There’s a scene at the latter end of Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour that depicts Winston Churchill, played with a stunning conviction by Oscar certainty Gary Oldman, riding the London Underground. In this scene the British Prime Minister converses with shocked members of the public, and it’s a moment that has been met with criticism from viewers, claiming it to be unrealistic. I mean, what are the chances such an acclaimed figure would casually ride the tube? It’s absurd. Sadly, it’s hard to argue against such apprehensions, but not for the reasons cited. No, it’s implausible more so because in London we don’t talk to strangers, especially not on the tube. It’s not just conversation either. We avoid all eye contact.
Even when having to offer our seats to the elderly, or pregnant ladies, we do so in a timid fashion, speaking under our breath and hoping that nobody else is listening in. God forbid they turn down our offer, and we’re left sitting there, in our lovely, comfortable seat, while an 80 year old stands up defiantly. It feels like everybody is staring, judging. People look down on us, literally, and the shame is just too much to bear. Though nothing is worse than communal laughter. If something humorous happens concerning an eccentric individual, and people look around at each other and start smiling, hoping to generate a brief group laughter session, a little bit of me dies inside.
We just don’t talk to people in London, and it’s somewhat centric to the capital city too – for I’ve been for mild afternoon strolls in the North of England often been met with smiles from passers by, and mundane questions ranging from, ‘nice day, isn’t it?’ to simple statements such as, ‘hi there’. But even they make me nervous. Conversations with other members of the public is a cardinal sin in these parts. We just don’t feel comfortable partaking in such a tedious exercise. But why? Are we rude people? Or perhaps we’re overly polite?
We seem conditioned to not want to intrude in other people’s lives – and we expect the same back. Maybe, we’re all just troubled creatives (sigh) and are too lost in our own thoughts, too immersed in our own worlds, so focused we become blinded. Or perhaps the advertisements on the tube are so interesting we may expect to find hidden messages in the text we stare at every single morning on our commute into work. Or maybe, on second thoughts, we are just a little bit rude.
There was an initiative started two years ago called Tube Chat whereby those of us who wish to communicate with other passengers (aka heathens) would wear badges that say «Tube Chat?», to invite others to start talking. Needless to say, it didn’t catch on. The American (of course) who began this scheme was a man named Jonathan Dunne from Colorado, and he admitted that he received a frosty reception from the public, not as ‘friendly’ as he had anticipated. He actually expected people to talk to him. People ignored him. Welcome to London, mate. Believe me if the Prime Minister, who is sadly now Theresa May, was to journey on the same Jubilee Line train as me this morning on my way to work, I’d have taken one look at her and then stared at my feet for the next 10 minutes.