Musing: a call to arms

Why loud mobile phones and copper theft are related…

That’s it, it’s official, I have become a grumpy old woman decrying the end of common decency. Or in other words, copper theft and trampled toes are linked. Let me explain.

Yesterday morning as I travelled to the office by train, my wellbeing was challenged from a number of directions. Number one… continuing my tirade on the absence of i-tiquette in this modern communication age, I’m increasingly affronted by extreme mobile phone usage in public. By all means use them, the point is contact while you’re on the move, but please, talk as if you were having a private conversation with someone sat next to you. One person’s urgency doesn’t have to be conveyed to all and sundry. Does that call really have to happen immediately, here, now, with an audience?

Number Two… iPods on too loud. Not really a personal sound system if the whole carriage can hear it is it? An old rant admittedly but personally I have never hesitated to politely request a volume reduction. Accompanied by a big smile, so far I’ve met with no resistance. Yes, I’m that much fun on the train.

Number Three… On disembarking a train or bus, is it really too much to let those sat nearer the doors off first? (I’m not even talking about those waiting, or not, to get on) If you’re in that much of a hurry to leave, be strategic about where you sit, or get up earlier. Haste doesn’t give anyone the right to trample me en route. And if someone does let you pass, say “thank you”. I’ve found myself barking “You’re welcome” to just such discourteous commuters. Admittedly when trains are delayed, as they were on the day which prompted this post, we can all get a touch tetchy, but there’s a fine line between a reason and an excuse.

Then, on reaching Victoria, the reason for our delay was revealed, vandalism at London Bridge. But The Evening Standard later gave more details: stolen copper signalling cable! Because of this, thousands of commuters from the South East, as well as Gatwick Express passengers, had been delayed or diverted, and similar thefts are reputed to have cost the rail industry more than £40 million over the last three years. But as I read that Network Rail Managing Director Robin Grisby is calling for tougher sentences for such crimes, I recalled the punishment-hungry rhetoric surrounding the recent riots, and it occured to me that this and my aforementioned grievances are all related.

I was late for work, my journey disturbed and thousands delayed by a wanton lack of consideration for our fellow folk. Cable thieves, bellowing commuters, selfish noise polluters: all one and the same — people who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves. This is a path that heads nowhere pretty. In fact this is the path that leads to rioting — When supposed good people care little, how can they profess surprise when “bad” people care less? And putting people in prison helps no-one in the long term.

And as a victim of a recent burglary, I feel qualified to comment further. While I was lucky in that relatively little was taken, my local constabulary could not have been more attentive. The equivalent of CSI Brighton was enacted in my front room as windows were dusted for fingerprints and photographs taken. Subsequently it emerged that the prints that were indeed discovered, belonged to a known repeat offender. I don’t know the circumstances of this young man (I was told he was 16) but he pleaded not guilty and a court date has now been set. While I’m reluctant to press charges (see above), I also feel it is only by luck that more of my hard-worked for possessions were not stolen. And yet rather than have this “child” sent to prison, I’d prefer an admittance of culpability (his fingerprints were inside my house ffs!) and an apology. But what then? Would he feel he got away with it? Would there be any follow-up or investigation into why he was thieving in the first place? Does anything mitigate theft? I’ll keep you informed.

Nevertheless I maintain, it is in all instances a lack of regard, empathy even, for one’s fellow passengers in this journey called life that ultimately leads to fractured societies, or as the hacks would have it, our now nattily-dubbed “Broken Britain”. And no amount of heavy-handed government legislation or judicial sentencing is going to cure that, let alone the dubious Cameron-backed Emma Harrison’s “Working Families Everywhere” plans for untrained, volunteer “family champions” to go forth and offer counsel to “problem” families. (See Tanya Gold’s brilliant article about that in the Guardian).

One solution? Human nature is apparently fully formed in the first seven years of life, thus could values, ethics, decency, politeness and etiquette perhaps take on as much importance as sums and spelling in our primary schools? Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll all stand a chance of getting a quiet ride on a punctual train.