War and peace

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

We had a great evening last night, as those of you who also follow 's journal will already know.

She met me from the station and we went swimming, the first time we've gone to Hampton Open Air Pool in the evening. I no longer swim like a brick, but I'm hardly what you'd call expert yet. So I was pleased to manage three lengths breaststroke and one on my back. Mind you, I was almost sick afterwards with the exertion. Then we managed to get the sauna to ourselves, which is always a bonus. The pool's lovely in the evening, all calm and peaceful, although it would be better still if the rooftop cafe was still open.

By the time we left darkness had fallen, so we went in search of a place to view Mars from. We drove all over south west London and into Surrey before ending up in layby near home, ignoring the roaring traffic and the yellow streetlight glare and the used condoms tied to the chainlink fence as we focussed binoculars on the dancing orange speck that represented another world.

Then, of course, we got home and found the best view of all was from our balcony…

Like I say, it was a great evening. But it nearly wasn't.

Those of you who've known me a few years may remember that back in 2000 I was attacked on a train. There was a gang of them, the ringleader took a bottle to my head, and I ended up with 17 stitches in five head wounds. Two of the gang ended up in jail. For a while on the train home it looked like I was going to witness someone else given the same treatment.

Except I couldn't have just sat there and witnessed it, of course. I'd have had to join in to help the victim.

The circumstances were a bit different – I got a gang of tanked-up teenagers on a wrecking spree, whereas the bloke on last night's train drew a couple of raggedy-arsed boozers with cans of Red Stripe. One of them lit up a cigarette and the man, an inoffensive looking bloke in his 40s, asked him to put it out. It was, after all, a non-smoking carriage.

His reward for doing this was a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse as the boozer loomed over him, called him a f—ing liar, and threatened to punch him in the face. The man kept calm, repeated the request, and also asked him not to swear in front of children. I'm not sure how long this went on for – it could have been as much as five minutes of shouted obscenities and sickly tension before the drunk cooled down enough for the other bloke to withdraw to the next carriage.

When it kicked off, it seemed awfully familiar. I won't pretend I had flashbacks or anything, but I certainly had a very grim 'not again' feeling while sitting there waiting to see what happened. I put my book away and got ready to jump up if it looked like a punch was about to be thrown. There was a young businessman sitting opposite me who seemed ready to do the same. I'm glad we didn't need to, of course – it could have got very ugly, five people in a very limited space, two of them blind drunk – but I would have done it.

Afterwards, when we reached the next station, which happened to be my home station, that was the time I got shaky and started remembering my attack. I was one of three people to go straight to station staff and warn them they had a problem on the train. As I left for where was due to meet me the train was standing in the station, obviously being held while they sorted things out.

I left them to it. The water in that swimming pool seemed very clean afterwards…

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.