I’m never sure whether I enjoy jumping on the train to go to London. Up until recently I haven’t been in a job where I have had to travel far (only from classroom to staff room for biscuits) and there remains an element of novelty and excitement as I plan my infrequent journeys to the “smoke” for meetings.
I always book a seat; really only because the online system does it for me. But it means I have no choice as to my travel partner, or, if you are lucky enough to find your reservation on a central table, partners. Grab a coffee, patiently avoid the sales patter to add a Spelt and Fruit Muffin to one’s order, and calmly climb aboard Coach C. And then what?
Nobody looks up. That might not be surprising when one considers they might have boarded the train at St. Earth sometime late last night, but it still smacks of mild rudeness. No acknowledgement. Until you make it clear that you are climbing towards your seat, and then begrudging half-movements, creating hamster sized gaps. Sit. Stay clam. Smile inwardly. And then what?
Plug your phone / laptop / tablet in to the plug point. Oh, no, they are already taken. Start to do some work (email some people who you will be talking to at a meeting in less than three hours), and keep on doing the same, through to Westbury, Reading and points East.
And why was I ever even vaguely excited at the prospect of such a journey. It never varies. That is what we do on early morning trains to London. Radial spokes of busy people all rushing on trains each day, all moving centrally; inexorably and individually.
That is until the free wi-fi packed up yesterday morning. Suddenly heads came up. Commuters smiled, acknowledged each other and conversation started. A delightful gentleman offered to buy coffee for those of us seated around our table; on his return he refused our obvious and pressing offers of reimbursement. We chatted through Westbury, Reading and points East. He has children and lives in Totnes. The other chap, ruggedly dressed in a jacket that made me feel that he might have abseiled to the station, shared his thoughts on Preston (he was born there). Phones, iPads and laptops were ignored. Yes, we could have used 3G connectivity, but we chose not to. Just for an hour we chatted and chatted and it was fabulous.
I sprang off the train and felt better as a result of having enjoyed the simple pleasure of conversation with strangers. It is what we used to do on trains “in the old days”, but is so rare now. Would it have happened if the wi-fi hadn’t fizzled out? I doubt it. But it was fun whilst it lasted. Fun and rewarding.