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Friday, March 23, 2007

Strangers On Trains

My Mum always used to tell me not to speak to weirdos as I went out the door when I was a child. Sitting on the train on the way to London last weekend, talking to some random person opposite me it suddenly occurred: I am that weirdo my Mum warned me about!

Let me elaborate. I never take books or even magazines on trains. I'm not really sure why or when I stopped; I suppose I read so much, it's overkill. I hate iPods and personal stereos, so don't have music with me. I don't have a Gameboy or whatever their name is these days and I don't play card games like Solitaire as I don't know how (and I'm not interested, not disenfranchised, so please don't tell me how) and I am one hundred per cent allergic to ALL puzzles of the world, whether they're Sudoku, word searches, cross words or God forbid one of those little metal things that you have to separate! Agh.

I sometimes work on trains - ie. read scripts - but for the most part, I just sit there and let my brain go blank. It's one of the rare occasions I actually get to sit down without a PC in front of me or a baby yelling, "Mama, kiss? Kiss!" in my ear, so this can be nice. You usually find me in carriage D of any train: this is because I read an article by a physicist once who calculated that anyone sitting in carriage D is least likely to be affected by a crash, whether the train comes off the rails, is hit at the front or the back. I've no idea if this is true or not, but it makes me feel better about travelling through that infamous signal into Paddington so often.

So. If the train is quiet, I will just sit there, blank. It's bliss. However, if it's busy - most likely if someone sits next to me - I will talk to them. I can't help myself, it's a compulsion. Though people have moved out of the seat next to me, nine times out of ten they've talked back to me. About random stuff - some have been amazingly open about their families, partners, old schools, careers... You name it. For example:

- Once I met a German couple with a baby whom they nicknamed Faustus as a joke because he was the "devil incarnate" and wouldn't stop crying, but in Germany the deadline for registering babies is a lot shorter than in England so when their time was up they couldn't think of anything else, and he was still the devil, so they landed him with it for life.

- A 7"7 man managed to cram himself into a seat next to me once: he revealed he was a tree surgeon by day ("Guess you don't need a ladder?" I say rather lamely)and in CREATURE FEATURES as a sideline! That's right. Name a Bollywood or Brit Film with a monster in it and guaranteed it's him.

- I've met thousands of public school girls on their way to posh boarding schools, complete with hockey and lacrosse sticks poking out of the luggage rack, but the naughtiest one I met was an 18 year old from Derby who confessed to sleeping with both the rugby captain and the hockey captain - one male and one female - in the same night at the same party. Wowzers.

- I met the an executive from a well-known Juice company who told me all about the buy-one-get-one-free idea and how it works with companies and supermarkets which was interesting, but much more interesting was his reminiscing of his school days and staying at one friend's house that was full of cockcroaches and cats.

- I met a chap who lives oppostie the wreck of the Napoli at Branscombe Bay - he gave blow-by-blow accounts of everything they "salvaged", but then had to give back.

- I've met hundreds of PA's to various people whose names I recognise, but many more who claim to be the PA of someone I really do know or have met and I know they actually aren't, which I always find particularly interesting. There are ALOT of people on the Paddington train who are phantom workers at the BBC for example. One girl whom I spoke to for over an hour claimed to be Paul Ashton's line manager at The Writers' Room; unfortunately for her, I happen to know her boss, who is the line manager at a well-known insurance company. Still, I didn't let on and let her indulge her fantasy: why not?

Who have you met on the train? The weirder the better please...


Lianne said...

I don't talk to people on trains, they talk at me, and nine times out ten they are nutters. One guy kept asking me what station I was getting off at and of course I didn't tell him. He got off at the stop before my stop and I relaxed, and the girl next to me who noticed he was annoying me asked if I was okay. But before the doors closed he got back on again! Said it was the wrong stop and surprise, surpise when I got up for the next stop he got up again. He stood behind me and blew on my face! Yuck! I let him get off the train in front of me so I could see where he was going. Thankfully it was the opposite direction to my flat. I think I've got some sort of nutter magnet.

Lucy said...

