There are many ways in which my wife and I are different. Fr’instance if we are driving on a road with two or more lanes and one of the lanes begins to disappear – the road narrows or there are road works or an accident so the outside lane, say, is merging into the one inside – she will signal and move into the inside lane as soon as the narrowing road becomes apparent. I, on the other hand, will continue until the last moment and merge only when I have to. I often express my frustration at people who block the narrowing lane, even though it has yet to run out as they wait to be allowed to merge. She considers it polite to move across as soon as; I believe it is a literal and metaphorical waste of space – nature abhors a vacuum and all that good stuff.
Today I was at an international cricket match – the world cup is being played in England and Wales and England played the West Indies in Southampton – with my son. We travelled there by train. The game finished early and we were shuttled back to the station to catch our next train. A lot of other people were planning on doing the same thing.
I immediately enter ‘train-strategy’ mood. The indicator sign was not yet showing our train so I had no indication of its length. Long experience of catching pubic transport after a major sporting fixture has taught me to head to one or other end of the platform, as far along as possible, if I want any chance of a seat. With the London tube the trains are a universal length – not so the overground railways where trains can be as short as two carriages and as long as twelve. Ours was likely to be between either and twelve so we headed for the front and the sign saying ‘8-10 car stop’ and watched the indicator board for our train to appear.
The platform began to fill. At our end the numbers were light and we were near the front of both train and platform crowd. Hope still reined.
Then the train came up on the board and the list of intermediate stations began scrolling through – these appears before the length of the train. Meanwhile the announcer informed us the train was approaching and it was …
Cue swearing under the breath and a jostling back along the platform to the already crowded spot under the ‘2-5 car stop’ sign.
Son is reading the indicator board as I am watching the approaching train. At the same moment I realise the train is patently longer than five cars the indicator board shows it is ten cars long. Cue more swearing and an unseemly trot back to where we were moments before, juggling back-pack, phone, waterproof and all the other paraphernalia that is needed for the cricket.
We were one of a few who made the too and fro effort and were rewarded with seats facing front and next to each other. The crowds grew and the train filled but we were smug. We had seats!
As we settled back, lightly steaming from the effort, Son remarked that his mother wouldn’t have even bothered to walk to the front and just stayed where she entered the platform. If I had persuaded her to move to the front she wouldn’t have willingly involved herself in the constant frenetic movements back and forth. And if she had followed me and then ended up back where we started the acquisition of a seat would in no way have compensated for her sense of the futility of it all.
‘I’d have got a a seat anyway.’
‘But you might not have.’
‘And neither might you. And does it really matter?’
Just asking that question tells you no explanation will satisfy. We are yin and yang, chalk and cheese, night and day. I can no more enter a station when I know where the exit is at my destination station and not move up or down the platform so I will join the train at the spot nearest to where I will be leaving at my destination station than she can give a monkeys for whether she walks the same distance as me before or after she has joined or left the train.
She will rarely bother with a rat run because often it makes no difference to the journey and she’ll not know if it would have anyway. I will delight in complex circuitous journey plans that at least give me the illusion of constant movement.
She will sit in the driver’s seat and look at me.
‘Okay, which way do you want to go?’
I will profess indifference to the route.
She will wait for the truthful answer and when she has it follow that route.
We make a pretty good team really… but I still have the sense that I am being ridiculous. Is it me? A man thing? A mental health issue? A paranoia? A commonplace? Or is her studied indifference more wilful contrariness than a well worn tranquillity? And anyway, if it makes us, me happy….?