By Kenneth Roy
At Paisley Gilmour Street – perhaps the bleakest station in Scotland – a uniformed functionary of enormous girth boarded the train. Before I’m accused of bulkism, I had better add that the issue was not the human bungalow himself, but the weight of officious authority that he carried about with him. Oh, and the look. This one could scowl for ScotRail.
The carriage was half-empty and Gilmour Street was the last stop before Glasgow. Bear these facts in mind while I tell you what happened next.
An elderly man – retired professional of some sort, anyway inoffensive as they come – had a leather brief case on the seat next to him. It is true that the case was travelling without a valid ticket, indeed gave every impression of being a fare dodger. According to railway by-laws, which I feel sure he recites in his sleep, the human bungalow would have been entitled to arrest the brief case, throw it off the train or detonate it in a discreet controlled explosion.
All the same, it didn’t seem to be doing much harm, just sitting there beside its owner, this tweedy gent who looked respectable enough to be an OBE. Our cheery conducttor – customer services leader as I expect he’s called these days – said nothing about the incriminating item as he strolled down the corridor with a kindly word for all. In fact I rather thought the brief case had got away with it until the human bungalow – no doubt a supervisor of some description – entered our lives at Paisley Gilmour Street.
‘Remove that case from the seat and place it in the overhead luggage rack provided,’ he commanded, as he deposited his substantial buttocks on the seat opposite.
The OBE looked more than a little startled, although the brief case wasn’t giving much away. Since we had passed our last calling point before our next and final destination – odd how modern train announcements mirror so closely the ultimate stages of life itself – I expect he was wondering who might require the seat in the few remaining minutes of our journey.
At this critical moment my eye – I have two, but one was sufficient for the present task – was drawn to the brief case. A small act of rebellion then occurred. The owner of the case lifted it from the seat, but instead of placing it in the overhead luggage rack provided, he rested it on his lap. The order had been obeyed to the extent that the seat had been vacated, but it had been obeyed in a subversive way. I cheered inwardly.
On a few occasions, most recently on a booze-sodden afternoon train from Carlisle to Kilmarnock, I’ve asked the conductors why they allow passengers to be intimidated.
Now I come to the point of the story. Those of us who are seasoned rail travellers know from years of unhappy experience that if the passenger had been an aggressive drunk and not some unimpeachable citizen of Troon with a banana in his brief case and an OBE for services to the community, the human bungalow would not have uttered a word of reproach.
Aggressive drunks do not tend to travel on trains with brief cases – I’ll give you that. They colonise tables and convert them into public bars groaning with cans and bottles. Their language is crude, they talk ceaselessly of football, they roar with harsh laughter, and they address lewd flattery to any unattached attractive woman in the compartment. This is the culture of train travel in Scotland, particularly at weekends, and very little is done about it. On a few occasions, most recently on a booze-sodden afternoon train from Carlisle to Kilmarnock, I’ve asked the conductors why they allow passengers to be intimidated. They tell me they prefer a quiet life, or words to that effect. I take this to mean that they’re scared.
But help is finally at hand. Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill assures us in a cringe-making announcement that ‘we want everyone to enjoy themselves on nights out, but consideration for others is also vitally important’. It’s wonderful to hear that the Scottish Government is officially in favour of enjoyment – it’s quite a new concept in Scotland – and hard to disagree that consideration for others is vitally important. But if he seriously believes that banning alcohol on trains between nine at night and 10 the following morning will cure this anti-social curse, I suspect that Kenny goes most places by ministerial limousine these days. Has there ever been a more half-hearted ban? It is effectively in force in the middle of the night.
Wait for this: ‘Customers will be asked to finish any alcoholic drinks by 21.00’. An interesting idea, but I doubt that it will be enforced by train staff. It is easier to pick on the sober citizens with the brief cases than to confront the terrifying drunks without them. But I hope the human bungalow of ScotRail proves me wrong; I shall be looking out for him.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review