John Vane’s London: Platform authoritarian

John Vane’s London: Platform authoritarian

I’d just missed one train but another one was coming. Then the dot matrix message switched to “cancelled”. Shit. I’m going to be late. I am addressed by a pre-recorded female. “The. Next-train. At. Platform. One. Is. Cancelled because of. Trespassers on the line”.

Bleak speculation. Is that code for a jumper? Probably not. More likely a few idiots or a drunk. Nothing for it but to pace and wait. That’s when The Voice of Reason makes itself known.

“Imagine if that happened in Russia or China,” he says.

It’s an otherwise quiet Overground platform, in the open, with maybe half a dozen passive passengers.

“We’re too soft in this country…we’re too soft on everything.”

I have reason to believe that I’m in inner London but perhaps that’s an illusion and I’m actually in Rayleigh. The Voice of Reason is plump-ish, pasty-faced and holding forth from a benched position to another man who is standing not too close to him. The other man is masked, as the law of this sovereign land requires. The Voice of Reason is not. Imagine if…

Time to take a walk to the far end of the long platform – out of earshot, out of mind. But once you get to the far end there’s not much to be done except walk back again, and the truth is the Voice of Reason has got under my skin. So I go up to him and say, “If this was Russia or China you wouldn’t be still sitting here, breaking the law and blabbing on about how much better it is in other countries, you’d be trussed and blindfolded in the back of a van on your way to a camp or jail, you daft sod,” except, of course, I did no such thing.

I venture only close enough to know he’s still dispensing mighty wisdoms with that special ponderousness so often found among great sages whose audiences have long since made their excuses and shuffled off without the great sages noticing.

The next train arrives. I board the rearmost carriage as far away from the Voice of Reason as possible. But when my train nears its terminal I walk down to the front end to minimise my lateness and go past him en route. I don’t spot the man to whom he’d be holding forth from his bench, and assume he’s made his escape.

To my surprise the Voice of Reason is now masked and, or so it appears to my sidelong glance, in a severe and vaguely medical manner. He’s sitting alone and leaning slightly forward, as if poised to pounce on any unsuspecting passenger he presumes would be improved by exposure to his profundities.

Where might he have been going? Which corner of the city and which of its lucky people would be exposed to him next? I check my watch, disembark, jog to the barriers and don’t look back.

John Vane writes word sketches of London. Follow him on Twitter.

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