Travel

I have a minor confession to make. I really like train journeys. I don’t really like long tube journeys, because they’re just short enough to not let you really relax and think but they’re always too long to just stare, unblinking, at the door – because of course accidental eye contact on the tube is the absolute worst thing that could happen to you.

Whereas proper train journeys are great. You just plug yourself into an mp3 player (stops people thinking you want to touch up their necklace or even, heaven forbid, talk to them) and away you go. If it’s a journey you don’t take very often there’s some merit to just looking out of the window and drinking in the scenery. Look! In every house is a family, every car has someone inside, all those pedestrians have their own lives, and your life will probably never intersect with any of them. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it astounding that there can be so many people so close to you who you will never meet or even talk to? Even on the train itself – if you’re feeling brave – there’s the opportunity for some surreptitious people watching. Like the man sitting with a group of his friends (they all got on together) but not talking to any of them. Why? Or the man who fell over in the toilet and is now harassing the guard for a free ticket on his connection train – isn’t that weird?

Of course, if you’re on a familiar journey that’s where things start to get interesting. You could take the opportunity to read a book. I always like reading on trains because it feels like I’m being productive without having to do anything – I’m reading, but I’m actually going somewhere at top speed. Or you could have a quick meditate. Admittedly, this might work better if you’re in the quiet carriage but I’m sure you could pull it off if you were determined. Another option, and my favourite, is to put on a playlist, unbuckle my imagination and just drift off into my own head for half an hour. I may look like I’m sitting in a seat on a train, but I’m actually wrestling a dragon, or negotiating a peace treaty with aliens, or in a cafe meeting my future imaginary spouse.

Sometimes I’m even disappointed when the train pulls into York.

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A standard issue train journey, with a twist

So, as I so often do, I had the delight of a train journey to York on Monday. To make a change from my usual starting point of Egham, I ended up going from High Wycombe instead. (I briefly debated going from Marlow and then decided that the tedium would be too much for 8:00 on a Monday morning. There’s no need to make it awful AND boring, is there?) Despite our best efforts, the Handy Cross traffic ensured that we only arrived at the station 40 minutes before the train was due at the station. I was gutted, let me tell you. The stress, the trauma, will I make it? Will I be forced to get the next train, and still make it to the station on time anyway? THE DRAMA. THE TENSION.

I even went so far as to walk from Marylebone to Baker Street, something I’ve never actually done before. Handy hint: it’s about as long as the tube journey, just with a bit more walking and probably less falling over. Unless you have an inner ear problem, in which case you’ll be falling over however you go so you might as well walk and save £1.60. Yeah, I had to use my Oyster card, because my ticket was glitching in all the ticket barriers and I just wanted to make sure I actually got to King’s Cross sometime before Christmas. My suspicion is that there was some problem with the computers on the Underground, because it worked fine for the last ticket barrier at King’s Cross. Weirdly, they had them open for half an hour before they closed them again. ?? There is no sense to this madness.

The train journey started as they so often do, although I was delighted to discover that the seats that had been booked around me weren’t due to be used until York, so I didn’t have to sit next to anyone. Dead chuffed, I was. Well, until I suddenly gained a headache and nausea. Then I was just sort of… moderately pleased. (Turns out I was just thirsty. Who’d have guessed on such a warm summer’s day when I’d spent the morning on stuffy trains?) And of course, that was when something unexpected happened.

An American couple, who I discovered were there after they had been to a wedding in London and were now taking a ‘vacation’ to York, sat down in the seats opposite me. I guess they couldn’t get seats further down the train or something, but they broke the first rule of trains: they talked to me. I managed to scare them off by answering with short sentences and looking generally fatigued, so they went back to looking at the countryside (which looks like America), and comparing our windmills to theirs (ours are shorter, apparently). Still, at least they were happy. Not like the four people sitting across the aisle who never spoke to each other despite being in a big group.

So now, here I am. Yorkshire. It’s actually cold, sort of, except for when it’s being kind of warm. Suffice to say I have no idea how to combat this with clothes so I’m just going to keep both sunscreen and a raincoat handy and hope for the best.