A Crash Course in Manners

It’s Friday afternoon, and therefore we once again welcome our weekly columnist, Ben Harvey.

They do this, every now and then. Someone comes out with a report, or a proposal, or a consultation on Pmpisp, which isn’t – as it sounds, the name of some short, camp Swiss composer (you can see him now, snuffling into his chocolates because he can’t think of any good tunes that aren’t about war-gold) but is, in fact, a freshly-minted acronym I’ve just made up to allude to people who want to Put Mobile Phones In Stupid Places.

There’s always a constant murmur of um-ing & ah-ing, mostly as to the Underground, with people trying to convince Red Ken to install aerials or cables or boosters or whatever little boxes will enable people to yell into their phones above the wail & shriek & rattle of the tube. It makes a lot of sense, in certain spheres, in that in any given day there’s about three million commuters, a captive audience in their cattle-truck rolling-stock, going to & from work with nothing to do but read skanky free newspapers that shed cheap ink all over you. When the very fact that they’re penned-in and listless means that they really ought to be texting! It’s a criminal waste. Absolutely criminal.

So, even though it would be handy for consumers – and enormously lucrative for the permanently cash-strapped underground network, since they’d have the networks over a barrel – to put this kit in, it’s never happened. A lot of people say that the technical challenges are just too difficult, or that Ken Livingston won’t give his permission simply because he takes the tube to work himself and doesn’t want to get calls from the office for an extra two hours a day.

The real reason, though, in my unhumble opinion, is because it’s a stupid idea. Some places you just need to shut up, to be alone with your thoughts, to process the past or the future; and for that you need the present, the now, to take a backseat. Not all of us want to talk all of the time – it’s quite normal, quite human, to want to cocoon away for a short time every now and then to just get off the ride, so to speak. That’s not to say it’s antisocial, or that it’s withdrawn or shy, it’s just the fact that sometimes you just want to get away. And, if – like most people – you can’t control when you can shut the world off then you can at least enjoy it when the world is the one shutting you off.

So the news that the groundwork is being laid to allow full mobile use on aircraft is, I think, a complete pig. As with the tube, a plane is a long, thin cylinder of bored people who are packed in tight enough to impinge each other’s personal space but, for some cruel & inexplicable reason, actually shagging anyone in transit is distinctly frowned upon. Especially if you’re the pilot. You’re not there for the hell of it, you’re there as a means to an end, which makes the whole event something that you endure instead of enjoy, and, obviously, people deal with this in their own way, either by reading, or watching the films, or staring out the window or, if you’re Peter Buck, by washing your sleeping-pills down with booze and then running around squeezing yoghurt over everyone.

The thing to remember here is that, the more people there are packed around you, the more valuable your privacy becomes. And so to have that invaded by the braying conversation of some buffoon sat three rows behind you would be torture. Imagine a similar flight to the one that Ewan took out to Los Angeles this week to go hobnob with our American cousins – eleven hours in a jumbo, where you can have up to thirty people sat around you close enough to squirt your yoghurt over.

That’d be sixty people for me, by the way, but only because I eat a lot of zinc and work my pelvic-floor.

Eleven hours listening to thirty conversations. Eleven hours listening to message-beeps. Eleven hours, when you’re trying to sleep, or read, and you can’t do anything except go gently mental because some inconsiderate dipstick wants to have an argument with his wife or a discussion with her accountant or wants to call their nutritionist to see if the airline food will give them the shits or not.

Jean-Paul Sartre stated that ‘hell is other people”. He was almost right – hell is other people when you can’t get away from them because, as I believe I may have mentioned before, everyone is normal until you get to know them. And there’s no better way to get a crash-course in how colossal a cock the person wedged in next to you is than to hear them bitch about how pointy your own elbows are whilst you’re pretending to be asleep.

