Magazine article The Spectator

Firm Friends

Magazine article The Spectator

Firm Friends

Article excerpt

The moment the announcer stated that the 9.05 to Newquay was leaving from platform four, virtually the entire crowd on the concourse at Paddington station arose like a Zulu impi and ran towards it. Platoons of young totty, hampered by pink and lilac suitcases as heavy as themselves, screamed with excitement and frustration as they were left standing by the swarms of young lads who raced along the platform to secure seats.

I was standing, fortunately, beside the entrance to platform four, and was in the vanguard of the pell-mell race for the second-class carriages at the front of the train.

Spotting a vacant seat in the carriage on the far side of the buffet car, I jumped aboard and dived into it. Within two minutes seats, aisle and vestibules at both ends of the carriage were rammed with young Newquaybound revellers, all of them breaking out the lager and the alcopops and shouting.

The din was tremendous. Community singing could be heard in the next carriage. We were having a party for the next four hours whether we liked it or not.

At two table seats immediately in front of us, a group of eight lads set about getting as drunk as possible while burping as loudly as possible. Across the aisle from them were two middle-aged American men, one of whom was facing me. In spite of the language and the whipcrack burps, these lads weren't unfriendly -- or even particularly anti-social given the circumstances -- but the American eyed them with uncertainty across the aisle.

He had a kindly face. It seemed to me he wanted to let them know that he was a friendly guy, that he too came from a macho culture, and that he understood that guys must be guys -- particularly Anglo-Saxon guys.

But these English working-class guys were something else. They worried him.

They seemed so cretinous he couldn't be entirely sure whether a gambit of simple friendliness and good humour would be graciously received. With these guys a misunderstanding was possible. Perhaps even a punch up the throat.

Buuuuuurp! His expression of sunny amiability clouded over with doubt and he averted his eyes. But his friendliness -- and perhaps a modest interest in social anthropology -- overcame these fears and finally he said, 'So. Are you fellows on holiday?' The response was a fruity belch; another, louder one; a proffered can of Foster's; and an increasingly heated, inconclusive debate among the lads about whether they were on holiday or not. …

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