Pulling the cord

Have you ever called the police? I’ve done it about three times in my life. Once for a noisy neighbour, once for a nutter and then just last night on a night-time train coming back from Kent in a carriage shared with a group of drunken passengers.
It started with Platform Loudness – you know the noise, it has a special kind of tone, a shouting that carries above the hubbub, a metallic clang of voices that you SO hope is just football chanting but you know, deep down, is messy and dark. What you don’t want to happen, as you sit clenched and waiting, is for the Shouters to board your carriage. As the cloud of angry wasps poured through the doors last night we felt the familiar stomach lurch that you get when you know you’ve picked the unlucky seats.
Dramas always seem to happen to us just after Mr PC has flown away (I’m reminded of the Wardrobe Falling On SM incident in particular, but that’s another story). So it was just me and SmallMonkey on the train, the third member of our family being many miles away in Sing, making me The Responsible Adult (and of course I still always expect a grown-up to come along and help me). At first SM sat bolt upright, almost dropping the iPad (because you just don’t get this sort of sh*t in Sing) then hunched right down, tapping away nervously. After a while I swapped seats with him, pushing him gently into the cosy shelter of the window seat and bravely taking on the aisle.
In fact it wasn’t all that bad, there was no actual punching and no blood, but after about 10 minutes of the air being filled with f**king, sh**ting and that most florid word of all beginning with the third letter, as well as some dangerous-looking stand-up posturing and a bit of quiet pleading from a member of the public, I quietly dialed the three magic numbers and got a nice lady who asked me about five times to explain the complicated location (“we are in the first carriage of the high-speed train from Herne Bay to St Pancras”) before promising to “patch me through” to someone.
While I answered her questions quietly and deliberately, SM sagged against the dark night-time window and sobbed silently, all thoughts of iPad joy miserably left in his lap, in an outward reflection of the inner thoughts of every carriage member. Good old 999, though, because sure enough at the next stop the theatre troupe were removed and the carriage returned to the normal chatter that I have so enjoyed on our many UK train journeys over the past month.
This was the good bit: SM could not believe it – problem solved with one phone call. That the police didn’t mount the train through the roof or shoot through the windows in a shatter of glass was surprising enough. That the offenders were led away in good humour, swaying as they tipsied off the step and into the arms of the jovial train driver, was amazing to him – no sieges, no armed guards and no loud explosions, just a strong arm and a nice cosy telling off.
For me this was all very homely, but maybe not in a good way. Having spent a month soaking up all the things I miss so badly – most of them human – I can’t say I ever hanker for the Saturday Night Party Crowd, because although cr@p does happen in Singapore it’s rare and controlled.
In the UK the world is three-dimensional and wide, full news reports get through all the time, people come up and talk at you for all sorts of reasons on the street and in shops, and this is all healthy, real and important, and I’ve loved being back in the thick of it all.
But you can take your Saturday night pub crowds and stick them right at the end of the World’s Longest Train Line and leave them there, thanks.


We have now had around 50 lessons of Mandarin, at home or in the home of our 老师 (lăoshī – teacher).

Still today the best word I know how to say is goodbye and I use it widely – leaving shops, getting out of cabs, whenever I want to show off. The smugness never lasts long, because of course then people want to start talking to you, and that’s when the glaze emoticon replaces the smirk.

Tonight I’m saying a temporary zaijian for the third time to Singapore’s tropical breezes (I think we had a bit of a breeze today, no?) before heading back for the annual royal visit. Can’t wait to sip my first cup of London tea, stroll barefoot on the Heath (minding the dog-doo), have a pint in a pub.

I will be bringing my Mandarin homework and trying to finish off Chapter 10, which has been all about buying CDs and bananas in shops.

See you in August, Singers, save us some bananas!