The politics of trains

 Over the past week I've visited more places than Samantha Brick's had emails. I’ve seen my favourite guitarist, I’ve met eyes with a leopard and I’ve been in close perimeter to the Queen. Yet, what I‘ve chosen to write this blog post about, and what has stuck in my mind the most, happened on my train journey home – which says a lot about the general public.

 Writer John Steinbeck once wrote: "I am an incorrigible Peeping Tom. I have never passed an unshaded window without looking in, I have never closed my ears to a conversation that was none of my business. I can justify or even dignify this by protesting that in my trade I must know about people, but I suspect that I am simply curious”.

Trains are the perfect place for the ears of a writer. There are very few places where the general public find themselves in such close quarters with others for such a long time. The best things I have ever witnessed have been on trains – you may say I need to get out more, but I’d say you’re just not getting the right trains.
Earlier today, on my train, I was contentedly engrossed in a book and lazily stretched across two seats. People were queuing in the aisle as the train took its time to pull into a station. Stood over me were two girls who looked to be in their early twenties. 

As a regular on trains I can say with conviction that conversation between friends on the train, or indeed on the phone, do not fit the norm. Some people adopt a certain persona, they say what they think will make them come across as impressive, as they are aware that people have no choice but to listen. Without fail, on every journey there is at least one passenger that yells down the phone and to the whole carriage that they were really drunk last night and did something hilarious. 

These two girls were doing exactly that. Their unnecessarily loud talking led me to instinctively look up. In hindsight – I do wonder why my brain did that - it was as if I needed to get a good look at the source of the noise. I quickly glanced back down and returned to my book (which was becoming increasingly difficult to read).

I then heard one of the girls loudly despair: “I’ve seen, like, five people pretend to be reading on this train but are really just eavesdropping”.  Shit, I thought. I kept a straight face and tried to pull the nonchalant expression of someone consumed in their book.

Suddenly, I became very aware of my eyes. Although I could no longer muster the concentration to read (my glance had  triggered the most tedious conversation between the two girls in which one of them described the plot of what sounded  like a book aimed at children that she was currently reading),  I moved my eyes purposefully across the page to look like I was reading. I became insistent on proving them wrong, which led to over-gesticulating with enthusiastic page turning and nodding. 

 A normal person would have shot them a look that said, ‘I’m  trying to read, but your whiny conversation about sorting out your wardrobe is making it difficult’. Instead, I became a  paranoid, fraudulent reader.  I started to wonder if it’s the pressure of those around you on trains that leads to the weird encounters I, until now, believed myself to only be a spectator of.

A few minutes of pretend reading later, a man attempted to squeeze past the girls, heading towards the train doors. One of the girls shouted, “you won’t get off any quicker than us’, and reverted her judging eyes from me to him. I quickly glanced up. Shit, I  looked back down and pretended to find my place on the page.
He replied to her, “I’m not trying to.” As they wouldn’t let him pass, he shouted down the carriage at a stranger who had been sat beside him, to tell him he had left a bag behind. I realised, I wasn’t a train weirdo, they were just horrible people. I audaciously slammed my book down and turned in their direction as they continued to talk. I felt a bit weird doing it, but I'm sure there was a point to be made somewhere. 

1 comment:

  1. "The best things I have ever witnessed have been on trains – you may say I need to get out more, but I’d say you’re just not getting the right trains."

    Excellent quotage there, Miss B!