Yikes, he does sound weird. There are some real nutters on the underground - a couple of years ago I was on the Victoria Line to Tottenham Hale and an American gets on and says, "Is this going to the Elephant and Castle?" I say no, that's the one going in the opposite direction across the way. He looks across the platform and sees the E&C train is packed to the rafters. He goes, "Fuck that shit!" and sits down, on my train. I say, "You do realise we're going in the exact opposite direction to the way you want to go?" He says, "That's fine." !!!

Dom Carver said...

I once got on a tube train to go to Stanstead Airport. Halfway through the journey a bloke (early twenties) put his bag behind my seat and sat down next to me. Five minutes later this six foot plus tall Australian bloke, bulging with muscles strode up to him.

"What you done with my bag you theiving bastard?" "I know you took it, coz the bloke next to me said you did when I went to the dunny," he shouted at the guy.

The guy sat next to me didn't reply. He just ignored the Aussie. "He put a bag behind my seat," I offered helpfully. The Aussie had a look and sure enough it was his bag. "Cheers mate," he replied. Then turning to the theif he growled, "If you ever fucking touch my shit again I'll rip ya fucking head off." I don't know about the theif, but he bloody scared me.

After the Aussie had gone the theif kept looking at my bag and when he stood up to get off at the next stop he kept shifting towards my bag. I moved it between my legs and clamped them firmly around it. The theif got off the train very disapointed.

Elinor said...

Many years ago, I worked as a guard on the dread Northern Line. I got talking to a woman who told me that her parents escaped from Russia and the Bolsheviks convinced they were on a boat for London. They landed up in Merthyr Tydfil and settled there. Their daughter (now old, bedecked with inherited Russian furs and a strong Welsh accent) was a writer and was then on a course sitting next to Doris Lessing. We had a big discussion on her metaphysical novel 'The Making of the Representative for Planet 8' as you do. Most people I met on the Tube were OK. But maybe Lucy's right, I was the nutter everyone avoided. Mind the gap.

Phillip Barron said...

There was me, a friend, a Middle Eastern looking guy, a Japanese lady and a super smart businessman on the tube.

This was my first visit to London as an adult and I had already terrified an old woman by offering to help her carry her bag.

The Middle Eastern looking guy leans into the Japanese lady's face and screams:


Over and over again in varying accents, volumes and tones. When I pointed out he was upsetting her, he apologised quite civilly and told her he liked her shoes.

Meanwhile the super smart businessman quietly threw up on his own shoes.

My friend just read his paper and ignored the whole thing.

Lucy said...

Dom - so you did your civil duty sir! Lucky you didn't get chopped up into small pieces...

Elinor, funny you should say that, since every time I see you, I get this mad urge to run, RUN LIKE THE WIND! ; )

Phil. That's so mental it's probably true. Unless it's a pitch?

Hope said...

"one of those little metal things that you have to separate"
What is it????

Still trying to think of a stranger story...

Lucy said...

You know, one of these little bastards. My gran loved them and I hated her, so they will always be a symbol of evil within my mind. (Before anyone talks about granny-bashing, I have VERY, VERY good reasons for hating her, not just for the fact she made me do these stupid bloody puzzles every sunday!)

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Lucy said...

Still didn't work. Knackers!

Just look up metal+puzzle+separate on google images and be amazed my friend.

Lara said...

I ALWAYS have a nutter and/or 'talker' by me on the train. I can't get away from them, so now I use them as character studies. Nice. I can then give them a fitting beginning/middle/end at a later date on my computer.

My latest nut was on the way back from Adrian Mead's course, in fact.

She ate 6 packets of crisps, most of which consisted of Cheese & Onion, during the 35 min journey. She sniffed continuously and wiped her nose on the back of the seat (you really had to see it to believe it) and then spent the last 15 mins of the journey sneezing and coughing RIGHT in my direction - I have had a great cold all week, so thanks for that, you minger.

A bunch of kids further down the carriage were having a harmless laugh and fun - big no no. Every time they laughed she stood up, put her hands on her hips and shouted "Shutit!". Two stops away from freedom, she started tutting & whingeing about 'mobile telephony' at me, as I was sending a text.

I haven't decided on her literary decline & end yet, but after a pounding headache and aches that felt like a rhinocerous sitting on me all week, she's gonna get it bad. I promise.