The most inspiring act of civic heroism I have ever seen took place a few days ago.
At London's Edgware Road tube station a thin, 6ft 4in Asian man, probably in his mid-20s, was shouting obscene, racist, sexually explicit abuse at four Somali girls wearing the hijab. They all got on the last carriage, the girls at one end, the Asian at the other.
As I joined them, I realised that a man in a grey suit and tie – 6ft, aged 40 or so, with piercing blue eyes – was the only other person to move towards this carriage, rather than the other way.
The abuse continued as the train moved off. Asian Kid, as I shall call him, produced ever more filthy taunts and other vulgarities that I shall spare you. He motioned towards the girls, past me, then back to his end of the carriage – whereupon he noticed Grey Suit, as I shall call him, staring intently his way. "Who the **** you looking at?" Asian Kid said. Then Grey Suit did something I'll never forget.
He leapt from his seat, pulled out a police badge and said: "Police. If you swear one more time, you're going to be arrested. Be quiet and sit down." Asian Kid, much taller than Grey Suit and with several screws loose, resisted, hurling more abuse. Grey Suit becalmed him, using the minimum of fuss. At Euston Square station, he persuaded Asian Kid to get off the train – and stepped off with him. So did I.
Grey Suit cajoled Asian Kid upstairs, through the barriers and on to the Euston Road.
"I want to help you get home," he said, giving him clear directions and offering to assist in any way he could.
Finally, Asian Kid wandered off, quiet as a little lamb. I had followed the whole thing, giving the occasional thumbs up to Grey Suit to offer him... goodness knows what. When Asian Kid wandered off, I went up to Grey Suit, extending my hand. "Look," I said. "That was amazing. He was so much bigger than you and could have been armed. Police officers never get credit for their bravery. I'm a journalist. What's your name? Can I write about you?" He replied: "Oh – sorry mate. I can't have my name in the public domain. I'm not that kind of police officer."
And with that, having been more brave in 10 minutes than I have been in 28 pathetic years, Grey Suit, presumably a special ops chap, wandered silently into the night.
No awards ceremony, certificate, or Hall of Fame will ever honour Grey Suit and his bravery that evening.
As I watched him walk off, I realised the essential irony of heroism. It is at its purest precisely when it goes unrecognised.
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