I wrote about eavesdropping on public transport for Viva Brighton.
If you’re reading this, man on the Gatwick Express who works in advertising and has a four-car port outside his spacious, open-plan refurb in Kemptown: I’m not sorry for outing you. You asked for it when you publicly bragged that you like to watch the road outside your house and call up the traffic wardens whenever anyone contravenes parking restrictions.
I was intending to write this column about conversations I listen in to on public transport. I’m bad for this. Sometimes I even write down what I hear. My friend G is so well aware of people like me (being not unlike me) that she says she avoids talking on trains and buses, and gets quite irritated when her companions expect her to. I don’t share this phobia of being listened to; like a good liberal I feel it is only fair to give a little back.
I was going to write this column about eavesdropping, but reading my notebook it seems there is something else going on here. The second most noteworthy exchange I heard on a train recently involved a father and his two children, both under five. A homeless man entered the carriage and asked for money to pay for his hostel. Shortly after he passed by, the girl, who was sitting a few seats apart from her dad, reading his phone, called over:
“Daddy, why’s that man asking for money?” …and before he had time to reply… “Is he one of those poor people who live on the street?”
“Yes darling,” her dad replied, visibly embarrassed, “but he has other issues as well.”
“He has issues with substances.”
“What’s that Daddy?”
“Well, he probably drinks too much,” the man said, more quietly.
“Why is he walking down the train causing a nuisance?”
“I don’t know darling,” he said, terminating the exchange. His daughter turned away, and a few moments later said sharply:
“Go away, nuisance.”
Another passenger sat opposite me smiled at her mother, rolling her eyes. The father carried on looking at his phone. I looked down at his little girl’s Hunter wellies and felt self-righteous. If my daughter had said, “go away, nuisance” to a homeless person I would have pulled her up on it. I might have told her not to be unkind; that we don’t know why he is in that position; that he needs help; or that the situation is complicated. This child’s lesson was to not ask, and not to look.
You can gauge a lot about the state of a place by tuning into petty conversations, so what do I find notable here? A guy with room to park his car four times over so enraged by the residents and visitors parking on his street that he grasses them up to the council, and a man teaching his five-year-old daughter ‘the poor’ are a nuisance. I see the ABC1s engaged in a passive aggressive battle with the C2DEs. I guess it all comes down to the question of to whom we are directing our anger, while we all feel shafted.