I’ve built up something of a reputation for making a total arse of myself when on trains. There’s something about being on a train that slows my brain down just enough that it’s never quite able to send messages to the rest of me in time to prevent something moronic happening.
For much of the last seven years, I’ve commuted into London on a daily basis on the same train at the same time. I tend to sit in the same seat and usually find myself surrounded by the same people. One man has taken a seat opposite mine most days during this time, meaning that most days over the last seven years I’ve found myself looking at his face. His face that comes with a goatee.
Except on the day that it didn’t. A day that is now remembered as “The Day I Said, ‘Oh you shaved off your little beard,’ To A Complete Stranger And He Said NOTHING BACK TO ME.”
Some years before that, I was living in Isleworth and travelling daily to Feltham for work. One morning a friend of mine got on the train and sat in the seat opposite me. Now, at this point she was on what was — in my opinion — a completely unnecessary diet. She knew that I thought it was unnecessary and we would frequently joke about it. So when she sat down in front of me, it didn’t seem at all like it would be a problem for me to say, ‘Morning, Fatty.’
Except it wasn’t her. Didn’t even really look like her, now that I was properly looking. Inside my head, I actually heard my brain say, ‘WHY DO YOU NEVER CONSULT WITH ME ANYMORE BEFORE YOU DO STUFF?’
Sometimes I even get into trouble without opening my mouth. Like, for instance, the time that the strangest-looking man I have ever seen sat down opposite me. I know I shouldn’t judge people by their appearances — I know that — but I did, okay. I don’t even know what it was about him — he wasn’t especially ugly, he wasn’t in anyway disfigured, he just looked out of place somehow. I wondered if it was just in my head so I thought that maybe if I just took a sneaky photo I could send it to my brother and see what he thought. He could tell me if I was just being an ass or not.
Anyway, the flash went off.
Right in his bloody face it went off. And he said — in the most confused tone I have ever heard — ‘did you just take a photo of me?’ The train had just pulled into a station, so I calmly — with great deliberation — snapped my phone shut, slid it into my pocket, gathered up my belongings, stood up, and left the train. Then I walked along the platform and got back on at the next carriage where I realised that the damn photo hadn’t even come out properly.
I think, though, that the strangest encounter I’ve had is the next one, and one of the reasons for it being so strange is that it absolutely, categorically, was not my fault.
I got on the train home from London one evening. I don’t know how the seats are laid out on your trains, but on the one I travel home on there are a couple of carriages on with tables. That’s pretty normal on trains isn’t it? There’s a table and there are two seats on one side and two seats on the other side, so two sets of two people are sat facing one another.
I had plonked myself down at one of these tables and there were three other people around me — as usual, the person that I managed to offend was the one who sat opposite me. Just some chap in a suit, mid-forties maybe. As I was getting on the train I’d noticed that my shoelace was untied, so once I sat down and everybody had stopped shuffling about I leant forward and sort-of down a bit to tie it.
But of course there was this bloody table in front of me, so nobody could see the reason that I leant forward was to tie my lace. Well, I guess the lady who was sitting next to me could have but certainly the two opposite couldn’t. So I leant forward and the guy opposite me — well, I think just instinct or habit must have kicked in because he leant towards me. He did that thing where he raised his eyebrows and nodded a little as he did it. Because he thought I was leaning forward to tell him something. So he also leant forward so far that our faces were separated by a distance of around the depth of a feather.
I could see the worry on his face, the dawning realisation that he’d made a terrible cock-up and was now going to look like an absolute tit on the packed commuter train out of London. I just looked at him and said, ‘I’m just tying my lace,’ and he said, ‘well why would I need to know that?’ As though that’s what I wanted to tell him. As though I had beckoned him forward to share that with him.
He sat back in his seat shaking his head at me AS THOUGH I WAS THE INSANE ONE. Like I’m some sort of idiot who can’t carry out even the most routine of activities without gleefully boasting about it to a total stranger while I’m actually doing it.
Such an affliction would make going to the toilet highly impractical.