I had a most distracting time on the train earlier today, pottering towards sunny Stoke. I sat at a table, and a young mum with two children under school age sat nearby. And they were… distracting.
The youngsters weren’t badly-behaved, they were just being youngsters: looking to Mum (or anyone else around) to see if she was watching what they were doing… If not, they would announce what they were doing, perhaps repeatedly… And if Mum’s response was missing or under- powered, they would have another go at whatever it was, making enough noise to demand a look or a word, misbehaving if required. And, being human, both Mum and I were sucked into paying them attention, throughout the whole journey. Even looking firmly away, and with poker face, I could hear every move in their negotiations for more fuss, and could concentrate on little else. Their need for attention was a maw that needed constant stuffing.
We shared the carriage with a Scotsman, who was drunk when he boarded and became drunker. He interacted with everyone, usually friendly, at least at first, but he was also often insistent, usually to the point of being unwelcome… And he was aggressive and hostile to the guard (train manager, I should say) who wanted to see his ticket, the sort of unnecessary casual unpleasantness that would have fidgeted me all day, were I involved. Again, it seemed to me, his behaviour had a constant underlying goal: notice me. The alcohol had produced, or revealed, a need just like that of the children – to have someone else’s attention.
Also in the carriage was a woman who was constantly exclaiming to herself, and to others… and complaining to herself, and to others… Again, very hard to ignore, although did try. I formed a view that she had mental health problems, such was the over- excited manner and paranoid nature of some of her comments. She may have needed many things, some of which I can only guess at… But again, she did seem to seek attention – looking around for reactions after each exclamation. Attention that was cruelly withheld, it being her misfortune to choose a carriage with mostly British people.
I was glad to escape the train, to the relative calm of the seminar which I had been invited to give.
And then I wrote this piece for the blog.
I am relieved to think: I am not like them.