The Joy of Noticing
It’s Friday evening and I’m on the 4.30pm train from London Euston to Preston. It’s hot, there are no empty seats, except in First Class. People sitting on the floor near the doors are looking miserable that the £100+ they spent doesn’t get them a seat.
Lucky to get a seat, I perform the typical British rail travel ritual of a pathetic attempt at ‘polite stranger acknowledgement’ by partly nodding, raising my eyebrows and mumbling something resembling a greeting. I receive no responses. A chap across the aisle is abruptly challenged by a new arrival, “are you intending on using both those seats?”. Silence ensues as the bags are begrudgingly removed from one of the seats. There is no further dialogue.
A family near me are travelling with a flock of huge bags and a small energetic child in tow. The waft of a freshly filled nappy keeps filling my nostrils, which compliments the odour emanating from the train toilet nearby. I wonder to myself if the smartly suited lady next to me thinks it’s me making the smells. I consider making a pre-emptive apology on behalf of the child to mitigate any blame, but decide against it.
The chap opposite is devouring a packet of crisps like he hasn’t eaten in weeks; they carry a pungent aroma which is strangely welcome. I’m concerned for the well-being of his fingers. With the crisps extinct, he makes a few phone calls apologising for the poor signal with the immortal line, “I’M ON THE TRAIN” - yes we know you are, sir. This is followed by a collection of other classic one-liners:
“I don’t know what happened there”; “we must have gone through a tunnel”; “these trains are ****!”. I’ll spare sharing his phone number here. Somewhat distracted by his call, the lady next to him is feverishly scanning his laptop screen with interest. I’m curious what he has on there.
Small child, now with toy police car is yelling, “NEE NAW, NEE NAW” whilst crawling along the aisle simultaneously head-butting people’s arms. The smell is now omnipresent.
A rotund chap heading for the buffet car is stopped in his tracks by the child. Unsure how to deal with the drama, he tuts loudly and gestures to the mother to move the child just like you would attempt to swat a wasp. His behaviour brings both verbal and visual disapproval from those observing. Are we about to have a moment?
Another passenger on a phone call further down the carriage is rather loud and talking with considerable angst. I can’t see him, but he sounds like a trader of some sort. He ends the call with the words, “just get me a big bag of f***** E’s”. It’s not every day you hear someone dealing drugs on the train. My assertion was accurate.
Buffet man returns and seems to have considered his actions previously, as this time he politely asks the lady to pick up the child. “Better!” exclaims the lady opposite, offering him some uninvited feedback.
Sixty minutes in and we have stopped. After a little while at the random stop and united by shared facial disapproval and unexpected commonality, the rife speculation begins. Complete strangers engage with each other to offer opinions on the inertia, “Leaves on the line” guffaws someone. We are saved from making further assumptions with a tannoy announcement about track safety checks. We go back to being silent strangers.
A man down the carriage is snoring loudly having missed the opportunity to engage with a 'random'. The crisp man sitting opposite is shocked to have a woman stumble into him as the train lurches forward. For this chest to face encounter, he profusely apologises. She quickly departs. Great laughter echoes down the carriage causing a unified head lift and much peering down the aisle.
The child is asleep as we approach the first stop at Warrington. I hear the word ‘sorry’ at least fifteen times as people start moving to get off the train.
I hope they all have a good weekend.
Who needs TV when you have real life for education and entertainment?
The joy of noticing.