…there’s also the small point about bombs being detonated remotely just by ringing a mobile wired into a golf-ball of Semtex, of course, but that’s just being pedantic, since al-Qaeda are quite a sporting bunch, really, and would never use anything so obvious, honourable lads that they are…

A little while ago, in the cinema, you may have seen Snakes on a Plane, where Samuel L Bad-Mother-Fucker-Jackson was trapped in the air with hundreds of vipers. This film came about through a bunch of drunk executives trying to come up with the most idiotic, chaos-filled plot in the least number words, and they did such a good job – by coming up with such a cheap, trashy idea – that they actually did make a proper movie out of it (you wouldn’t’ve seen this actually on a plane, though, for much the same reasons that they don’t show Titanic on cross-channel ferries or the Shawshank Redemption in prisons). But even Hollywood, with all its experience and imagination, could not brainstorm a movie plot as ghastly, as terrifying, as generally holistically & comprehensively distasteful as the irritating, frenzy-inducing claustrophobia bought about by the sanity-eroding burble of other people talking non-stop bollocks for what used to be a deliciously peaceful period of serene cloud-spotting. See? even the mere idea is making me froth and flail quite rabidly. Should this all come to pass, you could easily identify me at any point above the Atlantic because I’ll be the one trying to bite a window open in an attempt to let the air out and thus let blessed silence in.

The one upside to letting phones on planes, though, is that you’ll be able to call the police when the fights break out. Happy landings!

7 replies on “A Crash Course in Manners”

I’m all for cellular networks on the tube but I agree that it’s annoying having to hear some idiot talk loudly about every aspect of their inane worthless existence… I wonder what the rules are regarding licensed spectrum in an isolated environment (ie: underground or inside a faraday cage)…. could LUL setup their own network and rake in roaming agreements with the MNOs?… I can just see it now “I can’t talk for long, I’m roaming on the tube and it’s costing me £1.50 a minute”… it’d discourage idle chit chat while ensuring essential conversations are possible.

So if having mobiles on planes and tubes is a bad idea, then who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to let chavs sing karaoke style songs down their phone line and then install it on their/friends mobiles as a screech-a-ringtone. Good grief, that has to be the most hideous and audibly awful idea since some elbow thought it would be a good idea for us to listen to demented screaming frogs all around us as we sat on the train contemplating life the universe and everything. I truly hope that the Minister for Works & Pensions rants on about it and has it banned; well he’s more or less killed premium sms today with his rants, so surely banning ScreechaTone will be easy for a Minister with nothing better to do.

aahhh, that feels better 😉 have a good weekend one and all…


I will not fly with an airline that allows this. Simple. We collectively can and will knobble this by voting with our ca£h. A classic example of ‘just because you can, does that mean you should?’

Airlines have hardons for GSM on Aircraft (GSMoA) because some twonk told them there’s $700M p.a. in revenue up for grabs. Hence why colleagues and I have had to sit through GSM standards meetings to work out a way to do this without turning planes into 1000kph aerial network jammers. It can be done. Technically it works. But so does Myxamatosis, tower blocks and the Crazy Frog.

In regards to the Tubes – I’m sure I read something ages ago that said they were going to put signal on the platforms but not on the actual tubes.

That I think I could just about to live with.

@Dan: Whilst I agree with the sentiment I’m not sure a purely financial dis-incentive would work… With respect to the more well-healed readers, that presumes those with more disposable income or a good expense account are less likely to shout annoying drivel into a phone in a an enclosed public place for extended periods. This is not the case in my experience.

Not all transport companies are quite that savvy about their choice of films: I was once on a cross-channel ferry which showed Das Boot!

I was on the Eurostar from Paris a while back, where an HR manager decided to kill some “dead time” by phoning a colleague and talking most of the way to the tunnel. She was amazingly indiscreet and blabbed all kinds of information about the candidates she had just been interviewing, and why they were unsuitable for the job. It was annoying for the other passengers to listen to her braying on for hours, and it put in to clear focus for me something that I prefer about flying, i.e. that thankfully mobile phones are not allowed. Long may it continue.

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