I saw them from the other end of the platform, waiting for the train doors to open: four men, thick-set and pink-faced, wearing smart suits. They looked a bit like upmarket butchers on a business trip. As I got closer, but not that close, I heard their voices: loud, baritone and constant, drowning out the voice of the station announcer. Don't want to be sharing a carriage with them for two hours, I thought, and hurried past them on to Coach D.
If you were, like me, in Coach D of the 16.48 Liverpool-to-London Euston train last Thursday, you will know that we did not have a lucky escape – the men had a table reserved in the middle of that carriage. I moved seat three times to block out their conversation, but Virgin Trains must have replaced their carriage walls with the Whispering Gallery from St Paul's, because everywhere I went I could hear every word. The train was too busy to switch carriages. I could only imagine all those lucky people stretched out in the Quiet Zone in Coach A, watching the English countryside go by, wallowing in silence.
The loudest man seemed to be in charge. So we had him the most, we fellow passengers, for the whole two hours and 11 minutes of the journey, telling his companions around the table things they – presumably – already knew. Sample quote: "We're in the sausage business. We make sausages. That's what the sausage business is." Yes, they really were upmarket butchers on a business trip, and apparently had been trying to sell their sausages to Liverpool.
During my second move of seats, I caught sight of a pale, thin man in his twenties near to the noisy table crouched over his iPad, shaking his head. He looked up and gave me a rueful stare. But none of us said anything. We just put up with it.
Some say that Quiet Zones do not work, but a colleague tells me that on one train journey a woman was told by another passenger, emboldened by the sign, to stop clicking on her iPhone because she was in a designated quiet coach. She did so. But without the notice, we feel powerless to go over and tell people to "keep it down a bit".
In a way, why should we? I'm not advocating a blanket ban on talking in public. But what the noisy Sausage Men seem to show is a growing trend in lack of self-awareness, particularly on public transport, and not just associated with talking on mobile phones. I wondered whether Twitter was the internet equivalent of this, but at least you can choose to unfollow people there. On a train, there is no escape – unless you get off at Stafford.
It's not just public transport. Another colleague, who has been doing marathons since the 1990s, reports that, with the growth in MP3 players, running in the mass event has completely changed. Those listening to their iPods seem to lack awareness of the runners around them, which means that collisions are more frequent.
Maybe colliding with strangers is a good thing – perhaps we need to have our own little bubbles punctured occasionally. There are benefits, after all: there is now very little I don't know about sausages.