Machell's Guide

How to make public transport bearable

Introducing Machell's Guide to Surviving Modern Life. The first in a new series

BY Octavius Machell | MachellsGuide   /  2 December 2017

Any civilised person already obeys the three golden rules of public transport: don’t put bags on seats, don’t eat hot food, and (for the love of Christendom!) let everyone off before you choose to haul yourself onboard. These are sacrosanct elements of Good British Conduct. But there are a host of other unwritten rules that can help turn the wheels of mercy and keep our public transport bearable. Here are the fifteen that most badly need dusting down

  1.  When flying, never, ever recline your seat – unless you have already ensured that every single person in the (perhaps dozens of) rows behind you is already reclined in sync. If you genuinely think your life will improve when reset at an 8-degree angle, you’re losing the plot. This isn’t a holiday
  2. It’s 6.46a.m. and you’re on the early commute. The birds are only starting to stir, and the sun is just lumbering over the eastern horizon. In short, it’s not the time to phone Steve to give him a 110-decibel, 25-minute monologue on why ‘HOLD’ taps (simultaneously half hot, half cold) are ‘the future of manual-cum-digital hygiene’. Steve, like the rest of us, is praying for the next tunnel.
  3. Don’t be a premature upstander. Yes, we all really do plan to get off, but getting up more than a minute early is decidedly odd. Anything more than three minutes before should be a matter of police interest.
  4. If someone is swan-necking at your book, and quite patently attempting to match your own reading pace as best they can, do the polite thing. Start reading the book backwards, nodding with thoughtful approval as you work up the page. Be consistent: maintain this heroic practice until you alight.
  5. The toilet facilities on a coach are purely decorative. Never suppose that they should be used. If, of course, you need to use facilities of this nature, by all means let your body lead you (the medics call this ‘bladder nav’) to disembark at the next stop – however forbidding that prospect may appear.
  6. If there’s a rogue bottle or aerosol rolling about the floor like a goose without a map – and rattling like a tin can in a Stomp audition – be the person magnanimous enough to trap it and bag it. You will be sure to leave the vehicle atop the shoulders of your beaming brethren.
  7. If you’ve got a rucksack on your travels, stuff it down your top and ‘play fat’. It’s no less absurd to keep it on your back and assault the poor folk behind you than it is to go ‘full tourist’ and have it welded to your front.
  8. Right: if you end up meeting eyes with a fellow passenger for a second time, make your decision quickly and decisively. It’s either love, or time to leave at the next stop.
  9. When you’re ploughing up the left side of the escalator, minding your own business, you will have to shimmy past people through some narrow gaps. Given the logistics of the swivel pass, there will certainly be some ‘drive-by’ body brushing. Proffer the buttocks.
  10. Don’t be that guy, lolling nonchalantly against the Tube Map in the most arrantly apathy-signalling fashion, who is only triggered into life by the door-closing beep, which gives the chance to perform the last-gasp leap as the doors slide shut. No other commuter has ever asked themselves, ‘Who is that daredevil door-closing hero?’
  11. When in an airplane at the heady height of 30,000 feet, it’s inevitable that you’ll be drawn into the War of the Armrest. You’re faced with a tricky one here: you are, of course, not simply going to wave the white flag and let your elbows sag like sulking ferrets, but you’re as sure as billy-o that you’ll not reveal that you care a jot about something so impossibly trivial. Play it attritionally, then: let arm press against arm and uncomfortably stew until someone is first to blink. Just don’t let it be you: you’re better than that.
  12. We all need music to make life bearable. And, since you don’t transform into an unspeakable berk when in transit, you’ll of course be playing that music for yourself through headphones. But keep the volume sympathetically low: your favourite band can only make your fellow passengers’ ears bleed and eyes weep when broadcast as a tinny tribute number by a Clangers-Rainbow-Teletubbies supergroup, feat. Brum.
  13. Don’t be that vapid WhatsApper, whose staccato stichomythia results in incessant phone wibbling and buzzing – each heralding nothing but univerbal, contentless blurts. If someone wants the auditory experience of two Swiss cows licking each other’s bells, there are channels online (many of which are reasonably priced).
  14. If you’re faced with the worst of the worst, and the Saturday night train requires a transition onto one or more buses from the darkest corners of Nowhereshire, revel in the quasi-Blitz spirit of this nocturnal venture. Don’t moan, but grit your teeth, smile, and repeatedly remark that your new transport should actually be called ‘the train replacement service’.
  15. Here’s a final one, specifically for those who wind up in that niche role of Train Station Announcement Recording Artist(e). If the script has you ‘sorry to announce that’ something awfully predictable and entirely avoidable has caused wide-scale misery to hapless and out-of-pocket travellers, jolly well get into character and show some contrition. Credibility will be added by mumbled excuses about forgetting this or mistakenly doing that; the whole platform will genuinely appreciate the occasional gulp or sniffle to fight back the onset of tears. The ideal passenger response should be, ‘Gosh, will she be OK, do you think?’

Octavius Machell is from Cumbria. He has #livedexperience so you don’t have to; bearability is the goal. Rule #1: Machell rhymes with Rachael.