The seat next to me on the train is damp. In fact, it is more than damp, it is wet. I can see a suspiciously dark wet patch spread across half the upholstery of the seat. It has the appearance of a place where someone has allowed their wet umbrella to rest. I studiously avoid the wet seat––the window one, as it happens––and make myself comfortable in the aisle seat.
It is a busy train; a commuter; seats are filling up fast. Most of the seats surrounding me are already occupied. It is only a matter of time before someone will want to take the window seat beside me; the damp seat; the wet seat.
A middle-aged woman approaches:
“Is this seat free?” she asks, politely.
“It is,” I reply, “But it is wet.”
I indicate the dark stain.
The middle-aged woman looks around the train carriage; all the spare seats are now taken; the wet seat is the last available space.
“It’s okay,” she says, resigned. “I don’t mind,” as she prepares to sit.
“One moment,” I say. “Allow me.” I lay my newspaper down on the wet seat; indicate the middle-aged woman to now take her place.
It feels like a Sir Walter Raleigh moment.
For those who are not familiar with the legend, popular culture relates that Sir Walter Raleigh once lay down his cloak across a muddy puddle so that Queen Elizabeth I could cross without getting her feet wet. The myth was perpetuated by both Thomas Fuller and Sir Walter Scott, but it is not true. But, Hey-ho! Everyone loves a good story and few people are going to contest an inconvenient truth if it gets in the way of a superior fiction. Least of all Mudskipper Press.
Nevertheless, by laying my newspaper on a damp train seat, I felt a peculiar kinship with Raleigh, stretching back over four centuries. But should I really be feeling so virtuous? Perhaps this is an example of how the concept of honour has changed over those four centuries. If I had been truly honourable, I would not have laid down my newspaper on the damp––frankly wet––train seat, I would have shifted my position to sit on the wet window seat myself, permitting the middle-aged woman to sit on my pleasantly arse-warmed, dry, aisle seat. That would have been the honourable thing to do.
Particularly after taking into account the fact that it had been me who had accidentally spilt my water bottle and made the seat damp––frankly sodden––in the first place.
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree muses how his name might sound with the honorific Sir added in front of it.
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