But some questioned whether it was right to engage in this conflict at all when there are elderly people, pregnant women, and other travellers less able to cope with the stresses of modern commuting. Mat of Kilburnia went as far as suggesting the unthinkable:
Please tell me you’re not one of these awful creatures who get on trains whilst people are still getting off.
As if! Everyone who knows their way around an Overground or Tube carriage understands that this is a cardinal rule, fundamental to the code of conduct. It’s shocking that anyone would even consider that.
You see, even in war there are rules and ethics – and in this respect the strategic space of the train carriage is no different from any other modern theatre of conflict. And although there’s no International Criminal Court of public transport, there’s certainly a Geneva Convention. Here are three of its basic rules.
1. Let people get off the train first
It’s a beautiful thing when a load of commuters get off a train. No, seriously. Like herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the Serengeti or flocks of starlings rippling across the sky (this is a murmuration, fact fans), a crowd of Tube travellers surging on to the platform is a magical moment, particularly for those of us left behind who can finally breathe. So why try to stop it?
It’s amazing that people still do this. You’d have thought that by now it’d be a forgotten social aberration, like bear-baiting or smoking in kindergarten. Maybe it’s tourists who do it? Or people on a combination of PCP and Special Brew? You’d have to be on something not to see that this causes problems for everyone, yourself included.
The punishment: Transgressors can expect to be shoulder-barged or roughly pushed aside.
2. Don’t send conflicting signals about leaving
This is a bit more obscure but I think it’s ingrained in the subconscious of most commuters. I’ll let a picture do the talking:
People who do this can spark off weird, instinctive responses in others. When we think we’re trapped, we’re like caged animals who stop at nothing to fight our way out, as if the next stop was Reading West rather than the tube station a bit further up the road.
Still, it’s best to avoid triggering this primal rage, so don’t make people think you’re getting off when you’re not.
The punishment: I’ve seen grown men scream swearwords at one another in situations like this.
3. Protect those less able to cope
The Paris Metro has a surprisingly detailed set of rules that govern who should get a seat. Wounded soldiers are top of the list, and I’m not sure who sits at the bottom but it’s probably people who are pretty steady on their feet like gymnasts, ninjas or Shaolin monks. Everyone knows their place in the pecking order.
But in London the rules aren’t as clear. The vague guidance is “people less able to stand”, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation and can cause problems. Some spritely senior citizens don’t take well to being treated like invalids by well-meaning youngsters, for example, and let’s not even get into the consequences of mistaking obesity for pregnancy. You need to strike the right balance between helpfulness and condescension.
This particular rule has implications for the seat-fancier: securing the seat nearest the door can be a pyrrhic victory, because you might need to give it up again at the next stop. You need to go deeper.
The punishment: Severe passive-aggressive disapproval from other travellers, loss of soul.
The melee of the daily commute can seem like a lawless ungoverned space, but in reality all strategic machinations are underpinned by laws like the ones described here. And while there’s no International Criminal Court – no formal way to capture or charge transgressors, no lengthy trials in The Hague – one thing acts as a barrier between controlled warfare and outright savagery, a thin line between dignity and chaos.
That thing, that barrier, is our intense fear of public embarrassment. Let’s cling on to it, because if we don’t, all is lost.