On trains

TrainsI spend a lot of my time on trains these days. Train travel can be very pleasant, although UK train operators seem to make it their business to take passengers through each of Dante’s nine circles of Hell until they either throw themselves on the track or flee into the safety of their SUVs, never to return to public transport again.

Despite Thameslink’s best efforts to make my commuting life miserable, I quite enjoy travelling on trains. I’ve never been hugely into driving, probably because I’ve never quite done it frequently enough to gain the relaxed confidence that comes with routine. I recently had to drive in Brighton, which I estimate took around two years off my life. Fellow Brightonians will recognise that moment when you’re at a junction and realise that when the lights change, you have the choice between two one-way streets that you can’t enter, one cul-de-sac and a road restricted to buses and taxis. What are you meant to do, teleport? Wait for the junction to swallow you up and reveal some kind of underground passageway? Not to mention the fact that Brighton has precisely eight parking spaces to service 246,853 cars. This, dear reader, is why I do not own a car. Anyway, I digress.

My journey to London Bridge should take an hour and five minutes, although Thameslink likes to routinely add about 10 minutes to that, or spice things up a bit by cancelling all services due to a mysterious affliction called Signalling Problems (what are signalling problems exactly, other than a convenient catch-all to blame for all types of train delays?). Thameslink, incidentally, is owned by Southern, although you cannot travel on Southern services with a Thameslink ticket and vice versa. To help you avoid fines, trains are often helpfully emblazoned with the Thameslink logo alongside the Southern one.

So, if I don’t stay over with Oliver’s parents – whose perpetual hospitality is, I fear, in danger of being abused by us using their lovely London house as a second home, or indeed a hotel – I have well over two hours in the day to spend on a variety of constructive activities.

The thing is that I quite like just staring out of the window and listening to music and daydreaming. An hour on the train can fly by that way, interrupted only occasionally by compulsory iPhone checking (I love and loathe my iPhone in equal measure). Is this a massive waste of time? I could be improving my Spanish, or writing a novel, or learning to knit, or working out a detailed plan for world domination, after all. Or am I actually spending this time wisely, making the most of precious downtime in otherwise hectic days?

Maybe I should be unapologetic about my unproductive commute. As long as I can avoid people ‘manspreading’ in the seat next to me (a thing that makes me nearly pass out with rage, although it is testament to my now near-Britishness that I would never express it), it makes my train time quite agreeable.



6 thoughts on “On trains

  1. I love driving! Especially in Greece where the air is fresh, road laws are only suggestions, the coastal highway is long and winds into the sunset. But I really love the time I ‘win’ when I commute, and I can unwind, observe people, look out the window, listen to music, or even catch up on the latest episode of Serial. I totally agree with you-it’s sacred time.

    • Driving in Greece sounds divine Kaiti! Definitely nothing like driving in Brighton haha. And that’s really funny you mention Serial, we were just talking about podcasts at the dinner table (including Serial) and I thought, ‘Ah! Podcasts!’ Im definitely going to download some episodes 🙂

  2. 5 Years ago we chose to buy a house quite near the city centre and the exit roads to the east, west and south of the country. We owned one car, which was always needed by one of us, the other driving in a company car or simply working in our home town. Two years ago we actually needed two cars, which we managed to arrange, but that second car has ever since been a liability. Now the new second car stands motionless in front of our house, while we decide how to get rid of it without actually having to spend an extra penny on its transport. Since I, at least at the moment, merely need to get to work and back, luckily only having to cover quite a small distance to Hoogezand, I have been using public transport on three of my four working days, for the last couple of months. I can choose from different buses and trains. Possessing a company smartphone, I actually start checking my mails from the moment I take a seat (enough seats available to Hoogezand!). In reference to the item about children, spare time is extremely rare at the moment with two little ones, and I can think of a million things to read. Two million is too ambitious, checking mail is practical.
    In response to all your blogs: I find (but find it rather hard to act accordingly) that I should do what I want to do, read what I want to read, stare at the sunrise, marvel at the Dutch clouds, grin at the pensioners on the bicycle lanes wearing identical jackets and riding identical bikes, because at the end another day will go by and why not spend it as you like? Then, at the same time, this relaxed, non-demanding attitude brings the focus you need to do your work and makes room for the unexpected, which brings about knowledge and pleasure.

    • Wise words there, and the Dutch pensioner thing made me laugh. That is SO Dutch, you never see cycle lanes from trains in the UK and certainly not with pensioners cycling along on matching bikes in matching outfits 🙂 Cars can be a great help and a liability, I hope you find a good way to dispose of your spare one. I’m increasingly thinking that my ‘downtime’ on the train (and tube) is quite precious and I should just enjoy it. I don’t get many work emails on my iPhone at the moment, so if I can control my mindless scrolling through FB and Twitter, I’m ok. I’ve decided to start downloading some podcasts to listen to as well – that sounds like quite a good way to while away my commute. Thanks for reading and commenting, as ever – and hope you and the wee ones are well 🙂

  3. As if you’re whinging about SITTING down on the train watching the world go by….:P The luxury 😉

    I do miss getting the train to work though like I used to. I used to send loads of emails and messages to my mates when I was on the train, not to mention all my last-minute German homework between Preston and Manchester!! Can’t do any of those things whilst sat on the m61 at 6:30 every morning!

    • Ha, well I say ‘sitting’ – on the way home it’s often more like standing, for the first bit anyway. But the advantage of getting on at the start of the line (and going offpeak) is that you can get a seat 🙂

      It sounds like your train journeys were more productive than mine… But yes there isn’t much you can do when you’re driving. Other than listening to stuff and taking care not to crash into lorries… :p

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