Sunday, 5 August 2012

When I wasn't watching The Olympics

They tried to chuck the elderly tramp off my train yesterday.  I noticed him on the platform at Portsmouth & Southsea: an intelligent head, a courteous demeanour, an interesting natural suede jacket now wreathed in bands of black grease,  longish shorts; oh I know that one, the shorts and the brown, purple and white spotted legs. Decent workish black boots, polythene bags for socks. He asked permission to sit in the booth in front of me and I could only see the young woman he was talking to.  She engaged with him politely at moments, her blue eyes widening before putting her magazine back in front of her face.
His voice began to rise as he warmed to his complaint about the state of the nation and I noticed he was central european, educated, somewhat barmy and most probably harmless.  Was he an eccentric millionaire, a refugee from Nazi Germany, emeritus professor of law with mental health issues? 

 He did get voluble so the young woman moved quickly a distance away and the female ticket inspector arrived to address him. I am not entirely sure
that they saw each other's point of view but I returned to the scenery, which is why I take this rather slow train along the South Downs and up through Sussex to London Victoria.  I particularly love the water meadows, where the River Arun winds, the grassy dykes, the big skies.  It could be Holland were it not for the majestic, knightly Arundel Castle on a high crag in the distance. 

 The train stops at Horsham and a bullying guard in good-customer-relations-mint-green arrives to chuck the old geezer off his journey.  The charge is abusing the ticket inspector and upsetting the other passengers.  My eyes roll and so do another passenger's.  The old man is getting louder but he's genuinely puzzled.  "I'm disabled, I'm not drunk, I don't drink, I've paid my fare, I live in South London. Can I get the next train?" ("No YOU CAN'T") Just as I am debating whether to throw my hat in the ring, a castle-sized man weighs in, "F***ing get off the f***ing train! I've got a  f***ing flight to catch! GET HIM OFF THE F***ING TRAIN." The situation is definitely confused and summoning the police is threatened but the guard has "another case in the toilet" to deal with and happily we move on towards our next stop, Gatwick (Airport). 

The old gent relaxes and I hear him do a perfect rendition of a steward advertising his wares "I've got a range of soft drinks, coffee, tea, donuts, ice-cream... Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead and kindly put them in the receptacle provided.."  

Uh oh, we've stopped at Gatwick and suddenly the carriage is flooded with the Old Bill: four officers in black airport anti-terrorist patrol uniforms and baseball caps.  "Excuse me sir, we've been asked to remove you from this train for abusing the ticket collector" blah blah blah. Well, I'm not having this and luckily, neither is the other eye-witness.  We intercede on his behalf and I'm impressed that the policemen are prepared to listen to us and negotiate with grandpa, who now behaves like a lamb .. until a young officer kneels beside him, politely requests a promise of good behaviour and, big mistake, asks for his details.  Oh god, he's about to blow it now, refusing to divulge anything, asserting his human rights, threatening to have the police impeached, telling them they're disgraceful.  Well, I'm not having that either as they've behaved with admirable patience and tact. I put down my needlepoint, lean over the seats and say "Look here matey, we've been sticking up for you, now you can bloody well sit down and behave!"   What on earth am I doing?  It's completely surreal.  The father and son alongside me, who've had an away-day to the Ralph Lauren shop at Gunwharf outlet park, are shrugging their shoulders and smirking. The irate air traveller is long gone, thank god. There's a crackle of police radio.

And then somehow it all settles down in a very decent British way, the coppers leave the train and the naughty old so-and-so is quiet as a mouse. Job done.  Except that a few minutes'  later there's an announcement: due to delays caused by an incident, the train will now terminate at East Croydon to regulate the service.  We all gather our belongings and shuffle along to the waiting platform. Our barrack-room lawyer is sitting there contentedly and there's still no sign that he has any intention of disembarking.

Drawing © Rosie West
Photos courtesy


  1. Hello Rose

    I have enjoyed reading this story. I am proud of you for standing up for the old boy. I wonder who he is and if he got home safely


  2. Well at least it made what might have been a tedious journey quite eventful, and I'm glad it ended peacefully. I'm always afraid in these situations that someone is going to go off the rails, (so to speak). Arundel does indeed look a picture.

  3. I've been fortunate to diffuse some similar situations with calm but firm understanding words rather than confrontation; I hope not to press my luck any further, however. While the offenders are indeed mentally disturbed, they have enough awareness to act when the audience is a captive one, on a moving transport, and almost never before boarding. The price of the ticket does not include causing a disturbance, especially in these times. You gave the best advice.

  4. I think when you've written the script you should ask Brian Rix to play the hero. His name came to mind the second I began to read this and I had not thought of him in years.

  5. Great stuff, Rose. Community policing in the best sense. Sometimes I believe conurbations are, oddly, the best chance for the frail and goofy to get a fair shake.
    Speaking of which, have you seen this blog?
    Like your blog, it's a virtual London (he says, never having been there).

  6. I love all these comments, thank you. I think the note of caution expressed by columnist and The Devoted Classicist is salutary. And I recommend everyone to
    have a butchers (have a look) at old joe markovitch in the link provided by rurritable.

  7. So glad you intervened Rosie, it's rare that anyone does. I wonder if he lives in Pompey or, indeed, anywhere.

  8. Thanks, Iceyrider. Most displaced persons, I imagine, don't have the price of a train fare but he clearly did. And has he got a senior rail card? He also
    went off on a riff about Portsmouth Dockyard which I couldn't quite get, sadly. Do we know each other Iceyrider??

  9. Wow! It's always a story on the train.. or indeed, any mode of transportation these days.

    I had a great time with that Spitalfields life blog when I got back from London. Apparently, he's written a little book, and I spotted it in a window of a house in Spitalfields and wrote about it. Someone turned me on to the blog and I was blown away.

    Loving watching the Olympics, and am excited for the closing, as pal David in London will be taking part. Look for "bikes and tweed" and then for a 6'8" tall man.

    Love to all!

  10. Yup, the Spitalfields blog amazing, no. Sorry you couldn't be here for the Olympics, Meg.

  11. Thank you for your wonderful post.I like it.

    shot for slim


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