looking twat says hello to you in a letchy way next Tuesday morning on your way to work.


At 10:28 pm, Anonymous Clairwil said...

I have printed this post off and will silently hand a copy to the next person who tries to talk to me on the bus. You are right, public transport is a total disgrace, only this evening I had some sub human creature repeatedly put his hand through the space in the seat to touch my arse. I moved seat, he sat behind me. I couldn't sit at the back as I suspected the people up there were worse. I couldn't get off the bus as it was going through a really shady area. It's times like this I understand why people drive.

At 2:24 am, Blogger ill man said...

I thank the lord every day I don't have to use the bus. I walk to work these days, but I used to take the subway. It's a total no eye contact zone on the subway, and a good thing too. It's bad enough one has to make polite conversation with some of the spanners one meets at work without some goon trying to befriend you on public transport.

At 7:03 am, Anonymous heather said...

This is where Switzerland scores really well because, a) we have a wonderful, safe and effective public transport system and b) none of the bastards would speak to you even if you offered them money.

Great piece.

At 9:34 am, Blogger Head Apollo said...

This is why I don't take the bus.

Although recently on the Subway a woman shouted at me that she couldn't wear a watch because she had a lot of electricity running through her. I believed her.

At 12:01 pm, Blogger Paul B said...

Wow. Not a lot I can add to that.

Although, as someone who comes from the North, studied in the South and harbours hopes to work in London, I do have to say Londoners are generally the grumpiest people I've ever met. You should all try to be a bit more Northern sometimes, that's all I'm saying. Only then will there be peace and harmony throughout the Kingdom.

At 12:09 pm, Blogger creepylesbo said...

Maybe it's because we're all being touched innappropriately by complete strangers and keep getting people from 'the north' telling us we're grumpy, that we're all grumpy.
It starts to grate after the first 20 times, believe me.

At 3:55 pm, Blogger Paul B said...

We call you grumpy, you say we work down the mines and have flat caps and/or whippets. Cliche and mutual irritation abound.

Vive la difference...


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