Thursday, 26 November 2009

The idiots on the bus go round and round

Ugh. Having an altercation with a stranger in a public place is just awful, isn’t it? Sometimes, though, we Grumpy Young Women feel this irrepressible need to tell someone that what they’re doing is unacceptable. We don’t half make life awkward for ourselves, that’s for sure. Most people just get their heads down, keep calm and carry on.

This story takes place on the P4. Know it? All the way from Brixton to Lewisham. It’s a miserable place at the best of times, but it was also caught up in traffic and taking longer than usual, quite crowded because it was full of people going home after shopping in Brixton on a Saturday afternoon, and it was also pouring with rain, causing everyone to be sort of steaming and more irritable than usual.

This woman got on with her kid, sat down in the double seat next to me, and promptly switched on some kind of music player. Full volume. No headphones. The P4’s got this new sign up, next to all the ‘feet off seats’ and ‘keep free for the disabled/elderly’ notices, saying ‘do not play music out loud’, and this girl was sitting directly in front of the sign, blatantly contradicting it.

After about 10 minutes, I had really had enough of the jangly R&B thing she was playing - apparently to lull her kid into being calm and quiet - and I said to her: “Do you have any headphones?” She replied “No”, so I said: “In that case, would you mind turning your music off?”

Now, you might think I’m a moaning middle class idiot, and you’re quite right about that and I don’t care. If you don’t stand up to this sort of anti-social stuff then eventually it just wins. She was the one in the wrong.

“What’s the problem? Everyone’s talking on the bus.”

Interesting one, this. So her theory went that playing her music out loud was just a small extension of the general hubbub of people’s voices and therefore was perfectly acceptable. So, if I drink booze on the bus, I could defend that with “What’s your beef? Everyone drinks water on the P4”, or, if someone decided to have sex with their boyfriend on the back seats, they could pipe up with “Chillax, man, people kiss on the bus all the time.”

“Sorry, but this is a public place, and not everyone wants to hear the same music as you do," came my rather cringeworthy reply, after which I swiftly buried my head in my scarf and hoped we’d come to the end of this interaction. Unfortunately she began to mutter defensively at everyone else in the bus, and I caught one of her remarks: “She’s the only one complaining. She’s probably drunk.”

Would you have let that go? I’m afraid I did not. I turned and flashed my eyes at her. “I haven’t had a drink actually,” I began, lying of course. I’d had a Chardonnay at the Brixton Ritzy. “Why would you say that?”

“Don’t talk to me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t talk to me,” the woman replied, in potentially the most defensive tone I’ve ever encountered as a direct response to something I said. What do you say to that? If I’d started saying something I’d have got another “Don’t talk to me”, so it was pointless. I turned, hid and fumed.

“Thank you,” she said. She might as well have added “I win”.

It took her another five minutes but eventually I noticed the music had stopped and the bus was quiet. Woman on bus: 0. Grumpy Young Woman: 1. Read more by Maddie.