I’ve always loved trains. Not so much the actual machines themselves, but the experience of being on one. I love staring aimlessly out of a window at the best of times, but when the scenery is animated at 100mph you really get your money’s worth.
I enjoy those fleeting glimpses of peaceful fields, a lone tree against the sky, or an idyllic cottage nestling just far enough away not to be disturbed by several tonnes of high-speed metal bisecting the countryside. From the rugged beauty of the Cairngorms to the tranquil waters of the Mediterranean, I have daydreamed out of the window all over the World.
Being on a train is a very special state of existence. Some people use it as an office, a dinning room, dressing table or occaioanlly a pub. We all choose our own adventure, and sometimes during rush hour we get to pretend to be homeless and sit on the floor. But one thing is true: normal life stops. For some that is a terrible thought, but we all have to acknowledge that we aren’t the person on the train that we are at each end.
A certain type of person uses the train to become a different and more terrible version of themselves. Anti-social behaviour comes in many forms, but on a train, you simply cannot escape it. You are trapped with that person, often seething silently for fear of escalating the situation. I am, of course, talking about people who talk in the quiet carriage.
The worst thing about that is that you can’t say anything to them, because you are in the quiet carriage, and you don’t want to break the law (I know it’s not the law, but it should be).
You would think that the experience of commuting from Canterbury West to London St Pancras would dim my enthusiasm for train travel, but it’s 54 minutes of my day that I usually look forward to. I especially enjoy looking at the fields and woods between Canterbury and Ashford. I enjoy thinking that I could just get off at Ashford and go for a walk. I wouldn’t even tell anyone, I’d see how long it would be before anybody noticed I wasn’t where I should be. In the meantime, I would use my illicit freedom to explore some of those lanes and streams I zoom past every day.
There is one particular field, just outside Canterbury, with a gate, leading to a small lane. I often think about turning right at St Dunstan’s and following the river for a few miles. I’d have to break off and cut across some fields, probably through a dark, ancient wood and find that gate. I’m not sure what I’d do when I got there…probably lean on it and wait for a train to go past. It’s not a challenging ambition, I’ll admit, and I’ll probably never do it. But that’s the good thing about the train, the day dream is enough, and pretty soon there’s something else in my line of sight to weave a mundane fantasy over. Either that, or I’ve fallen asleep and woken up at St Pancras, drooling on the shoulder of the lady next to me.