For the first few days, I was officially off meat after commuting to London for the weekday grind in similar conditions to that of a cattle truck. But unlike most cows in a confined space, there are no moo’s or groans. Everyone remains quiet and pretends their nose is not resting on the top of someone’s head or that they can’t smell pungent armpit. It is the most “outside of comfort zone” any remotely claustrophobic or stanch nay-sayer of cheap flights on budget airlines could ever dare to be. It left me half hoping an oxygen mask would drop down from the ceiling and I wasn’t even on the tube yet.
I read the book Girl on a Train, and although I’m sure there was a good plot, I mostly respected the fact she sat on the train and drank cans of gin and tonic every day. At £1.50 a can (that’s if you don’t opt for the 3 for £4 deal), it’s cheaper than a coffee and sure to lift your spirits (pun unintended). Although clearly, the author wrote the book at a time when people got a seat on a train going to or from London and didn’t have to sell their hair to wig makers to afford it.
Several people always have the nerve to get on the train one stop from London Bridge, when the train is already at maximum capacity. By this stage, most people are so uncomfortable; they are considering whether they’d survive holding on to the back of the train or if they have time to jog the remaining five miles into London wearing a suit. Despite the fact there is absolutely no room, someone manages to squeeze a leg, and half their body in the carriage before the doors beep closed. There is always someone who inquisitively shouts, “is there any room back there? Move along please!” Perhaps this person is hoping that one day someone will yell back “Yes, plenty. Join us, fellow traveller! We’ve got enough space to start a campfire and pull up a few four seater sofas – ignore the people crowded around the door; they are most confused”. I wish I too could be wildly optimistic about the prospect of personal space on a Wednesday morning. I don’t think that exists in London. No wonder everyone got Bubonic plague in the 1600’s and died.
On one particular bleak and rainy English day, as the train approached London Bridge, I dropped a lipstick and had to send a quiet prayer to wish it on its way, knowing I’d never see it again. Had it been on my first trip into the city, perhaps I would have been naive enough to snorkel down to the depths of the carriage floor and hunt for it, risking a premature death by way of a human stampede.
Given I have little choice, I have had to give myself a stern talking to about my train journey snobbery. I have embraced the unique opportunity I have to count the chin hairs on the faces of strangers and judge all the text messages passengers are sending to “Tom <insert heart emoji> xoxo” and “Jeff Dickhead Landlord”. Life has got better riding the train. Last Friday, I was able to watch 20 minutes of David Attenborough with Thai subtitles over someone’s shoulder. It was a pleasant change from counting chin hairs. I can genuinely see myself eager to improve my Thai reading skills and to learn more about Beluga whales on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Several months ago I would have scoffed at the idea, but now I have cramped travelling conditions and city living to thank for this new skill and my improved environmental awareness.