(Okay Calf, I give in. This one’s for you…)
Last week I was going into London to ‘do lunch’ (like you do…) and as I rocked up onto the platform at Milton Keynes there were two train options. On my left was the 11.41 (oh yeah, I know the times…I am one step away from a kagool and a notebook) that only had two stops until Euston. On my right was the 11.47 – the slow train – that had about ten. I looked from one to the other and then got a cappuccino and thought some more. Which one to get? In the end I asked how long the slow train took and the ticket man told me an hour and ten minutes. If I took that one, I’d be late for my meeting.
I clearly must have looked miserable with this realisation because he grinned and said, “Don’t worry, love. (note – he didn’t actually say ‘love’ – I just made that bit up. Artistic license) the 11.41 will get you there in no time.”
I looked at him as if he were mad and said. “But I don’t want to get there in no time. I like the journey.” After that, to be fair, it was his turn to look at me as if I was mad. And maybe I am a bit, because it was with a heavy heart that I got onto the 45 minute train feeling slightly cheated.
You see, I’ve come to realise that I love trains. Not in a make, model and serial number kind of way (dear god, if that ever happens just give me a gentle shove over the platform edge), but I love the whole business of travelling on them. Not only is there the thinking time they allow just staring out of the window as the country rushes by, but there’s a great sense of purpose to them. People are ‘going places’ on trains and there’s an excitement about that. Most people are aimless. They drift through life as if it almost doesn’t matter. I like things that have a purpose – that are headed somewhere. Trains are the epitome of that.
When I was a kid and we’d go up to Edinburgh to visit the relatives, I loved standing in the draughty chill of Waverley Station watching the platforms while waiting to be told which one was ours. I liked watching the people. Everyone was doing something, going somewhere – every passenger was a story. Everyone had a purpose, whether dragging suitcases or children or simply carrying a briefcase. The air hums with energy in train stations, a kind you just can’t get anywhere else.
Clocks. There’s another thing. Clocks are big in train stations because time is important there. Knowing exactly what time it is is imperative at a station. Sometimes I think we all need train station clocks standing in the middle of our houses just to remind us of how time is passing and we need to make the most of every moment. I have one of those clocks in my head – a huge white face with those roman numerals stabbed at by relentless iron hands. Sometimes I’m sure I can hear it ticking, and it often lacks the optimism of the station clocks. Station clocks smile. I’m going to try to make mine smile too from now on. The world is too full of wonderful things for negativity.
Now I know there is an argument that airports have the same vibe as train stations. Not for me. Number one – travelling by plane always holds that fear of falling to one’s smashed up death from 32,000 feet. (Note: Not exploding or dying – but FALLING. Takes a long time to fall from 32, 000 feet. That’s several minutes thinking time that I can do without.) Number two: there is just too much stress. Passport control, did you pack your own bag (like I’d tell you if I didn’t??), body search..waiting. And then just strap in and sit there – no trees, no stops, no people on phones to listen to. Just an awful lot of impatience.
There’s no impatience on a train – not for me. I know I’m going somewhere – I have a purpose – and if I take the slow train I get to look out at all the stations and see who’s getting on and off. Check out the new faces. Listen to their chat and imagine their lives. Look out the window again and put the faces to the houses. Think about stuff some more and let all the fields drift into one. All the while knowing that I’m getting where I want to go, but I’m not missing anything as I go.
Some people are fast train people. Maybe that’s how they live their lives too. Get on and only have one stop before the end of the line. Not for me. I’m well aware of that big clock ticking away at the station, but I’m determined to enjoy the journey. There’s the odd breakdown on the way that frustrates, but you know the engine will get going again. Rain will turn to sunshine as you pull in somewhere and someone interesting gets on just before the doors shut.
I’m going back into town on Thursday to go drinking/eating with a crime writer..(I have a worrying feeling they drink as much as the horror crew…). This time I think I’ll leave home early enough to get the slow train and enjoy the ride.