One evening four of us got on the hopper train from Winnersh Triangle to Reading. All of us were in a good mood, chatting and looking forward to getting home. The carriage we got on was crowded and we got split up. One ended up standing in the lobby part of the carriage while the three of us found seats each in a crowded area.
My two friends were discussing books. My phone rang. I answered it only to hear ‘Can’t you read? This is a quiet zone…..NO PHONES’. I only answered the phone to say ‘I can’t speak’. I looked across to where the voice had come from.
Diagonally opposite me was an elderly gentleman straight off of a Shakespearian set. A sort of bonsai version of Sir Toby Belch or even more suitably, Bottom. I shall call him Bottom from now on. White, not grey, hair and a matching goatee beard. I saw that he was surrounded by luggage and that he was reading an antique book. I apologised. My two friends carried on chatting about some books they had bought. They too got the glare from Bottom and a request to keep quiet. We all looked at one another feeling slightly embarrassed. We carried on looking at the books passing them back and forth as if we were doing a review of the back cover summaries and critical comments but in utter silence.
The train arrived in Reading and Bottom put his antique book away. He stood up to join the milieu of passengers waiting to disembark with his two suitcases that must have used his full international luggage allowance.
I thought ‘you were just a bit unreasonable with us earlier’. If he knew me, using my mobile on a train in the quiet zone he was in was actually my first offence; and I did make it a short call followed by apologies but to have a go at people for just chatting about books was a little beyond the bounds of reasonableness. The ‘Quiet Zone’ sign puts a line through an image of a mobile telephone; not through a mouth suggesting a ban on conversation.
I am so self-conscious with my mobile phone on trains that if there is a call to make or receive and I am in the non-quiet zone I will leave my seat and move to the lobby at either end of the carriage to deal with it.
I worked my revenge.
‘What’s the antique book your reading?’ I asked.
‘Dombey and Son’ Bottom answered.
‘I like second hand books. Nothing like the patina of use to make a book interesting’.
‘I always worry about this one as it is just about to fall apart’ Bottom continued ‘it’s over a hundred years old now’.
I asked if he had been through Reading before as we sort of walked together along the platform. I was making an effort to show him that I was not an ignorant person when it comes to train etiquette but was overrunning Bottom with politeness and a willingness to help him on his way. I succeeded!
Bottom and I walked across the concourse where I showed him the departure board. Just as we were about to part company. Bottom off to Platform 8b and me to Platform 11a. Bottom looked at me. He didn’t quite say sorry for what he had done on the train but he did have the decency to thank me for guiding him through Reading’s daunting concourse.
Just briefly I had thought of getting an ultimate revenge by sending him to the wrong platform but my conscience would not allow me to stoop that low.
I remember a documentary about the Northern Ireland Police force during ‘the troubles’. The film makers were trailing a female constable who was dealing with dodgy people in a polite and firm way. Her motto was:
‘No matter how rude people are to you just be as nice as you can back to them…….it really gets up their feckin noses’.