28 January, 2012


Tales from the Multiculture - just another day

So the train comes to a halt between stations with a fine view of The Valley, home to Charlton Athletic football club and its now famously racist fans. The driver apologizes for the further delay to the already delayed train, explaining that this is all due to earlier signalling problems. Not that I'd really noticed, to be honest. Trains on the Greenwich line run every 10 minutes most of the time; at that frequency you don't give much thought to scheduled times.

After a minute or two, the driver came on again to announce further excitement. There was, he had been advised, a nutter running around with a knife on Greenwich station, which was therefore temporarily closed. The train would be diverted via Blackheath. All good fun. I've seen no reports of this incident on-line. If I pick up any local tittle-tattle I'll let you know.

And so the train set off again. A few minutes later I became aware of an irritating, loud and incomprehensible voice further down the carriage. A complaining voice. A male basso profundo voice. But very much an African voice, the words tantalizingly just beyond comprehension so that it was impossible to establish whether he was speaking in foreign or in one of those colonial patois that shamelessly claim to be English. Nothing unusual there: Africans complaining into their mobiles at the tops of their voices*, usually about money, is part of the aural wallpaper of travelling the South Eastern Railway.

And then I looked round as The Voice got louder. No mobile, just a scruffy middle-aged Black man standing in the vestibule as the train slid in to Lewisham, waving his arms about and, his tone of voice and presumably his words implied, complaining to nobody in particular about the injustice of the world.

Welcome to the World in One City. We keep on troddin'.

* I once worked with a chap of Sri Lankan Burgher origin. Actually he worked on customer complaints while I worked in the adjacent group, part of whose function was to (plausibly) provide the lies with which to fob off the unhappy customer. My colleague did not seem to have grasped the fact that telephone circuits are amplified. Talking to customers in London and the UK, the volume of his voice was normal, if tending to the irascible. He was easily offended and would frequently get into arguments with the customer. But when talking to overseas suppliers — our services were of an international nature — he would vary the volume of his voice according to the distance involved. Loud for Europe, louder for the middle East, louder still for India. When talking to his relatives back home — what else are company telephones for, I ask? — he would stand up and shout.

He could have had a Bluetooth or headphone mic to him mobile. You can't tell the nutters from the technowizards these days...

I think he speaks for us all.

Nah, I don't believe that, Julia. The Black gentleman's demeanour screamed "angry nutter" in large flashing green neon letters. He struck me as the sort of person that would regard Bluetooth as the work of the Devil, or possibly of Babylon.

Mind you, it's a worrying thought. One of the local "characters" to be seen around beautiful downtown Greenwich is a semi-detached sort of bloke who on a good day is quite lucid and amiable. On bad days he gets paranoid and spends his time talking with theatrical furtiveness into a make-believe microphone in his lapel, denouncing the suspicious behaviour of the American tourists.

(Hmm. Memo to self. Get a Bluetooth earpiece next time you upgrade mobile. He-He.)

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