Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Transport of delight

Train travel is wonderful. So much more comfortable than a car. And so much safer: when you stop to think about it, the idea of several million people simultaneously on the road in a tonne of metal at high speed, is pretty terrifying. You’re relying on them all staying alert and focused all the time.

In the train, if you’re not feeling alert, you can fall asleep. No problem. It doesn’t mean you’re going to hit a tree or kill other travellers.

And as long as you are awake, look at the things you can do.

You can go for a walk. You can even walk to the toilet. No more desperately counting the miles to the next service station as the pressure grows in urgency. The worst that can happen is that you have to walk through a couple of cars because your closest toilet is out of service.

Actually, that is a bit of a problem. Virgin runs England’s premier trains, the ‘Pendolinos’. In the early days they had constant problems with their toilets, leading to a curious reek, or as we like to call it, ‘pong’ in carriages nearby. There are those who still refer to these glorious trains as ‘Pongolinos’.

Other things you can do on the train? You can catch up on the reading you’ve been finding it difficult to get around to. Why, you can even catch up on writing: it took the railway companies an extraordinary to time to work it out, but with thousands of volts on tap to drive the train, they’ve realised they can spare us twelve to drive a laptop.

So I love trains. But I do have one major problem with them.

It’s the class structure. When you’re caught in second class, maybe struggling even to find a seat, there’s something insufferable about all those stuffed shirts making their way effortlessly to their wonderful, wide and comfortable seats in first.

‘Smug bastards,’ you think. ‘Look at them: unruffled, cool. Arrogant.’

It may just be me, but when I see somebody doing something that I regard as enviable, I always assume that they do it regularly. You know, I see some guy dining in a great restaurant: my first reaction is that he goes there all the time. Lucky bastard. It never occurs to me that he may have been saving for the last twelve months to take his wife to a restaurant he’s never going to visit again, to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Because he forgot the anniversary last year.

The same thing applies to all those guys in first. They look to me as though they do it all the time. Swan about the country in luxury while I have to sweat with the common herd. A different world, a different life style.

But that’s only half of my problem. You see, I don’t book my train tickets. The colleague who does has really mastered the system (I have to say ‘mastered’, because ‘mistressed’ doesn’t seem right). She’s worked out just how to get the sharpest prices, so that sometimes I actually find myself in first class. She tells me this may be because it was only a few pounds more. Or because it was the same price to get me on first for the return trip though on the way out I was in second. I don’t pretend to understand any of this. I just pick up the tickets with a gambler’s thrill. Am I in second? Am I in first? It’s a roulette.

So what if I’m in first? You think I can calmly enjoy the comfort, the space, the peace?

You’re not allowing for the nature of a neurotic.

I obsess about all those guys in second. Who suspect I do this all the time. Who think I’m a smug git. Someone enjoying undeserved luxury when they have to rough it in second.

So I hurry to my seat to avoid any air of calm superiority. I try to broadcast telepathically the message ‘no, no, I really don’t do this all the time. I’ve just been lucky on this occasion.’

And I hide behind my paper to avoid showing the slightest trace of self-satisfaction.

It seems I’ll always be condemned to some form of discomfort in the train, either physical or moral.

Tough isn’t it? And what a metaphor for life itself…


Awoogamuffin said...

Have you tried acting as if you shouldn't be there? You could walk around looking really perplexed, continuously making a show of trying to decipher your ticket, until apparently randomly sitting in a first class seat. Or you could giggle like a school girl and sit in the seat looking around nervously for the conductor. People looking at you will assume you're cheating.

This will have the added benefit of making the blokes in the second class seat feel smug because they think you're going to get a bollocking when the conductor comes round.

Mark Reynolds said...

Amynah and I got bumped up to first class on a flight to Turkey once. I too felt bad emerging from the first class lounge only to butt in line in front of all of the second class folk, but I think that our wide eyed wonder (not to mention ratty clothes and backpacks) gave away that we didn't belong there. Perhaps you could change into a tracksuit or ripped jeans before leaving work?