Trains and phones and strains

Wheeler on Wheeler
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The Independent Online
I recently discovered I have abnormally high blood pressure. My doctor says it's how much I drink, my relative lack of exercise, and stress. In one small sector of my life there seems to be enough of this to generate blood pressure off the Richter scale.

I commute to London from Surrey. It is about an hour's journey by trains that started their lives in the days when businessmen wore bowler hats. The trains are dirty, draughty and unreliable, but all that is tolerable. Many of the people who travel on them are another matter. Their common characteristic is total contempt for the rest of the world.

These sociopaths are not always easily recognisable, but anyone wearing a tie with a repeat pattern of teddy bears or ducks or some other puerile device should be regarded with suspicion. They are almost certainly mobile- phonists. Mobile- phone use is an addiction. Just as smokers will get into their compartment and light up, so mobile users immediately reach for their phones to satisfy their craving.

Soon the whole carriage is alive with inane one-sided coversations. "Hi! It's me. You're all crackly ... " and so on, and always at the top of their voices. Eventually all is quiet, until the incoming calls start. Telephones sound with a hideous medley of bleeps, chimes and even dopy tunes. Those summoned adopt a self-satisfied smirk: "Hi! - I've just got to Woking ..."

On inward journeys in the morning, one software executive rabbiting into his mobile for half an hour or more can make working or reading a book an impossibility. One is forced against one's wishes to take a vicarious part in a conversation of barely literate business-speak or in the pursuit, via Sharon in the office, of Mark or Darren, who may be at home or at the Croydon branch or on his mobile.

The briefcase is nearly as devastating as the mobile. They have two main functions in the wrong hands. If you sit next to the door, the man with the fibreglass briefcase is your chief enemy. No matter how hard you try to twist your legs under the seat, two out of four briefcases boarding the train will smash into your knees. Once aboard, all briefcases are dumped in the gangway, making movement up and down an impossibility.

There was a time when louts in baseball hats would put their feet up on the bench seat opposite if it was empty. Now it is commonplace for louts in suits or louts in dresses to put their feet on the seat next to other passengers. It can only be a matter of time before it will be accepted for the old, or those otherwise perceived as unlikely to protest, to support a couple of muddy shoes on their laps for the duration of the journey.

Strangely, these selfish and thoughtless customs are not confined to one social type. I recently saw an elderly and expensively dressed woman with her feet on the seat opposite. She was reading The Spectator. I often try to work out ways of hitting back, but it's not easy.

Moving to another seat is the most effective, because a direct challenge is asking for at least verbal and possibly physical trouble. Certainly the feet- on-the-seat phenomenon is now accepted practice. I have watched countless guards walk past offenders. Short of taking one's own disposable seat cover, one has to accept that one's seat is used regularly as a doormat.

I recently enquired from several shops selling electronic gadgets in the Tottenham Court Road about the possibility of purchasing a mobile- phone jamming device. The assistants react variously. Shocked disbelief is the most frequent; certainly no one has reached under the counter and produced what I need. I imagine something portable, but in mahogany and brass with bits of coiled copper wire. Anything but black plastic.

I would be happy to pay a substantial sum for such a device. No price would be too high for a bit of peace and quiet on the train. It might even lower my blood pressure to somewhere near normal.

Miles Kington is on holiday.