Monday, 20 June 2011

Class War on The Number 19 Bus

I hate Monday lunchtimes.

I do the family shopping on my day off on Fridays, so that when Monday rolls around, we've run out of bread devoured over the weekend. Thus I can't make my sandwiches for lunch as I do for the rest of the working week.

So on Mondays I have to use my lunch hour to bus it over to Islington and buy a lunch.

Islington for those who don't know it, is a very mixed inner-city borough of London. Tony Blair bought a house there before moving into the Prime Minister's residence at Number 10 Downing Street. There are plenty of grand houses, but also lots of social housing and high-rise estates.

Yesterday I got on the bus and had to squeeze my way past 3 push-chairs which were the size of 2CVs. I've brought up twins, with both a double buggy and when that broke, two singles. The buggy (ies) were always folded up every time we mounted the bus, no matter how involved that became trying to ensure two kids were safely on board. So I do get a tad irritated when I see push-chairs that either haven't been, or simply can't be folded up. Irritation I keep to myself. There seemed to be about 5 mothers on the bus with their kids, evidently middle-class to hear them talk. I assumed a play group had just finished for the morning.

As we crawled towards another bus stop, I was transfixed by a woman waiting there. She removed her lit cigarette and bent down to stub it out on the pavement, presumably so as to relight it later. She did it so protractedly I thought she was going to miss the bus. Something about her laborious manner struck me as slightly compulsive behaviour and I fancied that she was an addict of some sort. Maybe she was simply addicted to cigarettes, rather than anything harder. She wore a set of pearls, though of what quality I couldn't tell, but she didn't give the impression of being ravaged by a destructive habit. It was just that curious desperation to preserve the cigarette that set my spidey senses tingling.

I turned my gaze elsewhere when she got on the bus, since I missed what must have happened next. She must have asked the mothers to move the buggies which were blocking two empty seats, so that she could sit down. For when my gaze returned, she was involved in a 'discussion' with two of the mothers. The usual 'you don't have children you don't understand' type of thing was trotted out by way of justification, when there was no way they could have known whether she'd ever been a mother or not. 'Do you expect us to walk the 5 miles to the child minder?' was a verbatim line I heard offered up as argument.

Suddenly one of the mother's male partners launched into her space and gesticulated wildly at her, raising his voice. She replied in turn, though she made no motions with her hands back at him. He called her a disgrace, challenged her to call the police if she felt threatened. When he returned to his berth, she carried on with the two mothers within her range. He sprang up again as she darted off at the next bus stop which happened also to be my own.

So there you have it. No one emerges from this set-to with any credit really. Middle class mums who did blockade the seats on a bus however unwittingly. A man who used his physical presence to bully and intimidate, albeit in the defence of his partner whom he saw as being challenged. And the cigarette woman who I just intuited before she got on the bus, was full of bristling contrariness. I don't know how she asked the buggies to be removed, of if she moved them herself. In themselves, neither would have been that provocative a gesture. But presumably once sat down, she made a throwaway comment that prompted a rebuttal from one of the mums. But that it blew up, that she was at the centre of a confrontation, really didn't strike me as surprising, due to one casual detail I noticed about her.

She could have bitten her tongue like I did. Equally she is entitled to air her opinion, but then you have to ask yourself what outcome you expect by doing so.

I just found the whole thing predictable and dispiriting. It right put me off my lunch.

I have to organise my Sundays to somehow get some fresh bread in.


Kat said...

One question--fact or fiction?

Sulci Collective said...

Absolute fact!

Unknown said...

I personally love actually watching people interact. Too often we're all sucked into our ipods and such that nobody even realizes they are surrounded by other humans. Sure this wasn't a 'pleasant' interaction, but at least it was an interaction.

Sulci Collective said...

I know what you mean about people building walls between them in public with earphones etc. The number of people on my commuter trains playing games on their mobiles always strikes me as anti-social. While the free London newspapers morning and evening are said to be less about reading the news and more about screening off your fellow commuters.

Thanks for your response

Kat said...

Lol. In that case...why didn't you say something? I guess I'm nosy or on some kinda moral high horse--but I always butt-in.

I can't stand to see a grown man bully a woman, a child, anyone--I don't care what they did. Intimidation pisses me off and I make no excuses for it.

But that's me.

There's a show out here, I think it's called "What Would You Do" or something to that effect. Anyway they have actors stage various things to see how people will react. A woman screaming at her kids and mock hitting them, a purse snatcher, etc. It sickens me the way people just stand there and watch like sheep.

There was a murder I read about in my psychology class...this chick was beaten, raped, and murdered in front of her apartment building. At least 10 people witnessed it--NO ONE stopped it. No one helped. One person finally called 911. It's insane. Some kind of herd mentality.

People are too afraid to get involved and they create all kinds of justifications for it. Grrrr. That's all I can think. Grrrr.

I don't mean to be critical--and certainly not on your blog--I just don't understand being silent. It doesn't compute for me.

Sulci Collective said...

Kat, you're broadly right but sometimes there are situations where an additional person butting in isn't going to help anything. It's that thing where a couple are having a screaming row in public, you step in to try and make the peace and all you do is unite them in their venom directed now to you for interfering.

I was once playing soccer when a game between a Greek team and an Afro-Caribbean team on the next pitch blew up into a fight. Some racial slur had been uttered. Our game stopped and someone suggested that we get involved to break it up. The view among us was that 22 white guys weren't going to do anything but pour oil on that situation. In the end the police were called and one of the Afro-Caribbean players moved through us as he departed and said "Not even you white guys call us that"...

Kat said...

I can see your point. I suppose it comes down to the details of the scenario and personal choice. For me, I'd have told the guy off--and the women for blocking the aisle. LOL.

What do I know? I'm just an American--we're notorious for blundering forward when we should pause and consider the scope of things first. You know, "Shoot first, ask questions later"?