Last Saturday morning, I boarded a train to start a two-hour journey. It was quiet and warm, so I took off my coat and settled in, ready to begin a new audiobook about a woman searching for happiness in Denmark. Five minutes before we set off, a group of 20 or so young men bustled loudly aboard, almost every one clutching a carrier bag of four-packs. Another load of lads got on, then some more, until every seat was taken, the areas by the doors were crammed full and the aisles were packed.
I paused my book to do a quick assessment as to whether the mood was one of harmless rowdiness or if aggression lurked. It seemed happy enough, so I returned to Scandinavia.
The train set off and a hiss ran through the carriage as Strongbow and Stella were snapped open. It was 10am, but who was I to judge? Within half an hour, the soothing voice of my book was overpowered by the din of the party train.
I found myself daydreaming of a scenario in which they were all beating a path to a fabulous production of something by Rodgers and Hammerstein. My fictional musical theatre-themed backstory was cut short, ironically, by a rousing male chorus, then another. Not in a London’s Burning-style round, you understand, a sing-song of at least four different songs, simultaneously. The only one I recognised was I’m Getting Married in the Morning, but this was coming from the hen party in the next carriage.
As the songs turned into a sweary chant, the mood changed, and the damp air became thick with testosterone. The teenage girl sitting across shot me a nervous glance and the man in the seat nearby buried himself even deeper into his copy of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
There was no reason to believe things would turn nasty – it was the en masse machismo that was menacing. I decided that if needed, I would call on my Teacher Voice to break up a brawl – it’s done me proud many times before.
In an aggressive situation, being a matronly middle-aged woman with a massive gob is my superpower. I am like a battleship with the foghorn stuck on full blast.
An hour later, we arrived at the station without anything unpleasant having happened. As I walked behind a young lad who had seemed like a potential threat only minutes before, he picked up a Disney umbrella from the floor and sprinted to catch up with the little girl holding hands with her grandma. He returned it and they thanked him.
Before I was a teacher, I would have felt fear on that journey; believing those young men to be exactly what the most negative aspects of the media would have us believe. As I watched them walk away, I reflected on the ways that working in FE has changed me for the better.
Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands @MrsSarahSimons