International Writers Magazine:
I'm On The Train!
I travel, I like to do so quickly, quietly and comfortably. But
these days I find that achieving this simple wish is becoming increasingly
more difficult. I used to enjoy driving but now I try not to spend
anymore time than necessary on our pot-holed, congested and hazardous
roads. Air travel with its endless delays, is something I annually
endure just to get away to a warmer climate or to visit family in
Japan. As I have the sea legs of a new born foal, my one remaining
travel pleasure is to opt for that most civilized and quintessentially
British way of travelling - I take the train.
Train travel, I
believe, should be quick, quiet and comfortable and I am sure thats
how it used to be when I was growing up during the 1950s. But
I find now that even this last bastion of a civilized way of travel
is fast disappearing.
During the 1950s train journeys really were a time for relaxation;
maybe reading, dozing, playing travel board games or just simply gazing
out of the window at the lines of telegraph wires waving hypnotically
up and down. At train stations there were Porters on hand to help with
heavy luggage and Station Masters were only too pleased to tell you,
without the slightest hint of sarcasm, how long the next train would
oh my, how things have changed!
On a recent journey to London I was dismayed at the number of my fellow
travellers who talked loudly and continuously on their mobile phones
for the whole of the journey. The utter banal mindlessness of their
conversations was torture to listen to and I was annoyed with myself
for forgetting my ear plugs - vitally important items and part of my
Honestly, I mean to say, sixty two and half miles of having to listen
to a cacophony of - Im on the train (pause), Hello!
Can you still hear me? (Longer pause). Then a louder, Hello,
Im just going through a tunnel, followed by even longer
and slightly embarrassed silence before it started all over again was
To compound my misery, the barrage of verbal inanity was accompanied
by the sickly reek of Burger Chain fast food that permeated all the
carriages and hung around for best part of the journey and a combination
of the two together sent my stress levels soaring.
Confronted by this assault on my inner peace and harmony, where relaxing
was absolutely out of the question, the journey seemed to take twice
as long. I was hugely relieved when the familiar landmark of Battersea
Power Station, with rusting scaffolding climbing up one soot-caked chimney
like poison ivy, came into view. It was relief to know that Victoria
Station was now just across the river and my escape from what I can
best describe as a slow and painful death through mobile phone abuse
I would have liked to have been able to say that the mobile phones hooligans
were all disaffected hooded youths, but sadly the worst offenders were
those who most probably could have told you at the drop of a hat how
to apply for a free bus pass and therefore, I think, really should have
So what has changed? Have we actually lost some or all of that traditional
British reserve and good manners that was renowned and envied throughout
the world? Certainly since we began that long and often arduous journey
from the grey austerity of the post war years to the Must have
it - even if I cant afford it society of today, the scale
and pace of social change has been relentless. If on the way we have
forsaken our way of life and lost our good manners, I wonder if it has
all been worth it.
This is a subject that I find myself thinking about more and more. During
a recent discussion with friends about the same issue I recalled how
the late Professor of Social History at East London University, Raph
Samuel, had enthusiastically explained to me that the good ole
days that we talk of and yearn for were typically about fifty
years from the present moment in time.
Now, I know that nostalgia can be a powerful emotion, perhaps even sufficiently
powerful enough to enable us to forget the endless fog bound winters,
the shortage of luxuries, the growing threat of nuclear annihilation
and the harsh realities of life back then, but still, all in all - life
was simpler then and life seemed to be far more enjoyable.
Although I did not at the time fully realise the profoundness of what
Raph Samuel was suggesting, I can now see that his hypothesis was indeed
an enlightened one. Having passed the half century mark a few years
ago myself I too can now look back with growing fondness to a time when
a swift cuff around the ear from a Policeman was an accepted form of
punishment for wayward naughty boys, and incidentally, was far less
severe than having your parents being informed by an irate Bobby on
their doorstep that their son had been caught throwing stones at the
school windows again.
Interestingly though, people at the time I am now harking back to may
also have been thinking back to a time when life, in their eyes was
better - this would have been sometime during the heyday of the gaily
striped blazers and high-bustled frocks of Edwardian Britain.
In the light of this knowledge, small wonder then that the over fifties
justifiably feel that the world that they once knew and were secure
in seems to have changed for the worse and are experiencing a growing
sense of loss and insecurity that descends upon them like one of those
thick sulphurous London smogs.
The point here is, whether or not such a utopian time ever really existed
doesnt matter, as the plain fact is many of us baby boomers born
after the Second World War believe that it actually once did exist and
therefore we have in our minds an idealised image of a life that was
somehow better, more enjoyable and dare I say it
Oddly enough, the nearest I have experienced to anything similar to
this is ideal is in Japan, where the parks and public places have yet
to be taken over by lager louts or tattooed unmarried mothers whose
only form of exercise appears to be screaming obscenities at their hyperactive
In Japanese parks, families can still enjoy just sitting around chatting,
picnicking, playing ball games or just simply strolling peacefully along
the avenues of cherry trees during the time of the year when the magnificent
display of cherry blossom heralds the end of the long winter and the
coming of spring.
Japanese trains are a joy to travel on. They are punctual to the second,
cleaner than some of our A & E hospitals and the traditional etiquette
of consideration towards other travellers is strictly observed by all
age groups. When my granddaughter was young, and we would take her on
a train journey her shoes would always be removed before she was allowed
to stand on the seats. If someone was foolish enough to use their mobile
phone on the train the immediate disapproving looks from other passengers
would soon end their calls for them.
I have found this kind of unwritten, but nevertheless powerful social
etiquette code in a few other diverse places. For example, many years
ago I used to regularly travel overnight from Havana to Santiago by
train and although toilet paper was something you had to provide yourself,
I found that there was a great sense of consideration between passengers
and staff that was never more evident than when after the lights were
dimmed at around 10.30 pm, sleeper couchettes would be tilted back and
a quietness would descend upon the carriage broken only by a occasional
snore or the reassuring sound of the guard quietly moving between the
carriages checking that all was in order.
I cant help feeling that some degree of personal and collective
responsibility for the situation we now find ourselves in, must lie
within the ranks of us baby boomers, for we were the first generation
for many years that did not have to fight a major war; we were the generation
that wore flowers in our hair; we rebelled against our fathers, we tuned
in, turned on and dropped out in our thousands, we staged mass sit-ins,
we experimented with mind bending drugs, we hung posters of Che Guevara
on our bedroom walls and even chanted, Ho Ho Ho -
Chi-Min, along the streets of London during the height of the
It is sobering to think that the sum total of our rage against the machine
and our exhortation for revolution may have initiated a process, whereby
the society that had sheltered and nurtured us was progressively and
irrevocably dismantled. The desperate situation that the UK now finds
itself in begs a question and it is one that the baby boomer generation
should consider. We should ask ourselves whether the social, political
and economic woes we are experiencing, is the effect of our misguided
youth, and that we, my generation, were the cause.
© Daly October
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