Metro column 15

By Richard Herring - 15th May, 2012

Richard Herring: I have new respect for phlegm-dodging commuters

Blow off steam: The commute can be so upsetting it will make you reach for a tissue – to wedge up someone’s nose.

I am living in the countryside for a while and so, for the first time, am being made aware of the pleasures of being a commuter. I have a newfound respect for all the Reggie Perrins who cope with the strain without becoming unhinged.

Last week, on the 7.42pm train there was standing room only. I was wedged next to a cold-ridden man wearing headphones. Every 20 seconds, as the viscous contents of his nasal cavity effected a snail’s pace great escape, he would perform a grotesque, cacophonous snort. He was listening to music, so was perhaps oblivious to the effect he was having on the rest of us. It would have been less upsetting if he’d spent the journey casually running his fingernails down a blackboard.

Hey, let’s not judge, we’ve all been there: congested and hankie-less. Let he who is without snot cast the first irritated glance, before tutting quietly and looking back at their paper. But there was no sense of shame, no apology from this man as he continued to froth up his nostril cappuccino. There’d be a bubbly snort, everyone would bristle then, just as we relaxed, the conk cauldron would again come to the boil.

It was piercing and persistent and yet no one dared speak up for fear of the embarrassment or violence that might ensue. You can’t predict how a stranger will respond to unsolicited advice on how to deal with their hooter custard. So we just stood back and allowed his nasal mucus to fill our ears.

I hadn’t had a stressful day but by the 20th sniff I was quite prepared to strangle him, even if it meant spending the rest of my life in prison, as long as I could have 30 minutes of freedom from his frothy schnoz-jizz. Instead, I tried willing him to drop down dead but, every time I got to the point where I could extinguish life through telepathic concentration, he would throw me off with another proboscis percolation.

I didn’t dare speak up, so I passive-aggressively tweeted about it instead, which was a way of addressing the issue without coming to blows (of either kind). I wrote: ‘If this loogie guzzler doesn’t get off at St Albans then he is going to die.’

He checked his phone but I don’t think he was one of my followers, or maybe he thought I was talking about someone else as the aural onslaught continued. So I typed: ‘Blow your nose if you want to live.’ I was like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a slightly less dramatic version of The Terminator. Though if time travelling assassin cyborgs are ever invented, they couldn’t be put to a better use than ridding us of anti-social rhinal regurgitators.

Luckily he did get off at St Albans, so his life was spared. But I hadn’t been shouting into the void, because a fellow passenger later tweeted: ‘Was stood right behind you thinking the same thing. Was tempted to sacrifice my socks to stuff them up his nostrils.’

The carriage was secretly united in loathing of this selfish phlegm juggler – though none of us had the balls (or, indeed, the tissue) to offer him a tissue.

So while I am dedicating this column to all the brave souls who have to endure such commutes on a daily basis, I am really writing it in the hope that the man with the headphones on the 7.42pm from St Pancras to St Albans has picked up a copy of Metro today, so I can tell him: ‘Oi, knobhead, blow your bloody nose!’

Richard Herring’s latest show, What Is Love, Anyway?, comes to the Bloomsbury Theatre tonight and tomorrow.

He also performs at the Big Comedy Night in aid of SCOPE at the Hammersmith Apollo on Sunday.

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