That Time I Frightened A German Teenager On The London Underground

So there I was yesterday afternoon. Sitting on the tube as it hurtled beneath the streets of London towards our stop. It was packed which meant that my work colleague was sitting further down the carriage whilst I was surrounded by a gaggle of excited German teenagers who had embarked at the previous stop. I decided to give up my seat to one of them and move down the carriage nearer my colleague.

I did this for a number of reasons. Firstly I am a gentleman and an all round top guy. You should always give up your seat to a lady who is standing or at least offer to do so. The fact that 99 times out of 100 I ignore this etiquette on my daily commute in and out of Belfast is besides the point. A mere trifling detail. I’m a Christian and we are all a major disappointment to our God but he loves us anyway, flaws and all. Moving swiftly on.

The real reason I gave up my seat was that I was afraid I would become separated from my colleague at our stop. I can barely find my way around our village back home let alone one of the largest cities in the world. This meant standing for a few moments but I was alright with that. I caught my colleague’s eye and confirmed with her that we would be disembarking at the next stop. All was good and I was an anxiety free Stephen.

That lasted for a fleeting few seconds as I realised that the German teenage girl sitting next to my colleague was looking at me in a manner which meant only one thing. She was considering giving up her seat to me. She saw an opportunity to perform an act of kindness towards an elderly man laden down with luggage in a stuffy, crammed compartment. I saw only humiliation, despair and the end of my middle age.

I had been dreading this day for many years. It would effectively signal the end of my life and send me sailing down the slippery slope of free bus passes, ear hair and knitted cardigans. I fixed her with a desperate expression. ‘Do. Not. Do. It. I am in full possession of my faculties. I ran a sub four hour marathon the other week. I am not your grandfather. There is no need for this you incredibly kind, but hopelessly deluded German teenager. For the love of sweet Jesus. Don’t.’

Of course I said none of the above but my powers of telepathy must have somehow got through to her. Which was cool because (a) I didn’t know I was a telepath and (b) that I was a bi-lingual one at that. She looked away and the moment was gone. I had survived and thankfully disembarked a few moments later. I will never forget that kind German girl. Just as she will probably never forget the crazed, perspiring, staring Irishman who gave her the creeps on the tube.

As near misses go this was probably a Def Con 4 experience. I know that the day is coming when a young person will offer me their seat on public transport. Just as I know that I will respond with maturity and grace by undoubtedly glaring at them before storming off down the carriage in a strop. I increasingly feel as if I’m running out of time and yesterday was merely another example of that. The clock is ticking. Faster than I want it to.

It’s just life and I guess I will have to accept that. Live in the present and enjoy the many positives surrounding me today. Be thankful for what I have, not what I’ve lost or think I need. I am where I am for a reason. I cannot take my eye off that ball. So today this forty something is grateful for what he has – his family, his fractured faith, his fitness….and kind, German teenagers on the London Underground.

What’s been your most humiliating public transport experience?

Are you worried that life is passing you by too quickly?

40 thoughts on “That Time I Frightened A German Teenager On The London Underground

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  1. Oh I know this feeling well I’m 31 years old and one of my teenage daughters friends called me mam the other day and I felt like I gained 50 more wrinkles and a good few grey hairs hahahahaha xo

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  2. Goodness, the other day I told someone I have two children and she said I looked so young she didn’t know that I was that old. Well I am 24, and I finished my undergrad but from my community, most people feel that all these achievements can’t have been attained at that age. So they end up concluding that am either 26 or older only with a younger looking face.

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  3. Love this, but I must admit I’m surprised she even considered it. I’ve been more and more surprised by the lack of manners in the younger generations. By no means am I a doddering old lady. I’m 57, but I have issues with standing a long time due to plantar fascitis.

