(Wo)man is born free, but everywhere she is in trains.

Guest Post by Ami

In a guest post Ami reminds us of the daily hassles of public transport, and asks if the risk of confronting a troublemaker is ever actually worthwhile, depite the “community spirit” engendered by so doing….

On a recent Friday evening, I stretched out in my seat on the 10.30 pm Thameslink from Farringdon, replete with fine wine, and closed my eyes contentedly. I had dined agreeably in the company of a war crimes prosecutor from the Hague, agonising agreeably with her over the plight of her native Africa. “Africa is like a lover which has betrayed me,” she had said. ”I am bitter, but I can’t stop caring.”

I had eschewed a seat opposite Him Outdoors as it was cramped with his wheelie case full of files, (too bulky and heavy for the overhead rack) in favour of the middle seat across the aisle. My favourite configuration: two women opposite me on the window and aisle seats, giving me room to stretch my legs between them. When we stopped at King’s Cross, I heard someone thud heavily on the aisle seat next to me, and a voice complain loudly: “She shouldn’t sit in the middle” and then ordered me rudely to “move to the window, so I can be comfortable.” I noted from under half closed eyelids a red face, shaved head and bull neck atop a large fleshy body, and decided if I ignored him and kept my eyes closed, he might give up. But he continued to harangue me until suddenly, the young woman on the aisle seat opposite me snapped: “leave her alone, can’t you see she is resting”. This prompted a tirade from “Beefneck” which prompted Him Outdoors to intervene, warning him to watch his language and leave me alone. A chorus of “Yes, shut up,” came from voices male and female, from the surrounding seats in support of my other half. Beefneck lurched to his feet. Feeling I couldn’t let the side down by remaining silent, I shouted: “I am perfectly comfortable here and I will not move, so sit down and shut up!”
Beefneck lurched in the direction of HO, my view was obscured but an uproar of indignation rose from the carriage with people converging on the offender, yelling, “leave the gentleman alone!” (Later I learned he had thrown a punch at HO’s face, which connected lightly, leaving no mark.)

Then a clean cut well dressed good looking young man confronted Beefneck who reacted by swinging punches at the young Knight. I thought “oh shit, this nice young man is going to get his face messed up, and all because of me” and the wine still coursing through my veins, I rose in all my finery and started tugging furiously at Beefneck’s t-shirt sleeve, yelling over and over: “Come one, don’t hit him, hit me!”

Beefneck was being held back by several men, until one of them announced: “right, we’ve had enough of you- you are off this train.” Another asked where his stuff was, and when the doors opened at the next station, his haversack was thrown off the train, and with an “altogether now” he was heaved after it. Others dashed to guard the other door as he tried to get back on.

As the train pulled away, a huge wave of elation swept the carriage. Around 15 people had been directly involved, and we all sat around excitedly reliving this triumphant moment, when Londoners of all hues and classes had stopped turning a blind eye and pulled (literally) together.
A young black man with back to front baseball cap who had been one of the ejectors, gestured to my Knight, saying, “you the Man!” while observing that if the same thing had happened on the morning train everyone would have hid behind their newspapers.

The young woman who had first remonstrated said admiringly to Knight, as he sat down beside me: “Are you a psychologist; you handled him so well. “Just an analyst in the city,” he murmured, but I do have a black belt in Karate.” But, he added, he didn’t need to use it as Beefneck had a punch like a wet fish, he only had to chop his hand off the back of the seat where he was clinging to resist being thrown off. He turned to me: “Now, that was a very brave thing you did, but you are a beautiful, small woman, and I don’t want to patronise, but you, and the mature gentleman (HO) should leave it to young nutters like us in future.”

There was just one dissenting voice: a pale pinched woman with lanky hair across from me in the aisle seat had been wittering at me right from the outset. “Look what trouble you are causing.” and now among the general congratulations she persisted: “Look what trouble you caused, someone could have got hurt”. (Later, my son said it was unlikely Beefneck’s type carried a knife; more likely to be a problem with young hoodies.) Drunk with victory (inter alia) I started lecturing Paleface on the Kitty Genovese syndrome and broken windows theory.

I skipped off the train rejoicing, to regale my son with the best Thameslink journey of my life. When I described Paleface, son observed: Sounds like a stopper, to me.

The etiquette question is: was Paleface right, and should I have moved without demur?