Interesting episode on the train today. When I got on there were eight guys, all in their early to mid twenties, sitting across the aisle from one another in two groups of four. They were drinking lager and chatting – I didn’t think the noise level was remarkable. I sat in the next group of four seats, back to back with them.
I was able to read my paper without disturbance, aware of them having a lively conversation peppered with the odd f word, as I’d expect from a group of young men.
The train remained stopped at a station about 40 minutes into my journey, and the conductor arrived in our carriage together with two railway police. The conductor said that he had received complaints that a group of young men were drinking, making a lot of noise, and being abusive to customers. The whole group looked somewhat shell shocked by this accusation, and started to protest their innocence. The railway police then started to argue, clearly ready for a fight.
I stood up and said that I had joined the train at X, and had been seated behind them ever since, and had seen and heard no evidence to support the accusation. All three railway staff thanked me and left. The guys then all thanked me profusely (and offered me a lager!) and sat down, thanking me again when we left the train.
This reminded me of a very similar incident earlier this year, when a similar sized and aged group of young men had behaved in much the same manner on a flight to Marrakesh. They were escorted of the plane by airline staff and an armed Moroccan policeman. I breached the security line on leaving the plane to go and tell the police that the men had not been behaving unreasonably, especially as they were on their way to their stag party. Again they were allowed to continue on their way.
I don’t think that I am over-tolerant of unreasonable behaviour. Having two adult sons myself I think that I am clear about what constitutes antisocial behaviour in a public space, and I am clear that neither group of men transgressed those boundaries. Eight people all talking make a fair amount of noise – eight school children on a train make considerably more. I hardly think that a group of young men using ‘fuck’ sporadically in a public conversation is going to produce a for of the vapours in anyone.
Yes, the men were drinking lager, but they didn’t appear remotely drunk – as I heard one them say, ‘I don’t want another can because there are no toilets on these trains’. That struck me as a perfectly pragmatic decision, not the comment of an inebriated person.
I have no idea who reported either group of men, nor why, if they were distressed by noise or language, they didn’t come and speak to the group and ask them to try to be a little quieter.
I can only assume (perhaps completely erroneously) that the complained is a middle aged woman or couple who just disapprove of young men without any great cause. I have an image of a tutting, frowning, staidly dressed, generally disapproving person, who has probably switched from voting Tory to voting UKIP. A member of the tribe that feel ‘Britain has gone to the dogs’ ‘things aren’t what they were’ and, inevitably, ‘bring back national service.’
Of course the members of this tribe behave in a way that is guaranteed to vindicate their beliefs. If you treat people as though they are badly behaved, antisocial, loud mouthed good-for-nothings, they may well respond in that way, particularly if ‘authority’ is unreasonably unleashed upon them.
I am remained of my brother’s experiences living in London. Stopped more than once on his motorbike whilst going to work, wearing leathers, he was definitely not treated in a civilised manner (although much better than if he had been twenty years younger and black). Stopped when driving his car to work,wearing suit, he was treated as the professional man that he is.
Approaching people with stereotypical (and usually unfounded) expectations, and treating them as inferior, is unlikely to evoke calm and polite responses.
The other, somewhat amusing, aspect of these stories is the way that my intervention was received. Years of taking control of difficult medical situations has obviously left me with an unconscious air of authority and credibility.
Long may it last!