Monday, August 11, 2008


I was displeased with my fellow commuters today, I feel a line was crossed. I'm fine with commuters being unpleasant to each other - pretending that all the other people aren't there, or at least aren't real people, is an important way of keeping your composure when shoved into a sweaty fat man's armpit - but I don't like it when innocent bystanders get caught up in it.

I'd just got off the train at London Bridge - music on and loud, marking the page in my big book of Chekov with my finger, lost in my own thoughts - when I saw the following sight on the flight of stairs up from the platform. There were two women on one side of the staircase at the point where it turns into the tunnel that leads to the escalator, they looked really agitated and were looking at something on the other side of the stairs. On the rest of the stairs was the cattle-pen-thick river of commuters stomping up the stairs. Hmm. I thought, tourists, and I directed myself towards the other side of the stairs when the people were flowing faster. As I got to the bottom of the stairs, however, I saw what they were looking at. There was a small child, a boy of about 4 or 5, no taller than my waist, crying his eyes out and occasionally trying to penetrate the crowd of people and cross the 12 foot wide staircase. No-one who walked past seemed to be paying the slightest bit of attention to this, men or women. When I got level with the kid I stopped, tried to smile in the friendliest way I could manage, and hoped that the people to my left would stop too and let him cross (three people walked head first into my back in these few seconds). Unfortunately, I'm a big scary bear, even if this kid wasn't scared already, so he just looked at me, terrified, and didn't move an inch. Luckily a woman of about my mum's age stopped next to me, said something in a soothing tone of voice and led this him across to his mother.

The whole thing probably took about six seconds from start to finish but it left me in a bad mood for the rest of the journey home. I don't understand how people could just look at that kid and think to themselves (if they thought anything at all) "it's OK, the stairs will be clear in a minute or so, if no trains arrive on the other platform". I'm really not a cuddly child-friendly person, probably given another second of being shoved in the back I would have walked away from the kid out of embarrassment, but I can remember the feeling of being small and lost in a public place, if only for a few seconds, and wouldn't just ignore a child in that situation.

I am disappointed with my fellow unthinking automatons, and hugely grateful to the kind woman who saved me from ending up hating myself all the way home for walking away.