The butt-brush express

"I'm meek, but I could probably stand to be meeker."
- Ned Flanders

A couple of Sundays ago, we spent the morning in a lecture theatre in Portmeirion, listening to the CEO of Envirosell Inc talk about how to design shops. It’s more interesting than it sounds. Paco Underhill is a consultant who started off filming traffic from New York rooftops and realised that he could apply the same techniques to studying people’s behaviour in shops. He looks at the minutiae of the shopping experience in thousands of shops in dozens of countries to help shops sell more stuff.

Among his many discoveries is the existence what he called the “Butt-brush factor”. Women don’t like shopping in narrow aisles, in case someone brushes past their bum. If it’s a woman who makes contact, that’s bad enough, but the women’s reactions he showed when men brushed past them – pure horror. On the other hand, don’t stock items for alpha males in the middle of a narrow aisle. They will block the way as they examine the contents of a packet of razor blades.

The butt-brush theory came flooding back to us this morning, as we incurred the wrath of a woman behind us, infuriated that the two of us were in contact in the narrow space by the doorway of a crowded train. The trouble began at New Cross Gate, when a couple more people got on the train, necessitating that everyone else budge up a little to let them get to work. That was enough for her to kick off. First with some conspicuous wriggling and then muttering and finally, direct confrontation.

We spent the journey rooted to the spot, examining our conscience and our posture. There was a little contact at the shoulder blades, a little extra pressure when the carriage swayed, but nothing unusual. The guys in front of us were bearing more of our load. It was a squash, but we’ve been squashier.

Perhaps this was butt-brush theory in practice. Perhaps Brockley Central stands badly. Perhaps she is not a nice person (our preferred theory). But we know two things: 1. the countdown clock on the right cannot spin quickly enough and 2. we’re glad that the ELL trains will have plenty of standing room by the doors. We'll swap the outside prospect of a seat for a smaller chance of a fight.