Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 21 June 2015


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.


Kass said...

Love, absolutely LOVE that bit from your book, especially the random idea of pulling a peach from a pocket. The poem is strong, too.

I just got home from New York, where my daughter and I rode the subway everywhere. I'm not decrepit, but I am a couple of years shy of 70, have very little cartilage in my knees and a lot of arthritis in my back. No one EVER offered a seat. Teenagers acted oblivious and beyond caring. I don't want to go as far as getting a T shirt that lists my ailments because I don't like pity, but I do like to sit when I'm aching and tired.

Jim Murdoch said...

It’s a changing world, Kass, and not for the better. Even without my parents there I would’ve died of embarrassment if an elderly woman had got on and had to stand. What I do note is that occasionally younger women—young mothers, that sort age—get up and give up their seats when a frail person gets on. And I’m not saying I’ve never seen a schoolkid get up because I have but it’s definitely the exception rather than the norm.

Glad you liked the excerpt from the book by the way. Yeah, that’s a sensitive subject with me. It’s not just me though. I’ve seen girls get on and there’re several seats free and they’ll still opt to stand and not just for one or two stops. I find that odd. What I really hate is someone who sits in the aisle seat and puts their bag on the inside seat because then you have to confront them: “Could you move your bag please?” And I hate confrontation.

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