The Banana Rage
Commuting daily from Woking, Surrey to Waterloo, London in the 1960s was tiresome. Before the days of WfH (working from home) everyone had to do it. Sometimes my commute was even longer – all the way from Portsmouth.
Commuters were people of habit. You sat in the same seat in the same carriage every day. Those at the start of the journey could work up a good breathy atmosphere to keep warm in winter and collegial in summer. Later boarders who may have wanted to introduce some fresh air were quickly put in their place.
One commuter, who sat in the same compartment as me, was clearly a Civil Servant. He had a smart shiny briefcase with the Royal Insignia on it. It surely must have contained top secret papers. He wore his bowler hat throughout the journey as if to confirm his superiority to the rest of us. He never spoke, just nodded his head in a patronizing way to signify ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’. His lips curled in a wolf-like sneer as he did so. The rest of us exchanged knowing glances to confirm that we recognized seniority when we saw it.
One day the train was behaving most peculiarly. It kept stopping between stations, something British Rail trains never used to do. Then it would unexpectedly accelerate very quickly. On one of these occasions the halt was particularly vicious and our newspapers and books – and the high and mighty civil servant’s briefcase – were precipitated onto the floor. His glossy bag opened and something fell out and rolled under the seat opposite him. Nobody saw what it was and he didn’t retrieve it.
A particularly naughty fellow traveller, who occasionally told mildly lewd jokes in out-loud whispers, was obviously a salesman of some sort. It was de rigueur not to laugh at his jokes – or even smile at them. Sometimes this could only be pretended behind the pages of The Times newspaper, then the vade mecum of all first class commuters. That was in the days when The Times was still a broadsheet, the paper of record for Britain, before its acquisition by Murdoch and his transformation of it into a bottom-pinching tabloid. The wacky fellow in my compartment couldn’t resist the temptation to say to the civil servant, unnecessarily loudly I thought, “Excuse me, but I think your banana has rolled under the seat opposite”.
For the man addressed this was the last straw. He began to almost froth at the mouth. As he bent down to retrieve the banana his bowler hat skewed sideways, in an imitation of Charlie Chaplin, and his reading glasses fell to suspension from one ear. Seizing the banana, he stood up and hurled it with ungracious force through the – by then open – window.
The train, now rather late, had speeded up, with the driver betting himself a ham sandwich that he could recover his lost time. The civil servant’s rage peaked while the train was flying through West Byfleet station at a pace that could be described only as precipitate. The banana caught an elderly off-duty guard standing on the platform at where his skull would have been exposed but for the de Gaulle pillbox railway guards cap he was wearing. The over ripe banana shattered across a bunch of young ladies making their way to college. The guard fell sideways, knocking down three passengers waiting for the next stopping train.
At Waterloo terminus a battery of armed police were waiting. Everyone was held up and questioned. It quickly became clear who had perpetrated the banana rage. The civil servant was arrested. We never saw him again. The salesman grabbed and kept the government briefcase. Thereafter he always wore a bowler hat. He didn’t speak but his wolf-like leer said who he was.
Rungs higher up the social ladder are accessed in strange ways, aren’t they?
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27 March 2023