This morning, I had a fight with a pensioner. On a bus. An actual fight, not staged for E4 or anything. It wasn’t violent, but it did involve some fairly vigorous finger-waggling and momentary use of an umbrella as a menacing weapon. It was pretty intense. Usually a confrontation-phobe, of the ‘stare intently at your thumbnails until the shouting goes away’ breed, I suddenly morphed into a madly gesticulating Eastenders barmaid-come-Jeremy Kyle guest. There may even have been talk of “respect”.
Perhaps I would have been less forthcoming with the cross-generational rage if I hadn’t had backup, but as it happens, bus arguments are the third most popular form of public diversion in London. It was like the gang warfare in West Side Story, but with fewer pirouettes and split-kicks. I don’t make a habit of verbally attacking the elderly, you understand, but for the record, he totally started it*.
The following is (almost) a direct transcript of the incident, in which the old man shall be known as Fred. “Give me that seat”, says Fred to the woman next to me, on the aisle side. Woman next to me, like a good citizen, gets up to offer her seat. Fred then ignores her, and leans over to me. “YOU”, says Fred, with a jabby finger-point, “should be upstairs!”. “Um, why?” I enquire, the very model of reasonable calm.
“Because you’re YOUNG! Bahhhh! Young people have to go UPSTAIRS!” bellows Fred. “I think you’ll find that’s not actually the rule…” I say, as Fred bellows some more and starts spluttering “Shut your face! You don’t deserve to be sitting down at all, you scrounging, selfish…Upstairs! MOVE!”
“Erm, I’m afraid that’s really quite a lot of tosh, if you’ll pardon my French. I think you’ll find I’m entitled to sit anywhere I like, as long as nobody old, pregnant or disabled needs it…. whereupon, of course, I would give it to them, being as I am a considerate person…”. Fred turns puce and replies with some words that weren’t “tosh”.
I stand my ground. “While you might assume my age means I am insolent, disrespectful and likely to spray-paint rap all over your shopping trolley, I’d like to point out that YOUR age does not entitle you to be rude to innocent travellers. What it entitles you to is ONE seat, and one seat only, and that you have got. Now if you don’t mind, I will continue enjoying mine, until such time as a pregnant, disabled or POLITE elderly person springs up to claim it. Good DAY Sir.” (General angry muttering from both sides of the bus, fade out…)
Bus travel, you see, does not bring out the best in humanity. Or me. Last summer, when I was in the giddy heights of employment and could afford a travelcard, I wrote an article all about Tube Wars. Now that the Northern Line is a mere memory, I realise how lucky I had it. Buses drive good people to the brink of social decency. After Fred got off, to spread sweetness and light among the rest of the travelling public, I sat and fumed all the way from Highbury Corner to Old Street. My index finger really ached from all the waggling. But at least I got to rest it on that nice empty seat next to me.
* Incidentally, the lack of violence was due partly to my being a sweet-natured pacifist, and partly to the fact he had a tattoo and could probably have taken me
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Finally, because I’m sure the curiosity has been eating you alive for the past 400 words, the second most popular form of public diversion in London is a crying girl in a kebab shop. The first is Boris Johnson trying to tie his own shoelaces.