A Small Moment of Truly English Discomfort

I have taken on full-time work again, which is thus far pleasant as I was becoming restless and bored with my idleness and not really making the most of it at all. This return to the world of work means that I get to people-watch or read for two and a half hours every day on my commute: to other people this bumpy, crowded squeezing like toothpaste through the Tube is hell, to me it is free entertainment.

Recently I had the supreme pleasure of seeing a moment of exquisite Englishness on the Victoria Line: a pregnant woman with a London Underground “Baby on Board” badge on her lapel and a red face, tired and clearly out of sorts, got on the train at Warren Street.

It was crowded. Everyone in the standing area nearest her began shooting her worried looks, then anxious ones at the people sitting in the priority* seats who, because of the crush, couldn’t see the woman and her internal passenger and obvious fatigue.

There was a struggle taking place within the souls of two men in particular, who performed this meerkat dance of concern repeatedly:

Conflict! We are English! We can’t make a scene, we can’t draw attention to this woman or to ourselves, but no one has given up their seat for her

Two powerful social taboos in a head-on collision: one does not cause a scene but one does not allow a woman in need to stand but one cannot order a stranger out of their seat but she is pregnant and needs to sit down and there are rules! RULES.

Happily for their souls the conflict was resolved: at Euston someone got off the train, and one of the men began guarding the empty seat while the other hesitantly asked the pregnant woman if she’d like to sit down. When she sat, these two men – strangers to each other – exchanged a pink and satisfied look:

We have done an acceptable thing. We are not arseholes.

I am currently reading A Room With A View by E M Forster on the Kindle, and enjoying it a lot. However, I am glad I’d taken a break at this point, for if one does not  occasionally stop reading and watch the world, books like that never get written because one never gets to see moments like this.

* Priority seats are the ones nearest the doors on public transport that you’re supposed to let people sit in instead of you if they are more physically in need of it: elderly, disabled, pregnant, or (as far as I’m concerned) just looking like they really need to sit down).

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3 thoughts on “A Small Moment of Truly English Discomfort

  1. Ahh London. Every time i’ve been in a position to give up my seat, those already standing give me that pleased little smile that someone has done something good when they can’t because they are already standing.

    I agree on the priority seats though. I was once offered a seat by an elderly gentlemen on account of the fact I was trailing a small child and quite clearly couldn’t put any weight into one leg due to an injury. Also, by that time of day I was bloody knackered. It made me feel happy though, that people aren’t all arseholes.

    1. I’m pretty sure we have the same arsehole-to-nice ratio as everywhere else in the country, really, despite what annoying opinion polls think.

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