My week off, part 1

Post length: 1,440 words, about 6 and a half minutes.

It’s been an interesting week.  Good by most counts, despite the odd complication.  Up and down would be the best description, I think.  I’ll deal with it in a few posts to stop them being too long…

I set off on Friday afternoon, around 4 in fact, with all my bags – my main bag containing clothes and my laptop, and my camera bag with two cameras and accessories.  The plan was to miss out London as best as possible, travelling via Clapham Junction and Watford Junction.  It’s a route I’ve taken before and I knew it would be busy, but the aim was to avoid the tube.  The first section of the trip went fine, and although I had to stand on the train from Clapham to Watford, I was reasonably happy.  The train from Watford to Lancaster, on the other hand, was slightly less enjoyable.

First of all the train was busy.  That was ok, and I didn’t really mind sitting on the floor in the vestibule area.  The key thing was that I could see my bags – there was thousands of pounds worth of kit in them which I can’t afford to replace and that kit is my livelihood.  So I sat with it.  A few other people were in the same area as I was, initially two girls and another guy although one of the girls left and must have found a seat somewhere (they declassified two of the first class carriages because the train was busy and I guess she sat in one of those).  Shortly the guy got off and the other girl moved to a seat in the next carriage which left me by myself.  During the trip up to this point various people had been walking up and down going to the shop and things, including a couple of young lads who had clearly been drinking and were a little aggressive.  After a while one of them came and stood opposite me and made a phone call to, what seemed like, his girlfriend.  During it he told her about this lady who he had been sitting near who had got him a bit wound up – his friend had been playing music on his mobile phone and she’d asked him to turn it down.  This had obviously made them a bit worked up and I guess they hadn’t been too polite to her.  Shortly afterwards she had apparently told them to move a bag which was touching her foot.  This, apparently, was the last straw.

The lad who was on the phone was explaining this to his girlfriend in pretty colourful language and at one point he turned around to be and said “sorry for my language, sir, this woman’s just been winding us up”.  I’m not offended by it, so I told him it was ok, and he carried on his conversation.  Once off the phone he started talking to me.  He was obviously drunk but seemed reasonable.  He explained that they were squaddies doing their phase one training and it was one of the rare weekends they get off.  He said they weren’t allowed to drink during phase one and when they get time off they just go mad.  This seemed fair enough to me.  He also had a whinge about people from London.  When I told him I was from Aldershot he asked me a few things about how he would get the train to visit his girlfriend, doing her phase two training in Aldershot, and I happily explained.

Shortly he was joined by his friend who was saying things about how he had to leave the seats they were in or they he would have hit the lady.  But that “I ain’t no wife-beater”.  He also complained about another one of their group who had apparently been telling him he should apologise for the way he spoke to her.  He then turned to me and said “if he comes back, do you mind if I spark him out?”, and punched the train wall.  Hard.  To which I replied, “I think it might cause a bit of trouble”.  His friend agreed saying something about not ruining their careers.  Soon enough the third one joined them.  He was clearly much more drunk than the other two.  He started to tell the second guy how he should apologise for being disrespectful to her, and how they had trained together and where in the same squad.  This started an argument.  Luckily it died down reasonably quickly when they realised two of them were getting out at the next stop.  The most drunk one was supposed to be getting off one stop later.

As the train slowed down they moved towards the other set of doors in the vestibule out of my view, and people started making their way from main area of the carriage to the doors I was sitting next to.  Just as I stood up to let people off the train one of the squaddies, the third to join me previously, came flying across the train covered in blood.  He was swiftly followed by another, the second to join me, kicking, punching and generally beating him pretty hard.  The thought ran through my head that I should do something about it, but I didn’t suppose I’d be able to help the situation with two large, trained, drunk lads.  There was a middle-aged man and another young lady waiting to get off with me, he tried to reason with them, she screamed for them to stop.  They weren’t having any of it.  After a while, just as the train doors opened, two guys from elsewhere in the train got involved.  One threw one of them off the train while the other, who it looked very much like had been trained himself (a bouncer, I thought), restrained one of them.  The one inside the train calmed down very quickly (I suppose he didn’t have much choice while being pressed against the wall by this other passenger) while the one on the outside stayed quite aggressive.  The train driver closed the doors until the police arrived to keep them apart.

Once the police arrived things got back to normal pretty quickly.  We’d lost about 15 minutes on the journey time and they made an announcement about an “onboard incident” (so now you know what it means), but shortly got on our way again.  I was quite happy to sit back down with my bags where I was before, but the train manager was worried about the blood on the walls.  Sure they needed to clear it off, and people who were passing through were pulling alarmed faces when he told them to keep clear of the walls, but I had been there when the fight broke out and had been sprayed with blood from the people themselves, so I wasn’t too bothered.  Either way, he didn’t want me there.  So I asked what I could do with my bags – there wasn’t space on the rack and I didn’t want to leave them behind.  He said I could just put them in the corridor, so I did.  And I stood next to them.  A few people came past, I very kindly opened the door for them, I was a bit in the way.  Shortly the train manager came to me again and said “you’re really in the way, can you please sit down, there are plenty of seats”.  I explained about my bags again.  I also said I was happy to take them with me, but I’d have to put them on the seat, and given they had already announced this journey that people must removed bags from seats, I wasn’t really sure I was allowed to do that.  “I’ll make an exception given the circumstances”.

Given all this, that I’d just witnessed the fight and everything, I thought I was remarkably un-shaken.  Having said that I think I might have been a little short tempered with the train manager.  I can see his point, but I can also see mine.  I suppose it will have been a reasonably stressful event for him too, and we were both probably a little tense, but I really wasn’t impressed by the way he spoke to me.  I’d have been quite happy sitting in a blood stained vestibule for the next 45 minutes.  By this stage I just wanted to be left alone.  I dread to think what the other passengers thought of me.

Posted on Thursday 4th December, 2008 at 5:06 pm in Obiter dicta.
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