The Age of the Train

I can’t ever sleep on public transport. Ever. No matter how tired I am.

There is a good reason for this.

I’d been up all night in Brighton; it was my best mate’s hen night and we were celebrating hard. We didn’t bother getting hotel rooms; we were too young and too broke. The plan was simply to stay up all night until the trains started running early the next morning.

So, we bounced round the town, in and out of clubs, giddy with excitement and whatever the hell we were drinking until, exhausted, we fell onto the first London train of the day.

This was sometime in the 90s, and the train was the old-fashioned stock with small compartments. Each little carriage had benches that were the perfect size for sleepy revellers to crash on. There was barely anyone else on the train, so we grabbed a separate carriage each, stretched out and passed out.

….

Suddenly I was awake. Very awake. Something was wrong.

There was a man stood over me.

No, more than that. He was leaning in, right over me. Much closer than he had any right to be. There was a man, who was hovering over me while I was sleeping, and I was suddenly aware of how vulnerable I was.

Me: “What are you doing?”

There was an awkward pause.

We looked at each other.

I had the distinct impression he was trying to think of something convincing to say.

Him: “…I was thinking that you might want a foot rub?”

Me: “No. I really don’t.”

He left the carriage pretty sharpish.

That was a good 20 years ago. I’ve not slept a wink on public transport since.

Beware, Weary Traveller

I’ve learned to be suspicious when there’s an empty seat on a packed train. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way.

It was a Monday morning, and I am not a morning person. Befuddled from sleep, and desperate for a bit more rest, I was chuffed when I boarded the Victoria Line and spotted a spare seat.

I slipped into it triumphantly.

My joy was short-lived, however, when I noticed the smell. So strong—rancid, meaty, curdling the air around it—that I thought I might puke. I looked around for the source of it, then realised, with some horror, that it came from my neighbour.

And then, he rested his head on my shoulder.

This was not good. I’m quite socially awkward at the best of times and I don’t like being touched by people I don’t know. So, I had a stranger’s head on my shoulder, so close I could smell his hair. I was feeling a little faint. Surely, there had to be a good reason for him to be doing this? Ah, he had his hand in his pocket. He was having trouble reaching into his pocket, so he’d stretched himself out and that’s why his head was on my shoulder. Perhaps.

But he was spending quite a long time reaching into his pocket. And his head was still on my shoulder. And his hand was moving pretty rhythmically in his pocket. And… oh… oh god…

Yes, he was cuddled up to me while he had a wank on a crowded train.

So, what did I do? Did I shout at him? Did I leap up and move carriages? Did I hit him with my bag?

No. No, I did not. I did none of those things.

Instead, I sat where I was and pretended that this thing wasn’t happening. Because I am very good at pretending that unpleasant things aren’t happening.

And, besides, I had a seat.