Sunday 20 January 2019

Bairbre Power: We don’t need to hear about your love life or your bunions. Do us all a favour and just shut up broadcasting your life on the train

Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Years ago, when I started studying journalism in Rathmines, my Auntie Peggy bought me a Maeve Binchy book with lots of nuggets that Maeve fell upon as she stood in bus queues and ear wigged on London buses.

It always amazed me what details she picked up, but those were the days when no one had mobile phones and people chatted to each other. Commuters don't chat at all that much now - they are mostly stuck into their phones, reading, scrolling and playing games.

However, there are some people, sadly, who seem to consider buses and train carriages their own private sitting room from which they can broadcast with no consideration for those around them.

It's one thing having a conversation in hushed tones, but I'm just getting a touch - okay, that's an understatement - narky with those who just have no social filter when it comes to good commuter manners. Or lack thereof.

The rule book has gone out the window on the subtleties of social etiquette. Schoolboys don't get up to offer their seats anymore and it's every man for himself when it comes to a seat on the 5.50pm train. When it's a fella with a manbag versus an obviously pregnant woman, she better have good elbows.

From a safety point of view and a firm dislike of someone else's sweaty armpit in my face, I'm absolutely shocked at the number of people who insist on flinging themselves at an already packed carriage when the doors open and try and cling to us limpets.

"There's no room in here," came a muffled voice beside me last week, so low I reckoned he had been pummelled down and was sitting on his briefcase, but the woman who had instructed us all to "make some room" was having none of it and pushed in so we had to endure her girth and hideous cheap perfume.

Leaky headphones are a minor source of annoyance after people who cough like a splatter gun and make no attempt to cover their mouth. I can totally see why the Japanese travel with surgical masks.

Last week I observed a guy on public transport who had this built-in habit where he snorted up one nostil every 45 seconds. His face used to contort with the effort but he didn't seem bothered at all as he played the game on his phone and giggled occasionally. Those around him with no room to move certainly weren't giggling and my heart goes out to his work colleagues who have to put up with that.

But worst of all by far are those people who have no filters when it comes to broadcasting their personal lives to a packed train or bus. When I'm going home to my dinner, I don't want to hear about your bony bunions. I don't have them and I most certainly don't want to spoil my appetite with tales of the surgeon's knife.

Recently I was up against a deadline and when my iPhone battery died, I headed to an internet cafe to lash over my copy.

I was up against it timewise and all I needed was five minutes of peace to get it completed when, of all the gin joints to talk in, this woman took up the pew opposite and proceeded to harangue some guy on the phone who hadn't taken her out after initial dates. I couldn't quite get the gist of his excuse but she was letting him have it between the eyes because here, on screen, she could see him on social media talking about his social life.

I stood up, leaned across the top of my terminal and asked ever so politely if she could lower her voice because I was working and, of course, that got relayed back to the misbehavin' Romeo.

"Some woman has asked me to lower my voice," she said in an exaggerated, theatrical whisper.

This geezer on the other end of her phone really should have put her in her place but she was relentless.

It was as much as I could do to restrain myself from shouting "he's just not that into you!" across the cafe as I left.

But my self-restraint is slipping. Last week I shot a raised-eyebrow look at a woman who was sitting behind me on the bus and booming down the line. I don't know was it that her Christmas present didn't please her, but she was giving the person at the other end a good ear bashing on an otherwise silent bus. We were forced to endure her negativity and anger but my glare seemed to work because she took herself off to the back seat and, yes, she did lower the volume.

However, sometimes people on public transport are unfortunately deaf to the sound of their own voice and don't buy into any concept of social etiquette. Forget elbows on the table, being on time and opening doors - they've been spliced and diced. The dos and don'ts have changed utterly. People don't give up their seats to older people and pregnant women cannot presume that spare seat will be theirs.

Last week a woman arrived on to the Luas with her phone in hand. The signs were there that she was wrapping up the call because she did that whole 'byebyebyebyebyebye' thing, but then took a deep breath and enquired further about the family. We tried not to listen but she was up there high on the decibel level. People in the carriage who didn't have earphones tried to meditate into their scarves.

And then, oh crikey, she moved on to the worst possible topic: the recent medical appointment. "Oh dear lord, shoot me now," I said, banging my head against the steamed-up windows. The girl beside me stifled a laugh and we exchanged sympathetic gazes as we had no choice but to sit and listen.

It's a crowded world we live in, and everyone likes to chat, but there are times when the rest of us just don't need to know about what the GP said to you. That is between me and my doc.

Irish Independent

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