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
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