‘…while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’
The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
On the afternoon in question, I was making my way north to catch a train to the Hackney Empire and a theatre-reviewing assignment. It was hot and crammed. Irritation was in the air even before three young lads got on the train with their blaring ghetto blaster. Everyone in the carriage met each other’s stares. Eyes were rolled. There were a couple of tuts. Then we all looked at the ground. Hell had just got worse.
The young man, Kieron Quirke, decided that he should act. It went about as well as you’d expect, of course…
I tapped one of them on the arm and asked either “Sorry, could you turn the music off ?” or “Sorry, could you pleaseturn the music off ?”The “please”, or lack of it, was crucial. In the prolonged, subsequent debate, what I in fact said was never satisfactorily resolved. I was anxious to move past what I considered a subsidiary issue. They, however, considered it most pertinent, their argument being that since I hadn’t shown sufficient respect, they were now entitled to turn the music up.
The situation rapidly went downhill from there, with Kieron snapping the CD and being verbally harassed by the (apparently descriptionless) thugs . But it was his anguished soul-searching, dithering, and lack of moral certainty that struck me most:
“Of course, replaying the situation, that was when I slipped from the moral high ground. On the scale of righteous interventionists, I was now a good few centimetres away from The Good Samaritan and edging closer to Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who took the law into his own hands.”
“…what did surprise me was how unaware the ringleader of my pack of three seemed of his age. It wasn’t just the faintly ridiculous way he tried to impose himself physically upon a man well past puberty and taller than him by a foot. It was the total confidence with which he asserted his own right to do whatever the hell he wanted in the face of the adults around him.”
“I stood there – 28 years old, with no dependants, a happy representative of a generation that avoids responsibility like the plague. I probably don’t plan for the future any more than that boy. Probably as many of my friends use drugs as his. To help me ignore the bizarre collection of Nineties-style sawheavy house he was playing, I took out my mobile phone and played a computer game. Hardly an adult activity. So I doubt I made an impressive disciplinarian.”
“Even at the time, a part of me wondered what authority I possessed to tell him to shut down his music.”
“…such an embarrassing act of Tube rage.”
Is it really any wonder we seem as if we are going to hell in a handcart?