8 May 2012

Is it ever OK to discipline a stranger's child?

What is the difference between a child and a mobile phone? In a Quiet Carriage on First Great Western, not very much.
Picture the scene. There’s me and my two youngest, aged 7 and 9. We are out for the day to experience a Ghost Tour (as seen opposite), at a Somerset mansion. To pass the journey time, they are doing drawings of The Gruffalo. Mindful of the fact that my internet-bought tickets have automatically positioned us in the QC, I am not using my mobile. Suddenly, an apparition arrives beside our table, waggling an index finger. No, not an early visitation from the Ghost Tour but a fellow passenger.

“Did you not think of others?” she spits, loudly, “before booking into a QUIET CARRIAGE?”
Wearily, I point out my non-use of phone, laptop, iPod Touch, Nintendo, Talking Kindle or any other appliance. Of course, I know what her problem is.

“But you have brought CHILDREN in!” she yells.

Honestly, it’s like being confronted by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Baroness of Vulgaria. Who, you will recall, was allergic to “ZE CHEEELDREN!”.

I apologise, explain that it’s all the fault of Trainline.com and promise we will be like mice. “I just want PEACE and QUIET!” she says dramatically. I don’t point out that as she appears to be wearing headphones connected to an iPod, she herself is contravening the spirit of the Quiet Carriage.

Now, we have been down this road before, the Junior Millards and I. Sometimes with justification. But that is when all four of them are in full volume. Here, there is only a pair, busy drawing mice in deep dark woods. And chatting.

Is the sound of children talking and laughing really so offensive? Compared to business types braying across the table, or couples in full scale row mode? Or is it just that they are easier to shout at - by people who don’t understand that public transport is not inviolate private space?

I’m reminded of that loon who recently put a sign on his house reminding children playing in the PLAYGROUND of the primary school next door to keep the noise down. Then I think of Oscar Wilde’s Selfish Giant, who had winter permanently encamped in his garden thanks to Vulgarian tendencies.

Anyway, we do not laugh, scoff, or spit on the ground with disgust. The children roll their eyes and keep quiet. They are used to being treated like ninth class citizens by the general public. On the way back, it is much the same. People groaning when anyone less than four foot high approaches them. Grumpy people with your invisible force fields, can I remind you (yet again) that today’s giggling nine year old is tomorrow’s care assistant?

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