I think that cigarette-smokers are selfish and obnoxious in their habit; that people who vape are as bad, or worse, due to the vast plumes they exhale; and that I would be morally justified in spitting in the face of anyone who blows smoke into mine. I also dislike Scotrail, my local purveyor of late trains – I run a parody account on Twitter based in my dislike of them, I have been broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Live talking about my dislike of them. I do not want you to go away from this thinking, “Maybe he quite likes Scotrail” – no.
In a series of pointless endeavours, I think my favourite – in terms of sheer ineffectiveness – was Scotrail’s taking the time to post No Smoking signs across their open station platforms. Have you seen it deter anybody? I am constantly at various stations across Glasgow, and I have never once seen somebody, on the verge of igniting their cigarette, notice the signage and reconsider. Most days, I let it slide – easier to be silently annoyed than to engage with someone and ask them to act. The only thing less pleasant than the stench of tobacco smoke is a belligerent smoker who is being denied nicotine. Furthermore, in the absence of any visible staff, you are directed to make a complaint via the Information Point, essentially a speakerphone which offers no privacy and which broadcasts loudly across near-empty platforms. To do that invites a whole other level of conflict, as you plainly grass someone up, in front of them, rather than address them directly.
I have considered why Easter Monday was different. It is fair to say that I am naturally grumpy, and for a rare moment I found myself enjoying relative peace and quiet, on a deserted platform, on a bright and sunny and comparatively warm day. This brief enjoyment was interrupted by the new, unmistakable, and disagreeable odour of burning tobacco – the source of which was quickly identifiable as a woman standing opposite me across the tracks. I watched as the sole Scotrail employee, doing her rounds and wearing her yellow hi-viz vest, approached this person breaking at least the rules, and possibly the law (despite it not being an enclosed space, I think the legislation was extended to encompass it. Scotrail is certainly quoted in the media as saying they would involve British Transport Police in such instances, should anyone refuse to comply with the ban.)
There was no admonishment. The woman, who had since sat on a metal bench, looked up as the employee passed, and there was some simple greeting in that moment – a smiled “Hi”, a slight raising of eyebrows perhaps: a shared and friendly acknowledgement of each other’s existence. The employee continued on her way, reaching the nearest No Smoking notice just seconds later. It was at this point, having observed the behaviour several times before, and with time on my hands as I waited on my delayed train, that I took the main course of action pursued by many of us – and used social media as a means of complaint.
Scotrail’s online grouch responded quickly, wanting to know if I had “made the staff aware.” Aware of what – the rule of law? A gap in their training or in their enactment of it? Of the duties involved in carrying out the job for which she was being paid? I answered with a degree of cheekiness, expecting this conversation to go nowhere – as most complaints to Scotrail (and all of their cancelled trains) do. It was their next reply that firmly angered me.
“Our staff wouldn’t walk past somehow smoking and not say anything,” I was curtly informed, with the blind indignant allegiance often reserved for use by the parents of children who bully, or who otherwise commit misdemeanours. I know what I saw. I could have filmed the infraction, and provided visual evidence, but I am not given to this imposition on people’s lives – you do not want to be recorded doing your job unsatisfactorily, nor having a wee seat with your bags of shopping, neither do I and I have no desire to make such intrusive records of other people. There is likely to be footage, of course, thanks to the prevalence of CCTV cameras – all they would need to do is look at the coverage of Platform Two, from 2:10pm on Monday 17th April.
Our conversation proceeded exactly as predicted. Not content to merely disavow facts with a quickness to rival that of America’s premier liar-in-chief, they also mimicked President Trump’s use of the “gaslighting” technique. Finally, defending themselves by referencing my choice of vocabulary, I was promised assistance and promptly ignored – the wall was up, no correspondence would be entered into because I had written a sweary-word. I could let them know next time, they said, and they would act. I countered that I had let them know this time, but they had showed no interest. Why would I waste my time again? Why did they waste theirs, putting up signs that seem to be purely decorative? At best, complaints are discouraged (“Please use the loudhailer to alert the entire vicinity”) or mishandled, and, at worst, they are completely disregarded and your personal credibility will be disputed. I was eventually given a link, to make it formal, but I have no reason to believe it would achieve anything. Instead, I have written and will publicly share this, feeling better that I have used the experience creatively.