Yesterday I had to take a rush-hour tube at Kentish Town to catch a train at Euston. When it arrived, I found myself near the bottleneck-prone side door of the carriage, a strategic error. Someone got off. My heart lifted. As I made my move, the man standing just inside the doorway pushed back, trying to force me off. For 12 years, I rode Tokyo rush-hour trains and I’m a great believer in the one off, one on rule (actually in Tokyo, it’s more of a zero off, ten on rule). I managed to wedge myself in beside a small woman, kindly warning off someone futilely trying to enter behind me.
From my voice, the pushy brute in front of us now knew I was a woman. He was not having any of it. Using the overhead bar for support, he pushed with his back against me and to some extent, the small woman, crushing us against the now shut door in a focused, violent way. This was not the bovine pressure of daily Tube travel. This was an effort, a covert operation. I couldn’t move my feet. My neck was bent at an awkward angle against the rounded doorframe. The small woman and I rolled eyes at each other. There was wriggle space in the carriage if the brute had wanted to make space for us. I could see people reading in the aisle area. I managed to twist slightly so that the brute was pushing against my shoulders rather than my chest.
For the minute or two it took to get to Camden Town, his pressure remained determined and relentless. He was a man at war with the world and he was waging it in a sly, petty way against the 50.4%.
At Camden Town, the carriage emptied somewhat and he moved to the other side. ‘Why did you do that?’ I asked, my voice high and upset, another strategic error. ‘You were crushing us.’ The man immediately started shouting, nonsensical accusations at me.
The exchange was short but loud enough to be overheard by other passengers. One of them, a younger man, told me to cool it. I must have reacted because he sniggered and said I didn’t understand the English way. But in this, the younger man was absolutely wrong. Indeed, it was my ‘English’ reluctance to cause a stir that had allowed the situation to develop. If the small woman or I had been more vocal or had given the brute a New World shove, the situation would have been very different. By not protesting, it was as if we had given him tacit permission to cause us harm. The brute, not particularly large or young, would certainly not have tried his nonsense on another man. Neither would the younger man have been so bold. This younger opportunist immediately clammed up when I challenged him with an angry and very English ‘EXCUSE ME?’
At Euston, the brute scuttled off but made a strategic error by not walking up the escalator. I caught up with him half way up and gave him another flea in his ear. He started shouting his nonsense again but was less sure of himself, more vulnerable out in the open, a foolish man shouting at a woman on an escalator.