Tim Key: If you're English, when is the right time to intervene in the life of a stranger?

 

Share

When do you step in? That's what I've been mulling over this morning in my hotel room, in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

When was the last time you threw out all considerations of polite pussy-footing and Englishness and intervened in the life of a stranger? I did it about an hour ago, at breakfast, and now I'm lying on my Bulgarian bed, buzzing. I made an intervention. I did the right thing.

Here's the situation: I was sat on the next table from a loud-mouthed Canadian and his docile, bespectacled business partner. The Canadian had a Sony Vaio and I knew he was Canadian because he kept yelling about ice hockey and Toronto and Jermain Defoe and because his laptop bag had a maple leaf insignia on it. He was pissed that his emails were not getting answered and in particular he was pissed that a lawyer seemed to be replying to his emails without reading them. But mainly he was pissed in general. And he was bawling about all of this right down the throat of this other guy. His veins were popping out from his temples and he was YELLING. And the other guy never said a word. Just took it. God I felt sorry for him.

The little fella was English and sat in misery throughout. Like a schoolboy breakfasting in a wind tunnel, he was gripping his chair with one hand, keeping his glasses on with the other and occasionally dipped down to nibble muesli. He looked unhappy with the onslaught but he looked used to it. Trapped in this relationship, he just focused on chewing his oats and agreeing with everything. At one point the Canadian asked if he was even listening and he confirmed that he was. There was a pause as the Canadian ate an egg. Then the tirade began anew.

Unfair. Unjust. Grim. But what could I do? When a Canadian gets like that, should you step in? The Canadian finished his meal and licked his plate and yelled at his shrew. "WE'LL MEET IN THE LOBBY AT 10.30!" I couldn't bear it. This poor sod condemned to spending the day in some bleak conference room on the outskirts of Sofia, nodding dopily as this massive twerp ran through his PowerPoint.

And yet still I didn't intervene.

"OH AND MICHAEL – WEAR A JACKET!"

Clearly Michael didn't have a jacket. He looked so sad. He probably only had the Fred Perry and grey tracksuit bottoms he was eating his muesli in.

The Canadian barrelled off to put some more gel in his hair, leaving our man sat, head bowed at his table, Bulgarians shutting down the buffet beyond him. I didn't know what to say. He sat there a while as I took notes on what I had seen. He needed some Michael-time, I think. Recovering from the jet of exclamation marks and spittle he'd just absorbed. He sat motionless. I checked my phone: 10.30.

It got to 10.35 and he still wasn't moving. I was getting concerned, if I'm honest. Why was he still here?

10.40. I looked at the man. Once or twice he would steel himself – lift his minute frame an inch above his seat, but ultimately he couldn't do it. Maybe I imagined the single tear dropping into his saucer.

10.45 and I could bear it no longer. Against all my instincts, I intervened.

"Mate. 10.45. You were meant to be in the lobby at half ten".

He looked across at me, surprised. Then sad. Then surprised again. Maybe 20 years older than me, something obviously didn't feel right about hearing my contribution. He rose from the table, and there was a coffee stain on the bottom of his Fred Perry.

"Yup," he said, almost inaudibly. And he shuffled off to meet the Canadian.

I sipped the last of my coffee and nodded. I had stepped in. I cracked my knuckles. Well done me.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
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