The Class Monitor No. 14: The Regional Managers

Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart just get through before the doors close on Stuart's briefcase. The announcer says, "Stand clear of the doors, please," but Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart stand around the doors, trying to get the briefcase back. They laugh manically.

When the doors open, as we know they must, the grip on the briefcase is released and the four men fall back. Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart laugh even harder. We know their names because they are using them loudly to one another in what, in normal circumstances, would be a silent Tube carriage. And we know what they do. Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart are regional managers.

“What's this deal worth for the London office, Stuart?" asks Frank, once the laughter subsides.

“I'd say 30 million," says Gus. Rod, Frank and Stuart nod sagely and things go quiet. But not for long. "Rod, how's your Melanie?" Stuart barks at Rod.

“Oh, college material, we think, Stuart. It's all A-plusses with Melanie at the moment."

“She gets her brains from her mother, then," says Stuart, with the smallest edge in his voice.

Rod either doesn't hear him or chooses not to reply. So Gus says it again: "She gets her brains from her mother, then." Rod laughs. The laugh is high-pitched and thin; it seems strange coming from a frame encased, like Gus, Rod and Frank's, in a suit that is cut to forgive rather than stress shape. "Yes, yes. Brains from her mother, that's right. How's Justin?" says Rod.

“Justin's not really academic as such," confesses Stuart. "Sport for him. He's crazy about sport."

“Free of mine soon," Gus buts in cheerily. "One gone already, the next is 17. 'That's it,' I'll say when she's 18. 'I love you lots but there's the door. Off you go.'" Again they dissolve into laughter.

The intercom announces something. None of the Londoners makes any attempt to listen to the garbled words, but Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart do. It is inaudible; whatever portents the message holds remain unknown. Stuart pulls a face, as if he finds this surprising and, I sense, wrong. Frank looks around, shakes his head and says, perhaps to me, "What did that mean, eh? We'll never know!"

“I love London," says Frank, stressing his East Midlands accent. Once more Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart laugh loudly at each other. Gus turns and grins broadly in the face of a strap-hanging black youth. "Do you love London?"

The youth contrives to furrow one brow and arch the other in surprise. "What?"

“Do you love London? I bet you'd like to get away if you could." More laughter.

“Where would you go, Stuart?" asks Rod.

“I'm there already, Rod. A few yards down our road and that's the fields starting. That's what I like. Must have air."

“Not much air in here!" says Gus. The laughter reaches a new peak, and the youth sidles up the carriage.

“What do you think lunch will be like then, Frank?" asks Rod.

“Oh, not good," Frank tells him happily. "They never are. But don't worry, I've got plans for tonight."

The train stops and Rod, Frank, Gus and Stuart leave the carriage, laughing uproariously. Those of us left behind exchange glances. But we say nothing and the train rumbles on, quiet again.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 01 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Unforgiven