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Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Ban this man from the Tube

Picture the scene. A summer's morning in Harrogate, in God's own county. My companion and  I were off to York to visit the many wand shops for which the Shambles is now so famous. So, it being a nice day and planning to visit one or more of the fine drinking establishments with which that fair city is blessed, we took the train.

It was one of those trains which has some seats arranged around tables, while others, coach-like, face all in one direction. So naturally we, being inveterate southerners, sat where we could look happily at the seat back in front of us. We were safe from unwanted eye contact. In a happy place.

At the nearest table seats, a man was regaling two women with stories about the history of the line, the peculiarities of the signalling, and the fine details of the loop from Leeds to York via Selby. (I may have made some errors here - I do not claim to be an expert.) After a while we -  and everyone else in the carriage - became quiet as we realised an awful truth.

This man did not know these women.

It turns out that even in Yorkshire, where it is expected that complete strangers should say "hello" if they meet on long-distance footpaths, this was a bit much.  Immediately a Snapchat group was formed by the other people in the carriage, as we discussed the practicability and legality of tying him to the line at Knaresborough.

Which brings me to data consultant, Glen Freeman. Who should be banned from the London Underground.

Mr Freeman sees it as his role to get people to smile at each other on the Tube. Now firstly this is clearly against God's law. The Tube is not a place to smile. Not a place for making eye contact. It is a place to gaze hopelessly at the smiling face of Sadiq Khan as, resplendent in his yellow bikini, he advertises his total failure to improve the cycle network. A place never to be caught out without a convenient device to hold your attention away from other people. These days, normally a phone. But the lack of signal or wi-fi means that paper editions of the Metro and Standard still cling on. And some people still keep themselves really safe from unwanted attention by reading the Bible, Koran or other holy book of choice.

It is not a place to smile or be happy. You don't want to look up from Boris Johnson's latest piece explaining why the whole world is to blame for Brexit and not him, to see another gormless, self-entitled twerp grinning in your direction. This is your miserable time and you're allowed to own it. God didn't make Londoners to be happy.

I'd like us, if you will, to conduct a thought experiment. A man who has adopted Mr Freeman's philosophy of smiling at strangers is stood on the platform at Oxford Circus. It's around 10pm on a Thursday evening. And the first carriage as a train pulls up contains two South London gangs, earnestly comparing post codes. The second carriage holds a bunch of Hoxton Hipsters and another of Bermondsey Barristas, all wondering who's gonna start something and say something rude about the other group's favourite Bolivian Ocelot Coffee.

The third carriage contains a young woman. She has a bag of shopping, and the look of someone who has just broken up with her partner.

Which carriage is our man on the platform going to get in? Whom will he choose to smile at, and encourage to smile back?

And that is why Glen Freeman, and his dangerous ideas, must be banned from the Tube.


  1. Reminds me of Gerard Hoffnung's Advice for Foreign Tourists, which included "upon entering a railway compartment, make sure you shake hands with all the other passengers."

    My favourite, just ahead of "all London brothels display a blue lamp" is "have you tried the famous echo in the reading room of the British Museum?"

  2. I think I've met that man; he once told me, uninvited and in great detail, all the ways to get to Cookham by bus ending in a recital of the timetable. (I've got a car and didn't want to go to Cookham.)

    1. Don't see why not. Stanley Spencer liked it. And the John Lewis Partnership have always been fond.

  3. Thankfully I no longer travel either by train or tube, having done so for generations (or at least 40 years) and I can recall that the best way to put off those who wanted to interact was to pretend to be asleep. However, the only problem with that, was actually falling asleep and ending up at the end of the line, when the noisy all change messages come over the tannoy. Not often, but often enough to make me late for my dinner at home, with the spouse about to send out a search party.

    The other issue was getting a crick in the neck or other unmentionable place while sleeping - I've often wondered why they expect people to sit on trains or tube, when putting in single beds would make travelling so much more comfortable.

  4. Eye contact and "smiling" on the Tube? Blasphemy!

  5. I spent a year staring inanely at the armpit of the person who got on at the same station as me. No eye contact there


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