As long-time readers of this blog may know, I commute quite a long way to work every day, by train. I’m not entirely sure how many miles it is from my house to work, but it takes about 50 minutes, give or take, depending on how long the train waits at the station where the train often divides into two parts, each going a different route, or attaches to another train. I have to change trains at this station in the mornings if I get the earlier train, which I do in term time in order to avoid school children and students who are more than I can cope with at that time in the morning.
I’m afraid I’m a very anti-social commuter. I don’t want to sit next to anyone else if I can help it, and I put my earphones in at the first possible opportunity, unless the train is very quiet. From my observations, these are traits I seem to share with quite a lot of people. It’s very rare that anyone will sit next to anyone they don’t know. It seems that some people would rather stand at the ends of the carriage than sit next to anyone, which is a bit extreme, even for me. I’d rather sit down than stand, most of the time, unless the alternative is sitting next to drunk or very loud/rude people – then I would rather move carriages.
I’ve been commuting for seven-and-a-half years now. When people say to me, as they often do, that [commuting] must be a bit of a pain, I usually say, well, I’m used to it now, because I am. I got used to it quite quickly, actually. It’s not like I really have any choice, anyway! I don’t drive, and I think even if I did I’d usually rather get the train, because at least then I can read a book or play pretend Scrabble on my electronic device, or whatever. In the winter I quite often find myself falling asleep on trains, especially on the way home. I have a slight fear of going past my station and on to London, which would be annoying.
There are things I dislike about commuting by train. Unsurprisingly, these are:
(a) the unreliability of the trains and the railway network
(b) the anti-social/offensive/threatening/downright unpleasant behaviour I witness on a fairly regular basis (and sometimes experience)
(c) having to share my space with lots of other people, especially early in the mornings
(d) the way it constrains social occasions (a bit)
I think possibly the anti-s0cial behaviour, etc., is the worst thing about travelling on trains a lot. It’s not so bad out of term time, and the earlier train is usually a bit better in this regard, but some of the stuff you have to listen to is appalling. For example, travelling on trains has made me realise how racist some people are. I have been shocked by some of the things I’ve heard people say – young people as well, sometimes university students. Ironically, some of the worst behaviour I’ve witnessed has actually been perpetrated by railway staff. I know they have to deal with difficult people a lot, and they must have a horrible job, but there’s no need to be rude to people.
In the past couple of weeks, the trains I’ve had to catch have been late almost every day, and my early Thursday morning train has been cancelled twice in a row. Most of the delays have been relatively slight, but any delay is annoying. I’ve spent more hours than I care to think about waiting on platforms, which are not the most welcoming or comfortable places in the world. They always seem to be cold, whatever the weather is actually like. Maybe that’s just in my mind. I dread winter, and particularly snow, because of the disruption it causes to train services and the difficulties it creates in just getting to and from stations. I was stuck on a train for three hours when it snowed once. It was pretty grim. I remember sitting in the train getting colder and colder and watching the snow fall and thinking the longer we stay here the less likely we are to get home. But that same night my friend’s partner was stuck on a train for eight hours, so I felt like I’d got off lightly in comparison!
I haven’t mentioned the cost of train tickets yet, have I? They are Quite Expensive.
It’s not all bad, though. Most days, I sit with a library colleague on the way home, and we have some good chats and catch up on things – I think sometimes we find out more about what’s going on in the library during our train chats than we do actually at work! I’ve met quite a few nice people on trains over the years, including the cathedral archives ladies and their ever changing entourage; and the people on my station who say hello every morning. The only good thing about snow is that it seems to make people friendlier and more sociable. The funny thing is that people who were quite chatty during snow time often don’t chat again until the next round of snow!
One day, I would like to get a job nearer home, but the likelihood of this ever happening is quite small, so I will continue to try and make the most of the commute by reading lots of good books.