I often have to travel with work and this morning in the heart of England, it was rather chilly. The car thermostat read minus one degree Celcius which to a lot of my american friends may compare (with recent temperatures) to a sunny afternoon in June, but over here….. EVERYTHING STOPS.
I had a meeting in London in the early afternoon and it’s about a two-hour trip each way involving, a train, another train and the infamous tube. On arrival at Birmingham New Street station, I discovered that two earlier services to London Euston had been cancelled, and there were three times the normal amount of people on the platform and then consequently the train itself.
I must have been channelling karma and for the first time in forever, I was organised enough to have reserved and booked a seat, which I duly took. As the train filled and kept filling and I started to have visions of long delays just because of the sheer weight of the damn thing, a really lovely young girl (I now see twenties as young, dear sweet grace when did i get this old?) asked if the seat next to me was reserved and once she’d settled herself down, the train still filling around us, we did the whole usual British socially inadequate talk about the Weather, what stops we were getting off at etc.
The train continued to fill and there are now people standing right the way through the length of the carriage. With so many people standing (many of whom may have reserved seats on earlier trains), there was a serious smell of discontent in the air. The girl and I are talking about “Train rage” and fully expecting a British scuffle (which equals derogatory remarks, a bit of rudeness, some tuts and pftt noises) to break out at any second.
To our right, a group of students (college) were travelling down to the houses of parliament and you could hear their conversations with a slightly posh but highly articulate chap as they were spread along the aisle. Myself and the girl, were half interested and half not in the conversation. I then noticed that some of the cool “teachers” in the group and some of the good-looking young men were all sporting what I call the “sexy blessed” look.
I’m not sure if this is going on in the US, (but I suspect it is) for all young seemingly attractive men to sport a full on beard-fro. Not just a rather nice bit of rough-looking stubble, but a full on “Brian Blessed” with extra beard thrown in. Now, I’m not beard-ist per se. My dad has always had a beard, I think a goatee does wonders for some men, but we’re talking beardiness of the highest order on faces that would look just, if not more, handsome without…
So we were having a conspiratorial giggle about why young men would want to look in their early forties when they’re clearly not and whether they could eat various items without some er’ collateral damage or residue happening. Yes, I know, I can’t believe I wonder about these things either.
The girl got off at “Rugby” and a lady who didn’t seem up for small-talk sat down in her place, the carriage still full to bursting and the students, cool teachers and man are talking animatedly. At this point, too cramped to really do any work on the laptop and not next to the window (damn pillar seat), I tune into the conversation.
They’re talking politics, proper politics about whether a democracy is the best system, the man is guiding the conversation but neither lecturing nor preaching and at times playing devils advocate and suggesting alternatives and at times throwing in questions that seem to guide them back to the “imperfect” situation that is “democracy”. My ears are pricked and as the conversation continues I pick up that the man is actually an MP, (Parliamentary candidate).
I don’t really have a political view. I’m not right, left or centre in my beliefs. I vote, often abstaining as I feel that I don’t know enough but feel “duty” bound to use the right that prior humans have fought so hard for or even died over.
The carriage when we’d set off had been full of weary discontent and a hush had descended as they were all listening too. In fact as the journey went on people started asking questions and getting involved in the discussion, which went all the way from “Is democracy the best system of government”,”The rise of alternative political parties such as the UK Independence Party and the Green Party” right the way to “Freedom of speech and the events in France”.
There was a full political debate going on in the carriage and the way it happened, with major representation from various ethnicities and with viewpoints being expressed in measured reasoned arguments that both respected and disagreed with other opinions without shouting or any raised voices was remarkable. No one talked over each other or wanted to hammer their point home.
The young college students were magnificent, articulate, reasoned and passionate. The MP chap was so good, he would have my vote in a heartbeat. A musician very knowledgeable and looking like he’d been dragged out of bed that morning, gave me a point of view on racism that I never expected to hear. His voice about how he noticed that “people” sometimes clutched their bags a bit tighter or left a lot of room around him when they walked past him on the pavement and I wondered how I’d react if placed in that situation?
It was as if some highbrow debate programme had suddenly been filmed on a train from Birmingham to London – although there was a lot less shouting.
When we arrived at the station the whole carriage sighed not wanting to get off – instead of the usual mad scramble for the doors, we all were the politest exit-ers at a London Station in the history of commuters.
I caught up with the MP on the platform, shook his hand and thanked him. He looked mildly embarrassed and gave me a warm smile.
What did I thank him for? Well, he did two things:
He took a group of students to the “Houses of Parliament” to show them that they have a voice and that they can, if they want too – get involved and genuinely make a difference.
And he made me just a bit less cynical about politicians and wanting to understand a little more, so that next time “MY VOTE” –does count.