The Circular Line
Her breasts were large and heavy and they hurt her
standing, as she had done for half an hour,
while the train drained of people.
A side seat came free
and silently she slipped
into states of unconsciousness.
No one thought to wake her.
No one thought and she had to go round the circle again.
8 July 1982
When I was a kid it was expected that you’d give up your seat on a bus for a woman, any woman but especially an old or pregnant woman as is the case here. Robyn Wilder asked the question on Twitter: PREGNANTS AND MUMS OF TWITTER: Please tell me of the times you’ve been ignored/refused a seat on public transport and the worst responses are listed here. Interestingly the first tweet in response was from Joanna Bolouri who said, [N]ever. Scottish folk are ace. On the whole we are but I have noticed a definite change over the years. When I was a kid you got up for any woman, even a girl. Now it seems to be only deserving women that get treated with the respect they deserve but often it’s other women who give up their seats and not the men. There’s another interesting article here in which 84% of the pregnant women interviewed said they’d been forced to stand on public transport at one time or another.
Of course there are often women who choose to stand even when a seat’s vacant and not a few times I’ve been on a bus and the last free seat’s been beside me and some woman’s got on and preferred to stand rather than sit beside me. And it actually upsets me, so much so it’s found its way into my new book:
He was always the last person someone sat beside and it drove him to distraction; didn’t happen so much on trains for some reason. There had been numerous occasions when women had got on—some quite advanced in years—and had chosen to hang onto a stanchion rather than sit beside him. He took all of these slights (his word) personally. He was so paranoid about it he couldn’t help but stare at people as they made their way up the bus with this desperate look on his face that cried out, “Here! Sit beside me… please. I’m a nice man. Honest. I won’t try to engage you in conversation or lean into you or fart or pull a peach out of my pocket. I’ll sit here as quiet as a tree. But PLEASE sit here beside me.” Unsurprisingly this tactic put more people off than it reassured. People being people.