Friday, 1 June 2007

Crossing the Line

'Trains these days seem to have become other people's offices.'
It is not uncommon for me to lie awake in bed at night racking my brains as to why I should ever be interested in other people’s private business.

Subsequently, I wonder why the people whose private business it is should seemingly feel it important enough for me, a complete stranger, to be interested in it and therefore make it as public as possible without the opportunity of an opt-out.

The unfortunate state of today’s technology-ridden society apparently dictates that one must not leave home without possession of a surgically-attached mobile phone. And once one has left home, one must display the surgically-attached mobile phone as a fashion statement whilst broadcasting the intimate details of one’s career and social life to others. Ideally, this should happen whilst one is demonstrating a complete absence of spatial awareness - a prerequisite of which is to stop intermittently in the middle of the street for no logical reason other than to get in the way of others; or, alternatively, losing control of one’s car and ultimately creating a scenario involving additional unnecessary surgery (even for those who do not possess mobile phones).

Alexander Graham Bell has a lot to answer for.

Aside from the fact that some ‘experts’ feel that the glorious day will come when the mobile nation will be eliminated en masse by brain disintegration due to excessive radiation exposure (or at least lose an ear), I find that this is just another distraction I have to deal with which in no way helps my current state of writer’s block. Needless to say, my writing can in no way be inspired by personal experience when most of my personal experience involves witnessing mundane conversations by equally mundane individuals with mobile phones, usually on trains or in restaurants.

This week I found myself having to take a train journey from London Waterloo to a place called Ashtead. Ashtead is a small village between Epsom and Leatherhead and is sort of the twisted Surrey equivalent of Under Milk Wood. It is the kind of place where unfortunate people are born, live a comparatively dull life, then die wishing they’d moved to the glorious rat race of London which could’ve given them the excitement they’d been craving all their lives.

Alternatively, it’s the kind of place where unfortunate people decide to relocate to, live a comparatively dull life, realise they’ve made a terrible error of judgment, then die from deep depression wondering why they’d ever moved from the glorious rat race of London in the first place. Merciful death is usually the preferred option to the alternative of living the rest of their lives in poverty due to the extortionate council tax rates and lack of government-funded healthcare. But I digress, as the reason for the journey is irrelevant (much like the place itself).

I caught the 13:24 London Waterloo to Dorking train in good time. Trains these days seem to have become other people’s offices, the difference being that they move on wheels and have no door to keep a person’s business private. The journey to Ashtead is approximately forty minutes duration, though this can often seem a lifetime when Johnny Businessman decides to catch up with his phone calls in the seat behind you. Moving to another seat or carriage is futile as, more often than not, Johnny Businessman’s friend will be there, also speaking on the phone, or the place will be overrun by teenagers using their mobile phones for any number of bizarre functions which make irritating sounds (probably invented by Johnny Businessman).

I always make sure that I sit in a carriage and seat that gives me a full view of the digital clock readout on the platform. Like plot points in a well-structured screenplay, trains must come and go at their designated moments so that everything runs smoothly and falls together. With only two minutes to go, I pulled out my laptop to try and do some writing, quietly confident that I was going to be spared the usual nightmare of witnessing someone else’s affairs (professional or otherwise).

How wrong I was.

As the guard announced the train’s imminent departure over the internal tannoy system - a surprisingly good quality one as you could actually understand what he was saying - a bald South African man with a loud voice boarded the train. I know he had a loud voice because I could hear him talking on his mobile phone at the opposite end of the carriage from where I was sitting. It is at moments like these when sheer desperation kicks in and all you have to hang onto is the hope that the annoying passenger is not going to come and sit near you. Of course that’s exactly what happened with the sound of his voice getting louder and louder as he loomed upon me like some evil ‘thing’ with a ginormous bald head in a monster B-movie.

Bald Thing sat in the seat behind me. He was talking to Ebenezer about a meeting they’d had with their client last week which did not go very well. The client had not been very pleased with the F65s, but Ebenezer didn’t know what his problem was. Bald Thing insisted that something was clearly amiss with the supplier of the F65s, and it would be up to Geoff to sort them out and could Ebenezer send an email about it. Ebenezer asked him to clarify if it was he, Bald Thing, who wanted the email or should it go to Geoff as he was going on holiday (Geoff, not Ebenezer). It was Geoff. Bald Thing told Ebenezer to find out when Geoff’s holiday was as he would have to get the problem sorted before then or their client would go to ‘the other place’.

By now I had almost lost the will to live. I wished that I knew where ‘the other place’ was so that I could either go there myself or suggest it to Bald Thing and Ebenezer, and wondered if that was where Geoff was going for a holiday. I felt that desperate times called for desperate measures and decided to beat Bald Thing at his own game. Not having a mobile phone of my own, I used the next best weapon available to me: my trusty laptop.

Naturally, I had forgotten to charge it the night before so as soon as I switched it on it went into hibernation mode and switched itself off again. My plan to irritate Bald Thing by playing my 24 soundtrack at full volume in iTunes had failed. I envied my laptop as I put it back in my satchel, wishing that I, too, could go into hibernation whenever people like Bald Thing and Ebenezer had loud conversations about F65s.

My frustration deepened when Bald Thing told Ebenezer he was meeting someone at Dorking which is ten minutes further down the line from Ashtead. I would have to endure him and his mindless conversation all the way until my stop. I realised I had no option but to apply my last resort and move to another carriage.

Not wanting to give Bald Thing the satisfaction of knowing he’d driven a fellow passenger away, I took advantage of the blind spot created by his mobile phone and applied stealth tactics to make it through the connecting door. Unfortunately, it was one of those doors where the latch didn’t work properly and having remained firmly closed since the beginning of the journey it refused to do so now. The only way the door was going to remain closed was if I slammed it hard, but that would alert Bald Thing to my presence. I had no option but to leave the door swinging open and make a run for it. But, having previously been totally unaware of me during his conversation with Ebenezer, Bald Thing’s super-sense kicked in and he spotted me. He asked Ebenezer to ‘hang on a moment’ and, with an evil death-stare, Bald Thing asked me to shut the door. I will add that he kept jabbing his finger at his mobile phone when he said this, just to acknowledge the fact that he was having a conversation which my swinging-door antics had now disturbed.

Charles Robert Maturin did not have these problems when authoring Melmoth the Wanderer, the classic gothic novel I have been trying to adapt for nine months as a four-hour film but still have not managed to write beyond the first page (of which there are several versions). He should think himself lucky. In his day they had neither trains nor mobile phones; and Bald Thing and his servant Ebenezer probably weren’t even a glint in their creators’ eyes.


insanity-suits-me said...

I love the way you write...I shall return!!!

Graham said...


kellypea said...

Okay, at first I thought you were speaking of blogs until I got to the "opt-out" portion. Whew. And I agree that Bell has a lot to answer to with regard to "mobiles," or cells. Mine's usually not charged which infuriates everyone I know. Too bad. So sad.

And I'd love to know what London's rat race is like. As far as rats races go, I'm thinking it most likely beats the one I've just left behind.

I'll be back. I love loooooong posts.