Public transport over a long distance can be a fascinating experience and so it proved when I recently took a long-distance train journey that provoked some interesting thoughts.
The first thought was that trains, for all their limitations, really are one of the most pleasurable ways to travel. Ensconced with a book about Ivar Kreuger, a G&T, a shuffle mix on the iPod and the unfolding sunset-lit countryside, I struggled to think of a more civilised way to decant my life to another part of the nation.
And then I turned to my left to see a fellow passenger, shoes and socks removed, stretching and picking his bare feet in the aisle.
It should come as no surprise that my second thought turned to the lack of etiquette on public transport. It is a disease that has spread as far as the premium cabins on international airlines, where many passengers mistake their seats for their own bedrooms. “So what?” some people say “if it bothers you, you’re the one with the problem.” Sadly, such knee-jerk high-horsing does not assuage me.
When you are on public transport, you are still in public; there is no dignity in attempting to attain the same comfort as a post-shower flake-out and in fact, more often than not, you are likely to be irritating a fellow passenger who, whilst paying the same price, has more consideration for the senses of others.
The bare-footed gentleman to my left had clearly taken great pains over selecting his clothing and accessories; expensively attired in a smart tweed jacket and iPadded to the gills, he was not one of those individuals who necessarily delighted in offending others with their playground manners and lack of concern for his person. But as he crumpled in his seat, spreading himself across the carriage, his deliberate method of relaxation began to come across as ignorant entitlement. The man could have been the best dressed in Britain and it wouldn’t have altered my impression.
The important thing to remember is that this is not snobbery; it is to encourage others to behave in a way that they would wish others to behave towards themselves. No one else in the carriage had engineered so luxuriantly inconsiderate a posture, no one was picking their bare feet with abandon and waving them near the seat of other passengers.
The experience actually reminded me of an occasion on a long-haul flight several years ago when the passenger next to me had decided to settle in to his seat by indulging in ear-picking; removing wax from his ears and placing it on the tray table in front of him. The fact that he was wearing a well-cut linen jacket and carrying an elegant holdall was irrelevant after such exposures of his character. Buying style is a wasted pursuit if you don’t have the foundations of style, and good manners, in your character.