Let us turn now to the evening of the 21st. An unusually hot Friday, even for July, as we have heard. At about 5.45pm you boarded a tube train to take you home, is that correct, Mr B?
What route did you take?
It was the Piccadilly line, heading north. I got on at Oxford Circus, then got off at Finsbury Park to get the Victoria line.
Indeed. And it was at Oxford Circus that an incident took place. Do you remember coming into contact with a gentleman – Mr Jarvis, here – as he attempted to alight from the train?
There may have been a brief coming together. The train was very crowded.
Quite so, quite so! But you weren’t actually on the train at the point, were you? Or you were not supposed to be, at least.
I’d stood to the side to let people off. I guess the momentum of the crowd carried me forward on to the train. It was hard to see if there were people still getting off.
I see. Are you in the habit of being swept along by the momentum of the crowd?
Well, there are times when-
Have you, for instance, ever been swept under the wheels of an oncoming train by the hordes on a crowded tube platform?
Well. I mean, I hardly think-
Answer the question, please, Mr B.
I haven’t, no.
Are you aware of the protocols concerning the egress and ingress of passengers on tube trains, protocols which have of course especial sway and application at times of high peak use?
‘Please let passengers off the train first.’
Quite so, quite so. And yet you did the exact opposite…
As I’ve tried to explain-
-Leaving poor Mr Jarvis to have to fight his way out of the carriage, in order not to be stuck on the train and carried forth to another stop not his own!!
I regret this. But he did actually shove me quite roughly.
He had to get off, Mr B! He had a gym appointment in Regent Street for 8.30! That muscle tissue won’t tear itself you know!
I know. I’m very sorry. But I was in the way by accident. Whereas he pushed me on purpose.
And then what happened?
He stalked off.
Understandable, perhaps? And how did you feel?
I was upset. I was partly riled about having been shoved so roughly, and partly guilty at not being able to apologise. But of course, he never gave me a chance to explain, which was the worst feeling of all.
Oh dear! Poor Mr B! Let us turn now to the morning of June 27thand to the testimony of Ms Pierce here. (And thank you so much for coming in to testify today, Ms Pierce, I now it’s not easy, the courts are not as accessible as one might wish.) So… at approximately 7.55am, you had boarded a train on the Piccadilly line, heading south.
That’s right. I was going to work.
You were very comfortably ensconced in your seat, were you not?
No, I couldn’t get a seat at first.
That was a shame, wasn’t it, Mr B? I bet you were looking forward to getting stuck into your book.
Well, it’s always nice to be able to sit down. That line gets very crowded in the mornings.
Yes, of course. And you’ll stop at nothing to get a seat, will you, Mr B? And you’ll cling on to it at any price, won’t you?
Well, I don’t think that’s entirely fair.
Let us see. Tell us what happened just after Kings Cross.
Someone stood up and gave their seat away. Only seconds after the train had left the station.
Was that unusual?
It was unheard of! I thought it must be a tourist, or someone very unfamiliar with the line who was nervous about missing their stop. They had a sort of fluorescent rucksack on, and a general air of panicky purposefulness.
Any other thoughts?
Well. I did wonder if they’d spilt coffee on the seat or something. Or if they were incontinent.
Charming! But none of that worried you, did it, Mr B? What did you do next?
I sat down.
You pounced on the seat. Like a vulture.
Well I think I was technically nearest at the time.
So no one else was interested in the seat at the time?
Well, there was a woman…
What sort of age?
About my age.
Did she make a move towards the seat?
I’m not sure.
You didn’t think to give up your chance of a seat up for the lady?
I did think about it.
But you didn’t do it.
What reasons did you come up with, in your own mind, to excuse yourself for your failure to extend this basic kindness to a lady in need a seat?
I remember telling myself that women find that sort of thing patronising now. Equality between men and women makes a farce of all that old-fashioned chivalry stuff. Same as how they don’t like to be called ‘girls’ any more (or ‘ladies’ probably.) Also, I thought she was the sort of age where the offer of a seat would have been more upsetting than complimentary. Also, my back’s quite bad at the moment. And anyway, it’s dog-eat-dog on the Tube.
I see. You went through all these reasons while you were in the process of sitting down?
And did any of these excuses, these self-justifications, make you feel any less guilty?
Not really. But I was also thinking of that time I stood up for a woman with a loose-fitting top on. She snarled: ‘Why does everyone keep offering me a seat? Do I look fucking pregnant or something?’ She did, of course.
I see. But still – to return to the present case – you sat on.
My back does twinge a bit.
More self-justifications, I see.
I’ve started doing pilates! Just once a week, but it does seem to be helping. It’s all about working on your core.
Let’s stick to the case at hand. How many others were standing by the time the train neared Kings Cross?
About 7 or 8.
But not you, of course. You were set up for the journey with your hard-won seat.
As I say, I think I was nearest.
And then someone got on at Kings Cross that changed things. Or should have, perhaps.
You mean the blind woman. And her guide dog.
Quite so, Mr B. What did she look like?
If I recall correctly, she wore a bright orange top and jangly earrings. They reminded me of the comedy Christmas tree ones my mum always wears. At Christmas. The woman’s eyes sort of fluttered. And the expression on her face was open, smiley.
So what happened next?
Nothing. She just stood there with all the other people standing.
A blind woman? Left to stand in the vestibule?
I know. But it was quite clear who should have stood up for her.
