When Ben Elton used to be funny, his stand up routine included a sketch lampooning the great British public. He pinpointed our fierce protection of personal space by mimicking the mantra of the desperate commuter – “double seat, must get a double seat”. Various tactics were discussed but the premier seat reservation system seemed to be the strategic placement of a plastic dog turd, almost guaranteed to preserve ones’ anonymity in the face of other fare paying passengers.
Twenty years on in a new millennium with new rolling stock, the practice is still the instinctive reaction of any self important cheeky bugger. This evening I witnessed a brazen embodiment through the physical medium of a stuffed shirt transformed into an arse. Neat trick I can tell you and here’s how it works.
Middle management, middle aged spread swapped the novelty turd for a plethora of vocational accouterments including his silly briefcase, a collection of allegedly important business papers and what he laughably considered to be his best “bagsy this seat” stare.
And only under extreme duress did he give it up, firstly feigning deafness and then grudgingly shovelling his stuff elsewhere with the expression of a man who couldn’t believe nobody else realised how important he actually was. It reminds me of a World War II anecdote were a German SS captain pushed his way arrogantly past a Frenchman whose country has been recently occupied. When asked to apologise, he responded with a haughty “I am a German Officer” to which the ever so brave French replied “as an excuse, it is inadequate, as a reason, it certainly is“. Probably got the poor bugger shot.
Train etiquette is even less obvious in the morning with the Alpha Males all playing materialistic “Risk“, fighting over the battle zone of the shared table. Empire building takes the form of depositing laptops, PDA’s, phones and diaries at the exact centre of the table. Border skirmishes see the armoured reserve of newspapers and monographed papers probing your enemy’s defenses.
Eventually trench warfare sets in as they flit impatiently between unconnected devices pretending not to notice the opposing belligerents, but secretly attempting to outgun their foes with the trills and beeps of their rambling pantheon of electric weaponry.
Me? I am stinky in shorts and long in amusement, launching unilateral biological strikes with each stealthy lift of a sweaty armpit. Occasionally – if I find myself annoying drawn down to their level – out comes the astonishing electronic do it all the firm furnishes with me for testing. This is akin to introducing a stealth fighter to the do battle with Sopworth Camels (or in the case of some of the niche tat on the train, just camels) and their barely checked envy clearly means that I have won.
This counts double if I’m paying Tetris rather than pretending that I am at the eye of some informational tornado. Although I’d rather win by involuntarily ranting some spittle flecked diatribe on what a sack of shallow wankers I share my commute with. But I’m far too English, so instead I shall not cease until my search for a plastic dog turd is complete.