We can be proud that a man can sit on a bench on a crowded tube platform with a thick stream of vomit covering the crotch of his three-piece suit and still maintain his dignity. No-one will talk to him. No-one will look at him. Every single person on that platform will maintain the polite fiction that it is perfectly normal for a chap to be out in public with a vomit covered crotch.
And that's despite the fact that he's just made every single one of them late on their journey home.
See there I was, on my journey home from work. The train was packed, but by virtue of the fact that I get on while it's still on its way into the centre I'd managed to get my usual seat. We'd just arrived at Earls Court station when the distinguished looking gentleman sitting opposite me, slumped down in his seat, semi-conscious, and began quietly vomiting over himself. Now I'm often depressed by the selfishness of the modern world, and the extent to which people will ignore suffering, but in this case I needn't have worried, as the woman who'd been sitting beside the gentleman immediately took charge of the situation - which was a bit of a relief to me as it meant that I could carry on reading my newspaper.
After a few seconds he came round, although he was clearly still pretty confused, so the girl at the end of the carriage pulled the emergency alarm to summon the driver. By the time the driver had arrived the gentleman was able to walk under his own steam, so he followed the driver up the aisle - the train might have been packed, but by God those people made room - and out onto the platform, from where various snatches of conversation made their way back into the carriage.
"Are you okay?" ... "Do you want me to call the first aid team?" ... "Is there any vomit on the seat cushion?" ... "We'll have to pull the train out of service then."
At which point a whole chorus of "What????"s erupted from the inhabitants of the carriage. We didn't mind the bloke puking. We didn't mind the train being stopped at the station for the five minutes it took to check him out. We didn't mind that one and a half seats were covered in vomit. We most likely wouldn't have minded if he'd got back onto the train.
But take the train out of service? Kick us all onto the platform, to await the next, already-packed train? Well now we were very upset, and dealt with it in a typically English way, by muttering, disgruntled, to ourselves. An entire eight-carriage heavy-rail subway train put out of action by this:
Well that's today's risk averse society for you!
Anyhow, a few minutes later the next train arrived, and was immediately swamped by the hundreds of people waiting for it. I evaluated the possibility of wedging my head into someone's armpit and decided to wait for the next train after that, on a platform that was now much less crowded.
And that was when I saw him, sitting quietly by himself, upright and calm, on the bench a little way down the platform. Dignified and composed.
Which was perhaps my country's gift to him, which is something I say because the gentleman concerned appeared, by this looks and accent, to be an immigrant to this country; and I mention this not as a negative, but as a positive. People too often see immigration in a negative light, and fail to see the tremendous complement that immigrants do us by choosing our country as the place in all the world that they wish to live, work, and raise their children.
That gentleman could have chosen any train in the whole of the world to vomit on, but he chose to vomit on mine.
And how does that make me feel? It makes me proud to be English, and proud to call this place home.