The person in the nearest seat. The protocol is well-established.
And who was that?
A teenage girl.
I see. And what did she do?
Nothing! She was oblivious, self-involved, headphones on, possibly asleep. Possibly foreign.
So what did everyone else in the carriage do?
Well, we all sent out our strongest guilt-glares, of course we did. But the girl seemed to be immune to them.
I see. So naturally, someone else stood up to offer the blind woman a seat?
Actually, no one made a move. It was all a bit tense.
And where were you seated in relation to all this?
I was sitting opposite the teenage girl.
So who was on the hook now, morally speaking, if the teenage girl was oblivious? Was it you?
No! I’d say it was the man sitting next to the teenage girl. A sort of bearded, geeky type, all wired up and immersed in his game of Minesweeper. Or the second season of I, Robot, I don’t know.
You couldn’t actually see what was on his screen, could you?
Have you ever actually payed Minesweeper? Do you even know what it is?
Not really, no.
More casual prejudice, I see. Anyway, did you all start sending guilt-glares this man’s way too?
Of course! It was getting embarrassing by now. The whole system was breaking down.
And what did this ‘geeky type’ do? Did the guilt-glares get to him?
No! He just sort of… retreated into his beard.
You didn’t like his beard, did you?
No, if I’m honest.
Do you wear a beard yourself sometimes?
And how do you feel about your beard?
I don’t like it much either.
I see. Are you, by the way, in the habit of describing teenagers as ‘self-involved’?
And people with beards as geeks?
I see. Meanwhile, back in the carriage, the blind woman still didn’t have a seat.
No. I did send out a few more random guilt-glares of my own, but they come to nothing.
So perhaps it was down to you now, Mr B, as the only seated person apparently aware of the situation, to make a stand – quite literally – for common decency?
In retrospect, yes. I fully accept that I should have got up at this point.
So you stood?
You carried on sitting.
Yes. I’m not proud of this.
And how did you justify this to yourself at the time?
Well, I was still waking up really. But I did wonder if the blind woman had already told someone that she was happier standing. I started to imagine in fact that I’d heard her tell someone this. Also, I thought that it might have been awkward for her and her dog to make their way across to my seat.
What was the distance between the blind woman and your seat?
Ooh, six or eight feet at least.
I see. And of course, you still had your book to read.
Well, yes. I suppose so. But the atmosphere was almost a bit too awkward for reading by now.
Still, it would have been a shame to have to lose that hard-earned seat.
I’m not proud of myself.
Remind us, for the benefit of the court, what sort of book you were reading?
It was an account of the genocide in Rwanda.
I see. Let us fast-forward now to Warren Street, and a new development occurred. What happened?
The seat next to me came free.
I see. And then?
This woman with cropped blond hair and a stern expression made a big point of leading the blind woman over to this seat so she could sit down. It was a foldie, I recall.
And what did you do?
At that point I leapt up so the blind woman could have my seat instead, which was actually slightly easier to access than the one that had just come free.
So you were shamed into action at last.
I suppose you could say that. We helped the blind woman to sit down, and then I offered the woman with the stern expression the free seat next to the blind woman.
And what did the woman with the cropped expression do?
She said: ‘No thanks.’ And then she said, louder and more pointed, for the benefit of me but taking in the whole carriage: ‘And frankly I’m astonished.’ I noticed a hint of Liverpudlian in her stern accent.
I see… Stern face, stern accent: did you want to use the word ‘Scouse’ just then?
It did occur to me but I wasn’t sure if it was OK to use it. Especially if you’re not, er, Scouse.
Such delicacy! Such sensitivity! Mind you, even the guards in the camps read Goethe. So let’s recap: you have shown yourself to be callously spineless and morally bankrupt. Your offer of assistance is rightly dismissed as ‘too little, too late’ by your righteously stern fellow passenger. So now what do you do?
Well, there was nothing for it but to sit down again.
Back to your fascinating book about genocide?
I couldn’t read! The words swam before my eyes. I felt that people were looking at me. I didn’t want my stupid seat. It was a relief to get off in the end.
This was at Victoria.
Where you were about to mount the escalator…
…Only to look up and see the woman with the stern expression staring down in your direction.
Yes. I hadn’t realised she’d got off at the same stop. I could see she was still talking about the incident with someone. And from the set of her chin and her tautened lips, she was obviously still seething about it.
Oh dear Mr B! Not what you wanted at all, I imagine!
No! Plus I had on these light blue trousers paired with tan shoes. I was a bit stuck for clothes that morning, and my outfit suddenly seemed ludicrously conspicuous. Everything a shade too bright to be plausible.
Yes, I remember. It’s one of our worst, isn’t it? You must have been terrified she’d spot you.
And did she?
You know she did. You’re me, remember.
So what did you do?
I hung back, slinking around by the bottom of the escalator.
How did you feel?
I was burning with shame, obviously.
I see. And what did she do?
Oh, she just carried on glaring down at me.
From her ever-ascending moral high ground.
Serve you right, perhaps, Mr B?
But I didn’t see the blind woman! It wasn’t down to me to stand up in the first place! Of course I would have got up if I’d realised! I was half-asleep! My back! Pilates! Don’t single me out – look at my track record! Look at all the other fucks who did nothing! And these people never give you a right of reply! Most of my mental life is spent fighting these imaginary court cases!
The self-prosecution never rests, m’lud.
Image via Pixabay