Sitting on the train into London last Friday: a loud alarm starts sounding from the end of the carriage. People look round, mildly panicked; what’s amiss? And then we realise it’s coming from the train’s toilet, and must have been triggered by someone smoking a furtive cigarrette.

A young woman wearing a smart suit emerges, looking guilty, enveloped in a cloud of perfume (presumably to mask the smell). And she walks…

… back to her seat, and buries herself in her paperwork. (Interview prep, I’d guess.)

 

… or maybe…

 

… straight into the arms of the train conductor and two burly British Transport Police officers. She protests as they pull her hands behind her back and roughly apply the handcuffs; denies the charge of smoking. They search her, thoroughly and forcefully, finding the offending pack of ciggies.

Did you know that each mainline station in London has a police station, complete with a punishment room? She was led straight to it on arrival, shame-faced through the bustle of curious, staring commuters. Twelve strokes of the cane is par for the course for a first offence: she struggles fiercely as they strip her and tie her down, then whimpers as the first stroke lands.

By the end, she’s howling and pleading. They complete the paperwork, making her sign it, and handing her a copy – as if she’d need a reminder. And they send her on her way, back amidst the crowds, none of whom pays much attention to the sorry-looking, tear-stained girl in their midst.