Thursday, 20 August 2009

The problem with ‘quiet’ coaches on trains

If you are a regular user of Inter City train services in the UK, you have, no doubt, noticed the trend towards ‘quiet’ coaches. I know why they exist: to protect travellers from those boringinly loud bastards on mobile phones who either make hundreds of excessive calls – I was on a train recently with a woman conducting a conference call on her mobile phone – and those who don’t know the meaning of the word ‘quiet’, ie you don’t shout, you talk.
‘Quiet’ coaches are, however, bloody irritating and, of late, I have noticed that they are being accorded the same status as smoking carriages in the days before smoking was banned, first unofficially and then for real back in July of 2007.
There was a time when, on a crowded train, if you were looking for somewhere to sit you would invariably be amazed to see ahead of you, as you clambered over suitcases and brushed gingerly past morbidly obese American tourists, that there was an empty carriage. Okay, it was at the very front of the train, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, you might have thought until, that is, you realised that the reason the carriage was empty was because it was a ‘smoker’, it reeked of fag ash and there was enough people in there to make the journey splutteringly unpleasant.
Well, the ‘quiet’ carriage is now in the same position – except that there are no plans to abolish silence in public places.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for silence, I would love a bit of peace and quiet, but the ‘quiet’ carriage is taking the piss. Not only does it catch you unawares: you find your seat, you sit down, unpack your laptop and reach for your mobile phone…and then you see the notice on the window: ‘Quiet Coach’. This is your cue to shut the fuck up, even if you’re not making any noise. And it sucks. Big time! What’s more, it’s unfair.
In the ‘quiet’ coach, you’re not banned from talking. If there was a group of you travelling together, you could still engage in an animated conversation, you could still laugh and cry and interact with your fellow human beings, but as soon as you picked up a mobile phone and started talking, evenly quietly, you would be contravening the number one rule, that mobile telephones – the very reason behind the quiet coaches – are taboo. You would be frowned upon by those who believe that your telephone conversation is far more intrusive and offensive than the group of office workers drinking Stella and guffawing loudly about last night’s office outing.
Train companies should employ somebody to stand at the entrance of all quiet coaches – now relegated to the far end of most trains – to say ‘Shhhhhhhhhhhhh!’ at everybody who enters, just by way of warning of what awaits them should they decide to take a seat. ‘Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!’
‘Quiet’ coaches are full of inhuman, nosey neighbour types, the sort of people who peer at your from behind net curtains, the sort of people who have spent far too long in insurance and the sort of people who just want to moan at somebody, anybody, just as long as they can get their word in, which, of course, they can, because it’s a quiet carriage and, therefore, no risk of being interrupted. Quiet coaches often contain troublemakers. People looking for confrontation and wanting to throw their weight around. I remember sitting in quiet coach a few years ago when I noticed a man with tattoos on his hands looking for anybody about to reach for their mobile phone and reminding them, in a slightly menacing manner, that they were sitting in a quiet coach. Quiet coaches, therefore, can be dangerous places, not only full of 'complaining types' but also nutters.
I write this on the 1545hrs Paddington to Swansea train. I have just inadvertently walked into the ‘quiet’ coach, reached for my mobile phone and then spotted the words ‘quiet coach’ spread across the windows. But only AFTER I had dialled home to call my wife. Looking around, I noticed I was getting distasteful looks, but I still proceeded with the call. Hanging up would have been to admit defeat. I spoke quietly, finished my call and then made my way out of the coach.
I am now sitting in the noisy coach. You know the sort of thing, babies crying, phones ringing, but I don’t care. I like the hubbub and I hate feeling restricted. What I wish I had done while I was seated in the quiet coach was press the ringtone and then, in Dom Joly fashion, shout, "HELLOOOOOOOW! YES, IT’S ME!!!!! PARDON!!!!! NO! I’M IN THE QUIET COACH!!!!

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