Let’s ban boring phone calls on the Tube

Who really wants to know if it's spag bol for tea?

I would like to call for a total ban on people making loud and boring phone calls on the Underground. Enough is enough. The practice is rude and anti-social. Hit them with ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) is what I say.

There are as bad as the folk who believe it is their right to play their music too loudly at 2 in the morning to the detriment of their neighbours.

Time was that the Underground was a haven of comparative peace. Calls on mobile phone could not be made because of the lack of a signal. But someone in their “wisdom” decided that wifi needed to be introduced to the Tube that would even work in tunnels. What joy!

A few weeks back I was on the Underground travelling from Heathrow to Central London after a holiday. To give my comments some context, it should be conceded that I was feeling unwell and more than a tad unhappy that the vacation was over. A differing times two people decided that they needed to make phone calls. The contents were banal in the extreme. I had heavy luggage alongside me so it was not as if I could easily get up and move away to ease the pain. 

These phone users are just plain rude. There is no other word for it. They think it is their “right” to inflict tedium on all around them. It is not as if they have mastered the ability to speak softly. Do I really want to know that they will be having spag bol for tea/dinner/ supper, whatever you want to call the meal? Do I wish to share the run-in they had at work with an equally obnoxious-sounding colleague? Would I like to be made aware of the family dispute in which the only non-guilty party is the maker of the phone call?

The answer to all is an unequivocal “no”! 

How do you convey your displeasure to these callers without provoking an incident? I regret I do not have an answer. I thought of producing small business card-type notes such as the one seen here to quietly pass to callers but, if they react badly, it might cause a scene and maybe even violence.

I would like to see a system introduced that only allows urgent phone calls to be made. But, who decides what is urgent? It is not as if London Underground is going to place the phone police in each carriage to be the arbiter of what is – and what isn’t – urgent.

I guess the total banning of calls might be a tad draconian although it has personal appeal. So, what, if anything, can be done?

The Tube could take a leaf out of the book of certain overground train operators and introduce “Quiet Carriages” where making mobile phone calls and the playing of music are not allowed. Again, the problem is enforcing this ban. If someone takes or makes a call in a quiet carriage who is going to risk the confrontation of pointing out the error of their ways? I have personal experience of such situations. At least other passengers who chose that carriage for the reason that they did not want to not be disturbed can point to the signs of the window calling for quiet. 

So, how about it, Transport for London? Quiet carriages on the Tube where travellers can escape the loud-mouth bores? The first and last carriages as quiet coaches sounds like a plan to me. I would even suggest the reverse of this – that only two carriages permit calls to be made so all the bores can sit together and try to out-shout each other. Maybe a step too far.

Way back in 2011 The Daily Telegraph conducted a poll about quiet carriages on the Tube. The idea gained just more than half of the support of voters (54.99%) and only 13.69% were against, but the proposal went no further. I wonder what degree of support it might gain now.

Want an example of the type of call I would like to ban? I am reminded of an exchange in one of my favourite comedy shows, Fawlty Towers. In it, Basil’s wife Sybil keeps saying “oh, I know” in reply to every remark her friend Audrey makes. Eventually John Cleese says: “Why is she telling you then?”

He had a point.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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