Left To Our Own Devices

One of the advantages of living where I do is that it is relatively easy to go out in London in the evening during the week and get back in time to get a reasonable amount of sleep before going to work the next day.

All very convenient but one downside of this practice is that it means sometimes I have to catch one of the late trains back. One of the Drunk Trains. We've all experienced the Drunk Trains. The ones that run after the pubs and theatres have turned out and as a result are full of people whose social skills have been dulled by the liberal application of alcohol to the brain cells. Now I like a drink as much as the next person, but even when I have been drinking I don't take it out on other people. I don't start trying to guilt trip them into engaging me in inebriated conversation with an undercurrent of menace lest they appear a humourless party pooper. I don't, I would hope, turn in to an Aggressive Drunk.

A lot of people do though, which is why the drunk train can often be an ordeal.

The first ten minutes are OK as most of the Aggressive Drunks have purchased fast food from one of the many franchises that are still open when they stagger through the concourse. The odour can be a bit much - especially if they've bought one of those cornish pasties that smell like school dinner - but at least their mouths are occupied with something other than belligerent speech.

The last twenty minutes or so can also be all right as many of the Aggressive Drunks have fallen asleep by this point and the snoring and the farting is a small price to pay for being spared the verbal harassment.

Unfortunately this leaves anything up to an hour for truculence.

However, on one late evening journey recently I was delighted to discover that the Drunk Train seemed to have changed. I don't know if I was just lucky or whether this was part of a sea change overcoming the world, but it was wonderfully quiet. People were either chatting quietly in pairs or occupying themselves with their smartphones, tablets or kindles. They were reading, playing games or just communicating online with friends who weren't physically there.  If it hadn't been for the fast food and the flatulence it would have been a breath of fresh air.

There was someone who wasn't happy. He was sitting upright in his seat and from the reddening of his features and the deshabille state of his business suit it was clear that he was a lone Aggressive Drunk. This is not the optimum state for such a person, normally they prefer the safety afforded by wandering in packs.

He glanced disparagingly around at all the other passengers, all quite happy with their devices. He didn't have one and he didn't like it. His looking around and the scornful smirk got more and more marked. He was desperate to say something, to complain about what he saw as the state of the world these days, how people had lost the ability to communicate and how it wasn't like that in his day...

All this was legible just from the cut of his jib. And it was this, plus of course the fact that they had far more interesting things to do, that ensured that no-one was stupid enough to catch his eye.

Complaining about the state of the world and the behaviour of young people today is part of the human condition. Discovering that things are different now and that people are now engaging in activities that are a mystery to you is not a sign that you have started living in End Times. It is just a sign of getting old, of, if you're not too careful, entering your own personal end times.  Douglas Adams of course put this far better than I could possibly hope to do in his Essay How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet which appeared in the Sunday Times on August 29th 1999:
  1. Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  2. Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  3. Anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
The trick is to try and revise your age upwards with respect to point two. It makes life far more exciting.

Unfortunately no-one had ever told this to Mr Aggressive Drunk, and if anything he'd probably revised his age with respect to point two downwards. And no doubt he would have continued to stew in his own juices for the rest of the journey had two people not got on the train at East Croydon and made the cardinal error of sitting opposite him. As the doors closed and the train slid off, his smile widened. He'd got his audience, and by god he was going to give them the performance of a lifetime...

I can't remember his full speech, and even if I could I doubt you would want to hear it. I'm sure you can imagine it anyway. Full of self-righteous bullshit about how people aren't as friendly as they used to be, no-one talks to each other any more and we are all becoming slaves to our machines wasting our time playing games or texting...

The fact that half the people in the carriage he was disparaging were very probably simply reading (using Kindles or other tablets) escaped him. Would he have felt the same had they been engrossed in newspapers, magazines or books?

Probably not, but then again, his sort don't have a problem with interrupting someone reading.  If they want to drag you into their monologic orbit they will. To them the sight of someone reading is like a red flag to a bull.  If you even look up at the first enquiry "Good book?" (which somehow contrives to imply 'well it fucking well must be if you're reading it instead of talking to ME') then you end up doomed to listen to them going on about that book they read once (which often turns out to be The Da Vinci Code).

There's no moral to this story. Over the course of the journey Aggressive Drunk got drunker and drunker thanks to the six pack of Stella he'd brought onto the train with him and the poor unfortunates who'd sat opposite were subjected to a more and more incoherent diatribe on the problems in society. He then started going on about the fact that he'd been an officer in the army and by the time we arrived at our destination he was just about able to stagger off into the night, satisfied that it wasn't him that was getting old and out of touch but that it was the world that had gone bad.
"Young people's lives are regulated more by moral feeling than by reasoning. All their mistakes are in the direction of doing things excessively and vehemently. They overdo everything: they love too much, hate too much, and the same with everything else."
- Aristotle, 350 BC
"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint."

- Hesiod, 700 BC


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