Love thy neighbour, just don't talk to him

I DON'T know what happened to Andrew Boulton. I think he went off to be a doctor, just like he'd always wanted to when we were at school. He's probably respectable now, and won't like to be reminded that once he hung around with the likes of me, people who sit around in our shirt- sleeves, giving off a pleasing aroma of Bois du Portugal and Latakia while a couple of hired Latvian danseuses exotiques squirm attractively by their pretty heels from the rafters. "I wonder," we say to ourselves, giving one of the girls an absent-minded twizzle, "what it would be like to be respectable?"

It must be nice: the blameless life, up-to-date with the bills and the tax, in good odour with the missus, nothing nasty up the sleeve or in the woodshed, one's life an open book. My life is an open book, of course, though not the sort of book you'd be wanting your wife or servants to read - but I bet they'd be happy with Andrew Boulton's.

I can see them now, Euphragia curled up on the chaise-longue while, below stairs, Mrs Pickles the cook, Snoek the butler, and Young Irons, the slightly iffy septuagenarian odd-job boy, huddle round the old range, breathing through their mouths. "This Andrew Boulton," they tell each other, "his life is an open book. Have you got to the bit where the electricity bill comes in and, quick as a flash, he whips out his appendix - no, silly me, his cheque-book - and pays it in full. He's a doctor, you see; you know where you stand with doctors. Not like those horrible columnists you read about, nasty habits and telling lies."

But it's not just that. Andrew Boulton set out to become a doctor and became one. I set out to become a doctor and look at me now. I can't even keep a simple column on track. This was supposed to be about a man on the train, and we're thoroughly derailed already. If I were a surgeon (like Andrew Boulton may or may not be now), someone would be wheeled in to have their offal out, and before you could say "scalpel" I'd have veered off and be irrigating his adenoids or boning the bugger in pursuance of "Mad Cow" Cunningham's little directive.

It's worth a try, though ... the man on the train. He was harmless enough; the sort of specs you used to get on the NHS which now cost a fortune, pale-grey overcoat, blue jeans, powder-blue jersey, burlap bag with little hogs printed on it, plastic attache case, a couple of books which he held gingerly, like bombs or babies. Too tall, too thin, bony wrists ... in he came, just as I returned to my seat in the empty compartment. "Are you getting off?" he asked. "Getting off?" I said; "Me? No," hoping to get across the message that if he even thought of sitting down he was such an utter shit and bastard that I would be quite justified in punching him in the funnel and ripping his lungs out.

He sat down, opened one of his books, went in for a bit of a sniff, bit of a dry sniff, a tic, he was a dry-sniff sort of a man and I wondered what his wife made of the sniff. Probably didn't notice it much of the time, but every now and then one would catch her on the raw and that would be it, for hours. She'd sit there thinking, "Here comes the sniff again", and one day she'd kill him, punch him in the funnel and rip his lungs out, and the judge - a dry-sniff man himself, they all are - would be merciless.

It's atavistic. This train-compartment business, this terrible rage: it's territorial. That's what anthropologists say, and that's what reminded me of Andrew Boulton. When we were about 15 or 16 we went to see his grandma who lived in Pickering on the North Yorkshire Moors. It was a day out, and off we went with our pipes. He was a crusty briar, I was a yellow Dutch pottery job, and Paul Charlton couldn't come because he'd bought a carve-it-yourself meerschaum the size of a small saxophone - and was at home, carving it himself, and wouldn't come out till it was done. We must have looked like arseholes but we thought we looked like men of the world, rugged, reflective, mature, clean-shaven. I shaved at every opportunity and reeked of aftershave - Brut, Nine Flags, Aqua Velva. Pipe, shaving, imbecilic "opinions": they were the passports to what we thought would be the jolly, self-determining world of adulthood.

Andrew Boulton's grandma was buying none of it, ignored our opinions, sniffed pointedly at my aftershave, and forbade us to smoke in the house ... but on the way back we had a compartment to ourselves for the first part of the journey, which we duly filled with reeking tobacco-clouds - Andrew was Rich Dark Honeydew, like his father, I was Clan Aromatic, like a poof - until the train pulled in at some snow-blinded halt and a man in a Gannex raincoat showed signs of joining us. We sprang into action like manly, pipe-smoking lions. Andrew Boulton lay full-length on the seat, groaning and writhing, and I stood at the door. "I shouldn't come in," I said; "my friend here has a serious and infectious disease." "Aye," said the man, pushing me gently aside, "and so've I. It's called 'curiosity'." And he sat down like a sirloin of beef, and of course we had to talk to him then ... and passed as pleasant a journey as I've had before or since.

And I thought of this as I was glaring at the harmless bony man. Perhaps it's nothing to do with territory. Perhaps the damned anthropologists are wrong. Perhaps it's just that we have no mechanism of politely addressing strangers, like the French "Bonjour, monsieur" and no tradition of swapping life-stories like the Americans. The jolly club of adulthood does not exist. Instead, we sit there hating each other, me waiting for the dry sniff, he waiting for whatever it is I do that I don't know I'm doing, having a miserable time when we could be chatting away amiably, broadening our minds just like travel is supposed to do. Perhaps we should have a National Say Hello Day. But perhaps not. It would never work. Something about the idea just isn't respectable. !

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine