Inappropriate behaviour.

Women on a women-only carriage in Japan

Crowded commuter trains have become a hotbed of inappropriate behaviour.  When you crush people into tight space, and they are deprived of an armory of normal body language signals, it causes all sorts of difficulties.  Scan the newspapers and you will find multiple reports of subway fiends armed with smart phones sneakily upskirting girls.

Upskirting is a word that is newly invented.  Goosing is another, where passengers (mostly men) press their groin up against another passenger, facilitated by the crowding.  Women are regularly groped and felt up on public transport.  It has become so bad that the Japanese have introduced women only carriages.  Expect the trend to spread.

According the the British Transport Police 70% of their reported offences are sexual assaults on women.  About another 25% of reported offences involve exposure and masturbation.  Those are only the reported ones.  Most incidents go unreported.

Much of this behaviour is coming from men who see an opportunity, take what they want and don’t think about the consequences.  Lock them up I say.

BUT (big but) a small number of these situations are caused by that crowding confusing the normal signals of body language.  In a relatively open space, such as at a bar, if a girl physically turns away from a man it is a clear sign of rejection.  In the confused world of the commuter train the signal can be misread by a man as an invitation to spoon up.  If he does and the woman does not immediately, and loudly, reject the contact, he may think there is permission or even an attraction.

Cultural pressures on women “not to cause a fuss” play into this confusion.  Women find themselves on hellish journeys, pinned by a man and not confident enough to identify this as a sexual assault and to call him out.

An even smaller number of cases involve a mutual affirmation of presence.  A recognition of the situation and a moment of stolen pleasure.  Exactly as decribed in “On the Metro” the poem by Williams below.  C.K. Willams was born on November 4th, 1936 in Newark, New Jersey.  A multi-award winning poet he writes of single, extended moments, intimately observed, with a short-story like quality to his poetry.  He presents people who are exposed and vulnerable which makes him such a good commentator to understand a crowded subway train.

Note:  Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish writer whose works were strongly rooted in psychological analysis.  The interesting part for me is how he analyses the creation of identity through interactions with others.  This flows from the works of neo-freudians like Lacan and Sartre and became encoded as transactional analysis with the publication in 1964 of Games People Play by Eric Berne.

 

On the Metro; by C.K. Williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

Make your moments

Tube

Photo by Matt Crabtree (16th Century Tube Passengers)

I spent years commuting to the big city on the train.  It is a journey of 1 hour 20 mins on a good day, 1 hour 30 mins mostly.  So that’s 3 hours daily on a train.

Say that to many people and they think you are crazy.  They think this is 3 hours a day wasted.  How little they know.

Much of my time on the train was spent working.  In fact it was the time getting to and from the train that had the potential to be “wasted”.  But you only waste time if you choose to do nothing with it.

That’s why I connect so well with the image above.  This lady on the Tube is not wasting time, she is eating it up, stealing precious moments for herself.  On a commute I had time to hear the music I want to hear, read books, write poetry.  Downloading podcasts gives me access to lectures on Byzantine emperors, audio books of many of the classics, some of them made hilarious by dreadful pronunciations by the narrator.

This photograph was taken by Matt Crabtree who said

One morning in 2016, on a tube journey into central London, I looked up to see a lady dressed in a velvet hood, seated in a classical, timeless pose. Immediately, a 16th-century Flemish painting came to mind. I looked around and suddenly found I couldn’t see anything else but people held in their own Renaissance-like, personal moments’.

I get that too, how travelling on public transport is like starring in your own reality TV show.  A stream of people pass each day through your life.  You have the regular characters and some who only appear in a single episode.  Each has their own part in the story and it is a wonderful story.  The story of life.

 

Peace Man

Trainsleep.jpg

The early morning commuter train is a quiet space.  Many of the travellers try to catch up on their sleep.  Those of us who work do so quietly.  It is not a place for yawping.

The lady opposite me today seems to be in a temper with her stapler.  She is angrily making up sheaves of notes for some meeting.  As she staples each sheaf together she drops her stapler noisily onto the table.

She seems to be carrying a lot of negative baggage into work.  Not a great start to a day.  Perhaps she should read the poem below.

Desiderata: by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Self-inflicted death

waiting

Warning:  if you have suffered a bereavement by train, or a suicide in your family, don’t read any further.

So, last Friday I left work to get home for the weekend and ended up sitting for hours on the train.  I was about 4 hours late getting home.  And all because of a “fatality” on the line.  It got me thinking about how we choose to die.

Suicide is always an option for most of us.  But it can’t be an easy option.  How hard must it be to make that final push to meet the end: To leap off the cliff, to jump in front of the train, to pull the trigger, or kick over the stool?

People who suffer from depression would probably commit suicide if it just came along while you were sitting there moping around.  But suicide is an active act.  You have to decide to do something about it, make plans, and actually carry them out.  What are the impacts of this very final act?

There is the grief we leave behind.  Family and friends deprived of our presence, and always wondering if there was something they could have done or said to have made a difference in our lives, to have made us want to live on.  Parents, spouses, siblings and children left with a gaping hole in their lives, in their hearts.  Do suicides take their lives for purely personal reasons, or are there some who are making a statement?  “Look what you made me do!”  Those are pretty dreadful last words to close an argument.

Then there is the train driver involved in the collision, or the poor person who finds the body at the foot of the cliff, or dangling from the rafters.  Do those who take their lives also take account of the trauma they leave in the lives of others?

Are there those who want to go out with a bang, get on the front page, maybe take along some innocent bystanders?  What is the motivation of the “school shooter” who wants company on their journey into the great unknown?

Is a self-inflicted death a cowards way to escape from life, or a final act of bravery?

Send your answers to these questions on a postcard to “Great Philosophical Questions of Life, PO Box 42, The Great Beyond, Hereafter.”   The winner will receive a copy of both of our ever popular publications  “101 ways to kill yourself” and “Killing yourself better:  Second time around”.

If you find any of this material upsetting, and you would like to talk to someone try http://www.samaritans.org/

Finally, if after all of this you still find the need to throw yourself in front of a train, can I ask you to consider the East Coast line?  And if it simply MUST be the Dublin-Cork line, how about midday on a Wednesday?

Let me die a youngman’s death; by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death