Monday, November 23, 2009

The Importance of Rules

As I stood on over-crowded platform this morning waiting for the late-running train, my attention was wrenched away from my Monday morning newspaper by the sight of a chap marching along the very edge of the platform, ignoring the Yellow Line we are implored not to cross, in order to get himself in front of all those other poor sods who had prudently turned up early to get a prime spot. Rude? Definitely? But that is hardly the point - after all, as had been observed many times before, commuters were not put on this Earth to be nice to each other. But surely we should respect and abide by the rules - it's not like we're French footballers.

On getting on the train, I discovered a full size bicycle taking up most of the vestibule, despite clear signage forbidding the carrying of non-folding bikes. Then when I arrived at the opposite extremity of my journey, dismounting the Tube at the designated station, I found myself buffeted by people pushing past me to head up the wrong side of the staircase (it quite clearly says "Right Side Up"). "Can't you read?" I felt like shouting. But I didn't, obviously. Instead, I made my way through the melee, pondering the importance of rules, and why we should follow them.

Bill Bryson once wrote that Americans treat rules with the kind of reverence British people reserve for queues. Now as anyone who has waited in line at a cash point recently will attest, this statement may not mean as much as it used to. But the point he was making was that his fellow Americans, when they see a sign like "This side up", would dutifully comply in using that particular side exclusively to travel in an upward direction, even though they may do so with much shouting, swearing and maybe even a bit of shoving. Whether this holds true for American commuters I could not say, but it definitely is not the case for their British counterparts. On encountering any sort of regulation with regard to where they can sit, stand, queue or jostle, the instinctive reaction of the British commuter is one of suspicion - born of the unshakable conviction that everybody else, and especially those in authority, is out to get them. "What" we wonder "is in it for the train company here? What are they really trying to pull on me? What lies behind this rule?"

And of course we know that what lies behind it is the conspiracy, in which all are complicit - men, women, children, animals, even ticket collectors - to ensure that everyone else gets a better seat, gets off the train and eventually gets to work, more quickly and comfortably than us.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Sure Thing? I don't think so.

An early start for me this morning, as I had a "breakfast meeting" (more meeting than breakfast, sadly). I might have expected my early bird efforts to be rewarded with a quieter train but no, it turns out I have been a comparatively late bird for all these months - the train was packed with the kind of hardy commuters I had all but forgotten since the arrival of The Litle Commuter - the type that in days past would get up before dawn's first light and battle through sleet and snow in order to get to school ahead of anyone else.

The truth is I do now leave the house half an hour later than I used to - it's not because I'm staying in bed, but because I like to see my boy in the morning, and it is not in his interests to get me out of the house promptly (he hasn't quite cottoned on to the whole "major breadwinner" thing yet).

So, as I was stood shoulder to shoulder with my fellow sardines (there's an analogy that doesn't work) my attention was drawn to a poster advertising a certain brand of deoderant. Now, I have been quite impressed with the quality of cleverness of on-board ads recently, so I can only assume that this was some clever self-parody. Honestly - it was like I has suddenly been transported back to the 1950s, when ads for washing powder used slogans like "For the wife who loves her husband."

What we had was this - a smart-looking guy in a shirt and tie standing on a train with his hand up in the air (it was head and shoulders only so you couldn't actually see the hand, but I assume he was holding on to something to steady himself). His armpit was utterly dry, and the copy said something about how the product kept you dryer than any other. This has been a popular theme over the last couple of years amongst manufacturers of personal care products like this (originality? No thanks). But for one thing, the guy was, to use football parlance, in acres of space, rather than being hemmed in by hordes of bad-tempered commuters. As any experienced commuter knows, the issue of sweaty armpits only becomes a problem, nay a social stigma, when you have somebody's face shoved up against it. I thought gritty realism was the thing these days?

The other thing that got was the guy's expression. He had a kind of lop-sided smile, suggesting that either he'd had a stroke or he was feeling incredibly pleased with himself because he had bought a deoderant that would stop his armpits from sweating and therefore cause hundreds of women to throw themselves at his feet. Assuming that it was not the former, the art director (or whoever it is who makes these sorts of decisions) must actually have chosen this expression from a selection of others). What is going on here? Even Lynx aren't being that unsubtle any more.