Monday, 11 January 2010

The Quiet Zone: where nobody can hear you scream

The test of good manners is to be able to put up pleasantly with bad ones.

I hate travelling at the best of times. And I mean hate it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, crotchety and a bit sick. To combat my particular abhorrence of train travel I always make sure to book a seat in the Quiet Zone.

Ah, the Quiet Zone, my noise-free sanctuary. No iPods blaring Euro-dance, no cretinous idiots shouting “Hello? Hello?! Sorry, my reception keeps ... Hello?!” into their mobile phones. Just peace, quiet and the chance to have a doze. However, every time I make a booking I seem to forget the frustration such seat allocations have caused me on all previous occasions, instead opting for a rose tint and a self-satisfied smile as I type in my credit card details and pay.

The last time I made such a gross error of judgement was shortly before Christmas. After finding my seat and noting with pleasure a distinct lack of other passengers, I settle in, put my head back and close my eyes. A few others shuffle quietly into the carriage but quickly immerse themselves in books and papers. I allow myself to relax. Amateur mistake. Seconds later the tranquillity is shattered into infinitesimal pieces by the arrival of a cheeseburger-wielding, loudmouthed chav and her squabbling brats.

“Jack, just eat your fucking chips and leave Paige alone. Do you want a smack or something?”

“Oh shut up!” (My thoughts exactly.)

“Right!” She swipes at the boy, who looks no more than seven, knocking him into a chair with a thump. “Now eat them, shut up and stop messing about!”

I could quite easily clobber her at this point but I weigh up the options and decide against it. Actually, that’s a lie – I’m terrified she’ll knock me out, so instead I close my eyes again and pretend to ignore it along with everybody else. But the noise doesn’t just continue; it escalates. The kids are using profanities I’m sure I didn’t even know existed until I got to about 18, while Chavarella’s talking (loudly) to her friend on the phone about someone whose company they clearly do not enjoy whilst intermittently barking at her little darlings.

I start to glare and tut. But they’re timorous displays of annoyance; I can’t quite commit to them with the gusto I’d like because I don’t want to provoke her too much. I just want to kick her quiet-carriage-conscience into touch. I glance around to find some allies but everyone seems to be feigning ignorance. Either that or all of their senses have been immobilised. Surely I can’t be the only one driven to distraction by the incessant noise and stink of McDonald’s? Spineless so-and-sos. I continue to glare, sigh, tut, shift around and then, the final straw. Crisps. Rustling bags and open mouths.

“Excuse me?” I’m feeling brave now.

She silences the kids and all three of them stare at me. So does everyone else, thankful, anticipating some respite.


I point at the Quiet Zone sticker on the window.

“Erm ...”

My courage is waning and I’m hoping the sticker will do the work for me. It doesn’t. I try to look imploring rather than confrontational – also unsuccessful. I’ve just got to spit it out.

“Would you mind keeping it down a bit?”

She eyes me with amusement. “Sorry, are we disturbing you?” She raises an eyebrow.

“Erm ...”

And that’s all I can bring myself to say. Where is the show of solidarity from my fellow passengers? Why am I so gutless? And why do some people seem to think that intimidation transcends manners? I should have just cut my losses and booked a seat near the coffin-dodgers discussing the scenery.

You see, that’s the thing about the Quiet Zone: sitting there just makes travelling an infinitely more unpleasant experience than usual. Read more by Chess.