In this extract from his memoir Ramble Book, Adam Buxton inwardly rails against his fellow commuters
I have a folding bike. A pink Brompton. I’m aware that being a middle-aged man with a beard and a Brompton marks me out as a wanker for some people, but I don’t care. If you think convenience, comfort and a commitment to reducing my carbon footprint to save this beautiful planet is wankerish, well, I guess I’m just a massive wanker.
One day I wheel my Brompton down to the end of Platform 9 at King’s Cross and get on the front carriage of the 14.12 to Cambridge (if I’m in the front carriage, it’ll be a shorter walk to Platform 5 at Cambridge to get the Norwich connection). The train isn’t busy and it’s direct, so after I’ve boarded, I lean the Brompton, unfolded, against the doors on the opposite side. I always do this if I’m travelling at this time of day, knowing that when we’re pulling into Cambridge I’ll rejoin the bike and swiftly wheel it off the train when the doors open, rather than waste time folding and unfolding at either end. Then I take a seat, put on my headphones and zone out for 45 minutes.
I look up when we’re approaching Cambridge to see that on this occasion several people have walked through the train in order to exit from the front carriage, which doesn’t usually happen at this time (it’s only just gone 3 p.m.). Probably the knock-on effect of cancellations. Now there’s four or five people all eager to be among the first to disembark at Cambridge and they’re standing round my unfolded bike as it leans against the exit doors.
A couple of them exchange looks of contemptuous irritation when they see me stand up in my stylish high-vis jacket and Day-Glo yellow helmet. To me, the neon yellows and the bright pink of my bike frame say ‘PUNK’. At this moment however, I suspect they suggest another four-letter word to my fellow commuters. I try to make my way over to the bike, but a large man with raincoat and briefcase is unwilling to step aside. He wants to teach me a lesson about selfishness. His hair is close-cropped and a fold of bristly skin sits in a muffin top above the back of his collar. ‘Excuse me,’ I say cheerily and edge past him to get to my Brompton. The man closest to the door, standing directly over my bike, is in his late thirties with backpack, jeans, chewing gum, headphones, greying hair, and a somewhat ratty aspect. He shoots me a disgusted look. I return his gaze with low-level defiance. He holds it.
‘Shame it doesn’t fold up,’ he says, looking down at my bike.
‘Oh, it does,’ I reply.
‘Why don’t you fold it up then?’
‘Because this train makes only one stop, so I knew it wouldn’t be blocking anyone’s exit.’
‘It’s blocking mine.’
‘When the doors open I’ll get out and you’ll be able to disembark without delay.’
Ratface rolls his eyes. My heart is pounding. My breathing is no longer under my control. The muscles in my face are betraying me. ‘People like Ratface,’ I think, ‘are not making the world better.’ He chews his gum. Exhales mintily.
Taps his fingers on the handrail to the music in his headphones. Then, for my benefit, he shakes his head slightly. Before I’ve thought better of it, I’ve said, ‘Why do you need to make this a problem?’
‘Why do I?’
‘Yeah. I’m interested. Why do you feel you need to make something like this into a problem?’
‘I’m just making a point, that’s all,’ says RF.
‘OK. And were you happy with my response to your point?’ I ask.
‘Yeah,’ he drawls, in a way that might not be sarcastic, though we both know it is.
Tap, tap, tap, go his fingers to the almost certainly shitty music he’s listening to. I will say this for Ratface: he’s doing a much better job of pretending not to be flustered than I am. I look around at the other commuters who have been watching this exchange with interest. Judging by the frostiness of their expressions, they’re not on my side.
I consider their irritation. It’s understandable. I get irritated by people dragging wheelie bags, especially on rough surfaces. I don’t like the noise, but they also take up extra space and they’re gradually destroying historical pavement surfaces in places like Venice.
The thing is, I’ve thought through my irritation with wheelie bags on several occasions and concluded that it’s not actually reasonable. Wheelie bags may take up more space, but on the whole they allow people to move faster. And cobble erosion is the least of Venice’s problems. So why can’t other people realise that their irritation with me and my foldy bike is similarly unreasonable?
We pull into to Cambridge and the train comes to a stop. Now I must disembark with 100-per-cent efficiency to show my fellow passengers that my unfolded bike and I haven’t slowed them down at all, and they’re just miserable arseholes. My hand hovers over the button for the doors as I wait for it to become active.
It’s a long moment, during which I make a decision. I look over at Ratface and say, ‘I’ll make sure I fold it from now on.’ He seems confused. I just handed him victory on a silver tray, and he doesn’t know what to do with it. He goes for a look that says: ‘Whatever, you’re still a wanker with a Brompton.’
Maybe. But I’m the wanker who got off that train first.
Meet Adam Buxton live this Thursday 3 December at 6pm for “A Drink with the Idler“, our online show.