He was in the seat behind me, his stray hand almost ruffling my hair. And he was on the phone, on the train, for two hours. I know that this is not an unusual event, really, and that satirists have been at the users of mobile phones for a considerable period of time (one of my favourite I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue cracks was Graeme Garden’s response to being asked to provide historical telegrams you wouldn’t expect to hear: his was George Stephenson, ‘I’m On The Train’). But this was a spectacular event. In a loud Irish accent, the guy behind me made a series of phone calls, only interrupted by breaks in signal, for about two hours, maybe more. He spoke at the top of his voice to all of the callers, and one of them was either shouting or he’d put them on loudspeaker. His voice sprawled across the carriage. If anyone there had had a little more nerve, there might have been an insurrection.
For most of the conversations, however, he was re-defining the meaning of conversation. What he was carrying on was a sequence of interrupted monologues, during which the hapless recipients, like the rest of us in the carriage, were treated to his account of his prowess at squash, his friend who was inside for 9 months but would be tagged when he got out, the price he had paid for a car (£3400, a steal, he reckoned), and a variety of other subjects in which persons unknown were treated to the lash of his opinion.
In trains these days, they have a carriage called ‘The Quiet Zone’, in which there is supposed to be no talking, no mobiles, no iPoddery, no nothing except sitting bolt upright and looking out at the countryside flashing by. The Detention Carriage, it should be called. But after yesterday’s insouciant performance by Mr. Unknown of Eire, I suggest that they need to have an Unquiet Zone, into which all those with a tendency towards verbal diarrhoea or a penchant for expressing tedious opinions at top volume should be shoved.
It was of course cowardly of me, but any instinct to say ‘Look here, old bean, what about a little bit of hush, what?’ was suppressed by my natural English reticence, and a vague (and probably racist) fear that I might be punched in the mouth. I would like to have been applauded as a hero (as I certainly would have been), but I wanted to get home in one piece. I am a fully-signed-up coward, I admit it.