Now and again, when I have had enough of tiny women in huge SUVs running me off the road because a) their tiny little feet don’t reach the brake pedals and b) because they are too small to look over the steering wheel and c) even if they could see over the steering wheel, they are visually impaired by the size of their massive sun glasses which give them the peripheral vision of Stevie Wonder, or when the thrill of dodging balding, middle-aged men in Holdens that should have been scrapped in 1988 (and by that I mean both the car and the man driving it) has become a bit of a bore, I like to take the train.
Compared to negotiating the terrors of the freeway, the train, to me, is a more stress-free and relaxed way to travel. When I think about train travel, it conjures images of days gone by, when tall, thin men with handlebar moustaches would read their broadsheets in respectful silence, trying to turn to the city news without hitting the man next to him in the face. It serves to remind me of a civilised time, when we were not all time poor, when the working day was 9 till 5 and when the boss could not phone you at home, mainly because you had no phone. It conjures images of first class carriages, and antimacassars, tea for two and ticket inspectors, rolling green hills speeding past your clean and graffiti-free window, of pulling into majestic city stations, of ladies with parasols and perfumed hankies. You get the idea.
Of course, train journeys today do not live up to those, albeit overly romanticised, images of times gone by. They do not have the same gentile and civilised nature. In the mornings, trains are packed with sleepy commuters who are simply trying to get from A to B whilst talking to as few people as possible. By night it is a tube of drunks, a tube dripping with vomit and regret. No moustached broadsheet readers, rather the pasty faced, overweight businessman reading the world news on his hand held device. No first class carriages on the commuter train, just the sweaty, stained seats that have been farted on too many times to mention. Antimacassars? How many people even know what they are? Ticket inspectors become Hobby Bobbies with a note pad and a rubber truncheon, and perfumed ladies, scent-drenched and over made up teenage girls, or even worse, the often self-titled ‘Yummy Mummy’.
Saying that though, they are still interesting places, and I get to indulge my two massive pleasures in life on train journeys; thinking about things as mentioned in my last piece, and the constantly amusing game ‘This Is Your Life!’ whereby I give the people around me fascinating back stories…
There was the lady in the seat facing me the other week, a lady with a pinched nose and a mouth like a cat’s arse, who looked at me with such indignation every time a small cough escaped my lips, that I guessed that she had just returned from a six month incubation period in a TB clinic, where she was constantly swabbed and probed by an huge Arabic doctor with large hands and was therefore terrified of recontracting the disease through my tiny, tickly cough. Such was her panic, that each of her waking moments was spent avoiding the afflicted, but to her absolute horror, she had inadvertently sat in front of the very person that could be her downfall – woman with slight cold. Either that or she was just a bit of a bitch.
This morning, there was short, snoring man in a track suit, head lolling on his chest, small beaded string of saliva spoiling the front of his hoodie. What is your story, oh man who snores like a bison? Why are you so tired, and why are you wearing a full, grey tracksuit on a commuter train at 6.30 in the morning? Are you currently starring in Rocky the Musical, and the all night dress rehearsals have you all tuckered out? Are you on the run from a local insane asylum, hoping desperately that your doctors do not think to look for you on the 6.15 from Frankston? Will you later catch a train to the country where you will set up home in a disused shed, eating grass and making love to cows?
And man in three piece suit whose eyes are too close together and who got on a nearly empty train yet stood up the whole way into the city, staring at me either directly or in the window. You are clearly a serial killer.
Literally hours of travel time can be spent playing this game – fun for all the family, including the minx who, when three years old, played the game by shouting at the Asian gentleman in the sunglasses “Look Mummy, Gangnam Style!”
Some people do not really require a back story, they are interesting enough as it is; old Chinese man with ripped carrier bag and iPod who sits at the back of the train singing Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel again and again, until I want to pull the carrier bag over his head, or mine; man who sits in front of me and announces, “This is not my real face,” later revealing as he leans forward wreaking of death and Roast Beef Monster Munch, “because my real face was burned off,” (true story); the woman who spends the whole train ride announcing loudly into her mobile, “You just need to take the joint out of the freezer tonight, Colin, and roast it at 200 degrees. No, the freezer. No, the lamb. No, Colin, the oven. Tonight Col. When you get home. The freezer, Colin.” The same woman who spends the remainder of the journey looking forlornly out of the window as the realisation dawns that she did, in fact, marry a complete fucking moron.
Then you have your flat characters, the characters you see all the time on every train around the world; the man who you think is waving at you, but who is actually trying to flick a particularly adhesive piece of nasal excrement off his forefinger; the woman who is carrying way too much stuff whilst simultaneously trying to push a buggy with a screaming two year old in it, who is being completely ignored by commuters on the train as they busily look at their phones to avoid the imploring eye contact of said harassed mother, secretly admonishing her for having the audacity to get on a train at this time of the day in the first place; the one young man who does help and then sits with a look of smug self-congratulation for the rest of the journey; the group of teenagers who have no volume control and also all suffer from the same unfortunate case of Tourette’s; the other people on the train who shift uncomfortably in their seats pretending not to hear until one person eventually and somewhat ironically shouts, ‘Can you please stop swearing? There are women and children on this train. Have some fucking manners!’; the man who sits next to you who just plain smells, usually of one of the following things – fags, coffee, a Ginster’s Cornish Pasty, old sweat, old hair products, last night’s booze or indeed all of the aforementioned; and finally the person who thinks it is perfectly acceptable to sit and eke out little gusts of noxious anal gas for the entire journey.
Other than all this, however, there is something that I love about the commuter train, and that is that it is one of the last places left that is bereft of the inequalities and discriminations of social class. I actually like the fact that there are no first class carriages and that there is in fact no divide between working, middle and upper class. All walks of life are represented in each of the carriages, and each carriage is a microcosm for the colourful and rich society in which we live. There is an equality with commuter train travel that is lacking in so many of the other areas of our life which are dependent on wealth and social standing; planes, restaurants, schools and health care to name but a few. No matter what job you have and what you earn, if your preferred method of transport is the 8.15 from Paddington, you all sit together, and you all pay the same price. It is a sort of vehicular Communism. And to further convince you, dear reader, on this point of the equitable nature of train travel, consider this.
I do not care who you are, what colour, creed, religion or socio-economic bracket – if the train seat in which you choose to sit is warm and, more disturbingly, moist, we all have the same thought…
Please let that be coffee…