As I do every morning I caught the train to work. It was a wild and woolly morning after a wild and woolly night. The wind ripped along, and came in scattered gusts. As always the train was full by the time I got on, and got fuller the nearer we came to the city. Sometimes I get a seat, sometimes I don’t. Today I didn’t. I found my spot and plugged into my iPhone, and like most mornings went into the zone.
Normally it’s an unremarkable trip. The train starts out in Frankston, which can be rough and ready, but then it passes through the Bayside suburbs and the well to do areas like Malvern and Armadale and Toorak. It’s a respectable, well-mannered, civilised crowd, well-groomed and well-behaved. Most are in their own version of the zone listening to music or watching a show or reading the latest news on their device. That’s how it is every day, except today it was a little different.
At Malvern three young people got on the train. They were from another suburb, rough around the edges, loud and oblivious. What we might call feral. They looked different, and then they acted different. There were three of them, seemingly oblivious of the crowd about them. They had an old fashioned boombox they played with the volume on loud. The reaction was priceless.
I stood in my corner listening to my book. I felt the disturbance too, but mentally shrugged my shoulders at it. It was a bit rude what they were doing, but they weren’t breaking any written laws. The laws they broke were societal. I watched as people turned in their seats to see what the commotion was about. They turned their heads and craned their necks and gently edged away. There was surprise mixed with sniffy disapproval, and finally not a little intimidation. They were horrified, yet no-one would say a thing.
What could they say, after all? That wasn’t really the point. I was surprised at how obvious it was. It couldn’t have been staged better. The heads swivelling, the sour expressions, it was almost comical. Yet I felt some disdain. In a way I’m of these people. They’re the type I went to school with, and mix with more often than not. I look, more or less, like one of them. I was disappointed though. It was so bloody waspish – and don’t get me wrong, I’m no less snobbish really, and wouldn’t have left my wallet unattended about these intruders. It waspish without bite though. A haughty sniff and turn away to sulk.
What I actually thought was how civilisation can go too far. Just about everyone was pissed, but too well-mannered to say or do anything about it. Some raw anger would have impressed me more, even if a bit unreasonable. That’s the thing though, you get too civilised and that natural impulse is bred out of you. Reason rules passion. I can’t help but think taken too far it becomes a flaw.
So I get into the city and I’m a little early and took a walk. Upstairs at Melbourne Central I happened across a man of about 50 with what looked like his son, about 25. They looked vaguely foreign, Algerian or something. The father had a proud look, neatly dressed in beautifully pressed clothes. He had a fresh white business shirt he was unpinning, as if he had just bought it. His son, much more raffish than his father, watched on.
It was one of those scenes that begs a story. I walked on imagining what was happening. The son was going for a job interview or something, I thought. The father wanted him to make the right impression and so had bought him a fresh shirt to wear. I imagined as he unpinned the shirt he was giving his son advice and instructions in his, proud, independent way.
It’s probably all fiction, but I walked back feeling great respect for the old man, and hoping that the son would live up to his keen hopes.