When I applied to study at university several years ago, I was given a choice of with whom I wished to live in student halls: smokers or non-smokers. Having smoked only three or so times in my life, and not much caring for cigarette smoke and its tendency to make everything that it touches smell like the burning, soiled bedding of an incontinent hamster, I chose to live with non-smokers. But as I later discovered, I needn’t have bothered picking either option, as several people who I was placed to live with were smokers, all of whom had selected to be with non-smokers. To these people, cigarette smoke was apparently as sweet as Angel Delight, provided that it was coming out of them; when somebody else was exhaling it, things were a different story.
It is often people with this same outlook who ruin travelling in the quiet coach of a train. With stickers lining each and every window, it is near impossible to mistake the quiet coach for a regular one. Yet it is often filled with individuals who believe that impossibly loud chatter is all fine and well, as long as the noise is coming from their own mouths and not other people’s. Somehow the quiet coach has become a platform for people who use silence as a means to have their words understood more clearly: a place for people who have presumed that being quiet is only a requirement for passengers less interesting than themselves.
Ordinarily, it’s hard to feel truly irked about having to share an intimate space with someone who has mistaken a carriage full of passengers for a gripped audience. After all, even the very worst type of passenger is usually easily forgotten. But this isn’t true of the journey I took last Sunday, the day before bank holiday Monday: the own clothes day of drinking nights. And so I feel that the events of that night are ridiculous enough to reproduce here.
In spite of what was to follow, for perhaps the first twenty minutes of the journey, everything couldn’t have gone more smoothly. As we departed from Darlington that evening, the sun shone brighter than it had all year, and inside the carriage passengers appeared to be content to simply enjoy the view out of the window. But alas things changed at York station, where the carriage suddenly became infested with a group of tangerine men, accompanied by women who seemed to take pride in their ability to scarcely cover up both their breasts and vaginas with just one small piece of fabric.
The smell of stale lager and LYNX Africa followed the herd onto the carriage, and as they made their way to any empty seats they could find, the group chanted their unofficial mantra for the evening: “WHEY! OH OH OH YEAH! YEAH! NA NA! BOLLOCKS!”
After several minutes of this one very brave passenger, a woman in her late forties, spoke up. “Do you mind?” she said, her voice trembling slightly. “We’re in the quiet coach.”
“Hear that?” replied one of the girls, nominating herself as the spokesperson for the group. “We’re in the quiet coach. Well, that sucks for you.”
The girl was so plastered with makeup that it would have taken a team of archaeologists to unearth a single feature on her face. A girl of many words, most of them either “fucking” or “like”, for the next ten minutes she subjected everyone in the carriage to her fog horn voice, obviously enjoying how much she was irritating everyone. It wasn’t long, however, before many others started to complain, and soon enough a man whose job it was to politely ask difficult passengers to get off at the next stop had intervened.
“I know my fucking rights,” explained the head girl to the man, as if she were Ghandi fighting for some just cause rather than a drunken idiot oppressed only by her own caustic stupidity. Like an impossibly loud radio tuned to a station designed solely to scare off listeners, she continued to express herself throughout the journey, insulting passengers and trying her best to sound sane. My girlfriend, who had reluctantly been one of the first passengers to complain about the group to staff, received much of the abuse, due to her wearing a pashmina.
“She’s from Kazakhstan,” one member of the group, a male with hair only on the top of his head, bizarrely speculated.
“Well, I’m not racialist!” shouted the girl. “She is! This is Britain. I’m white. What am I doing apart from shouting the quiet coach?”
By this point, her stupidity was apparently obvious even to a few of the girl’s friends, who were shot down for pointing out to her what was all too clear—i.e. that she was violating train protocol, that she was obviously in the wrong and that she was being a nuisance. For a brief moment, their pointing this out seemed to force her into a silence. But this was short lived, and soon enough she returned to yelling any words that happened to enter her head—mostly, of course, either “fucking” or “like”.
Race had all of sudden become her main source of outrage, and as an attempt to prove to her non-consenting listeners that she wasn’t racist, she began being unapologetically offensive about every ethnic minority that she could think of, which happened to be very few. In fact, in her mind there were only normal people, blacks, chinks and an entirely new group that included anyone who she considered to be a bit too brown for her liking. It was this fictitious latter group, we soon discovered, to which my unmistakably white girlfriend had been assigned.
After being treated to an in depth lecture on how asylum seekers are destroying this country, the train began to slow down as we made our way into Doncaster station. On the platform stood several members of the transport police.
“Uh, yeah, we should get off now,” one member of the group said.
For the first time in about half an hour, the girl who had been causing all the trouble had nothing to say. The group just slowly exited the train, as the entire carriage watched the exchange taking place outside. For a moment, the girl seemed to be cooperating with the police to some degree, but then she visibly started to lose it, signalling towards the carriage and pretending that she was the victim in all of this. Then she tried a new tactic: shamelessly flirting with the transport police, who were quite clearly unfazed by her advances, given that she resembled a slab of boob with a face drawn on it.
And so as the train pulled away, now running far behind schedule, this image was the last we saw of the group. Passengers who had gotten on at Doncaster all speculated to what had just happened to this dejected group of terracotta lager drinkers. Then, within just a few minutes, the quiet carriage became a quiet carriage once more. I couldn’t help but feel for the hapless man who had asked the group to leave. Even later in journey, long after the group had left, he looked unsettled and world-weary, as if this was not the first incident on the quiet coach he had dealt with that day. Of course, given that it was a bank holiday, the own clothes day of drinking nights, perhaps somewhere in his mind he knew that it wasn’t to be his last either.