20. In Norwich

IN NORWICH TWO YOUNG men boarded the train, drawing attention to themselves with their tattoos and oversize clothes. As soon as they found their seats, they began a conversation in voices that carried throughout the carriage, a conversation marked by the most obscene, and indeed horrific, braggadocio. They described their various recent sexual misadventures in voices loud enough to be clearly heard from several seats away, the entire conversation liberally garnished with expletives of the most upsetting kind. When a well-dressed gentleman sitting near the two men asked them to lower their voices - a request phrased most tactfully, although not without betraying a certain anxiety - the two men unleashed a torrent of abuse upon him, causing the gentleman to not just cower but to literally shrink to the smallest size his physiognomy permitted. Had he been capable of disappearing altogether, the gentleman would no doubt at that moment have gladly done so. The conversation thus continued unchallenged. Thankfully, at the next stop, a very old woman - to describe her as an octogenarian could possibly have flattered her - got on and took her seat near us. Evidently unaware of the recent exchange, she began a monologue in a trembling but distinct voice directed to no-one in particular, which is to say to everyone. She began with the triumphant declaration: "I'm 87 years old!" Even if only out of respect for her age, those seated nearest to her nodded politely in response to her inane anecdotes, mostly about her husband (long departed), her daughter (a constant disappointment), her spaniel (recently deceased) and above all her health (poor). One couldn't help but feel a certain generalised anxiety rapidly descend - we were all thinking the one thought: how would the octogenarian interloper be received by the two young men? In fact, the old woman's patter - as relentless as it was mindless - seemed to have a mesmeric effect on the two young men, whose conversation ceased altogether. At the next station, the two oung men alighted, to the relief of the other passengers in the vicinity, who made a point of indulging the talkative octogenarian and her endless, mindless anecdotes until they too had had enough.