I am a regular user of public transport; I don’t drive, so mass transit is very convenient. It’s also very odd. I have encountered a lot of characters during my travels. It’s always a worry; the number of scary encounters I have on public transport occasionally make me wonder if I’m the odd one out somehow, that perhaps I’ve failed to tune my mental radio to Planet Bus or FM Train.
A couple of years ago, for example, I was on the train back from Brighton with a friend of mine, the inimitable Di. The train had left Brighton at about 8.30 in the evening, so we’d both mentally prepared ourselves for a certain amount of well-oiled merriment amongst our fellow passengers. We weren’t disappointed. A couple got on at Brighton, just before the train was due to go, and they’d clearly had a good day. They were merry, and so decided to broadcast, rather loudly, their well-oiled nature. They sang songs, for instance. Well, to be precise, they sang a single song over and over and over again.
I’ve actually blocked the title and lyrics of the song out of my head now, because I can’t bear to remember the awful, out-of-tune voices they presented to the carriage. They clearly thought they were excellent singers, and they were clearly after a rise out of the carriage’s inhabitants; they continued to look round at each of us in turn, rather expectantly.
When the female discovered that I was a published writer (through a rather convoluted method that I won’t bore you with now), she was delighted. She proceeded to tell me that she worked for a “professional publishing house,” as she described it, and this immediately made me suspicious. Anyone who tells me that the organisation they work for is professional clearly is defensive for a reason, and I become guarded very quickly. Checking up on the internet later, it turns that the “professional publishing house” is actually a self-publishing company with a less-than-salubrious reputation. Any barge pole I happen to own in the future will not get anywhere near it, trust me.
I seem to attract strangeness on public transport. I don’t know why. I wish I could explain it, but odd people seem to – by accident or design – want to sit near me. I’ve had an occasion recently where a group of Americans sat in the same carriage as me and began to praise God in all his forms. Each to their own, I suppose. I have no particular issues with people wanting to worship a deity of their choosing. I don’t believe in gods, but hey ho; if someone thinks differently, then fill your boots. I’m not a particular fan of public displays of affection, however; I have this vague sensation that it somehow demeans your personal faith by declaiming it loudly, but that’s another story.
So, when a group of Americans decided to loudly worship, and try to involve others in their worship, in an enclosed space, I feel uncomfortable. I also feel like I should contribute in my own atheistic way. So, I reached into my bag, where I (thankfully) had a copy of Richard Dawkins’ well-known book “The God Delusion”, opened it at the right page, and began to read very quietly to myself.
After a few minutes, I became aware of some muttered discussions going on in the carriage. I glanced up over the top of my book and saw a few people glancing in my direction. I wanted them to come and talk to me. I willed them to come and talk to me. I hoped they would ask me questions and show an interest; I would have loved a debate.
Instead, they fell into an awkward silence which lasted for the rest of the train journey and I got to read my book. It’s an ill wind.
So yes … I attract odd people on the train and bus. People have tried to convert me, talk to me and give me their life stories. Sometimes I don’t mind. Sometimes I try to remain focused on my book or newspaper or whatever.
In the future, I can see mileage in writing a book about my experiences on public transport (especially the trains), especially that I’d be terrified that people wouldn’t believe me. Sod it, I’ll write it anyway.