    A few months ago, I had to wait with the other, much younger, parents of my granddaughter’s competitors during the judging phase of the district science fair. There were only a few seats, and my feet were killing me. I spotted a seat next to a child and went over to ask her if I could sit there. She looked unsure but said yes. Before I could even sit, this child’s mother came running. “This is my seat. I’m helping my daughter with her homework.” I said, “Sorry. I didn’t know. I’m in pain and needed to sit.”

    When I was a kid, a parent would have told their child to give up her seat. There was plenty of floor space that several younger people had chosen to sit on. This little girl could have sat on the floor beside her mother doing her homework. Instead, the woman pointed to the child-sized chairs in an open lab suggesting I use them. Needless to say, they were worse than standing.

    Unfortunately, I’ve observed this behavior many times over. Parents should be teaching their children to give up their seats to older people, but they’re not doing it.

    Which means, by the time you really need them to do so, they probably won’t think of it.

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  4. It’s always nice to find another person who has zero GPS skills. My biggest anxiety is getting lost which is why I have issues with traveling. Since I am actually older than you, now I have a new fear some youngster will insist on giving me their seat which is ridiculous as I am still 25 in my head! Thanks for the post.

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  5. So funny! But I can sympathize with your predicament, since I’m fifty-something. Part of me dreads the day the cashier offers me a senior discount at the grocery store, but another part of me wants the discount. 🙂

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  6. Wow. You’re so expressive as always Stephen.. Or ‘Sir’ if you’d rather prefer the due respect.. 😉
    The wordplay in this one in particular was hilarious:
    ” There is no need for this you incredibly kind, but hopelessly deluded German teenager. For the love of sweet Jesus. Don’t.’ ”
    Great piece. 🙂

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  7. I’m pretty sure she didn’t think you were some grandad aged man about to keel over with the weight of his bags 😂 How are you finding London? We are a mere 50 minutes away on the fast train but hardly get there much with it being a pretty expensive place to go! I love it there though and get a strange sense of satisfaction when I have conquered the tube successfully for a day!

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  8. Very funny! I can’t wait to read your book. And on the topic, I am 53 years old. I ran 100 miles in 31 hours at age 52. But I still feel old sometimes, especially when I look in the mirror. I also know that my much younger running friends probably think I’m a hip, but much older lady, not realizing that I think I am one of them. Oh well. Time marches on! But we can still have fun and enjoy the fact that we DO have more wisdom and experience and less angst over being cool and popular than they do. Happy travels!

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  9. Uff, to be faced with such absolute horror would drive me down the panic road (and I’m not even 26 yet). I feel like life is slipping by while I’m moving from one task to another. I’m not quite ready to face the idea of my mortality yet, but given your experience, I wonder if I’ll ever be! My question to you is, what would you have done, really, if she did offer you her seat?

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  10. Hi, I really enjoy reading your blogs; beautifully written and a good mixture of pragmatic and soul searching/explaining! I am a Londoner and often find myself crammed face to face with other humans on the underground; a most peculiar experience it is, hurtling wildly through dark tunnels at incredibly high speed, and so noisy ….I often look about in strange confusion and wonder and will strike up a brief existential conversation (if completely bored) with any friendly sardine who has twinkle in their eye and looks equally horrified/bemused by the experience….. It’s good to hear/read the inner workings of the mind of one of my fellow travellers! I like how you move from an amusing musing, or recollection, to the painful but very real thoughts of time and mortality. Have a lovely day!

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  11. Ha! I felt crushed the first time I was called “ma’am” instead of “miss.” But I often remind myself how much better off I am (physically, emotionally, spiritually) at 43 than I was at 23.😊

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  12. Hahaha, this was a great piece to read Stephen! Loved it 👌
    From the ‘other side’ of the experience, I’ve always been taught to give up my seat for anyone older than me and I never once thought what goes through their mind when a seat is offered! An interesting insight indeed 😁

    And to be honest, I don’t blame you for giving up that seat – having lived in the heart of London all your life, you become street savvy and transport savvy. London Underground = nightmarish at times = stand as close to the door as possible. Quick entry, quick escape, minimal collateral damage🙈

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