You are probably wondering what on earth the title of this article is all about? Perhaps something about a horror film or a book? A bad dream? Nope, not at all. It concerns one of the strangest types of travel that I experience. The rail commute into London.
Picture it if you will. Take a moment to imagine the following scenario:-
An early morning; normally around 6:30am. It is dark and possibly cold. The cars arrive at the railway station and people park up. Everyone seems to have a “spot” that they park in, normally to enable them to leave as quickly as possible at the other end of the day.
A rapid walk to the station office and a queue – the first of the day – to buy a coffee, tea and perhaps the paper. The coffee shop staff are warm and friendly and chat to each customer in turn, often, and this is important, calling them by their name. Everyone they speak to responds and smiles and there is a brief moment of friendliness.
Then a quick walk down the ramp to the station platform and a short walk along the platform, either towards the front or towards the rear of the platform, depending on personal preference. But, and this is important. The regulars, always stand in the same place. Yep. nearly exactly the same place.
Then we wait. In silence. Complete and total silence. Nobody speaks or chats.
The tannoy announces that the train is approaching on “Platform Two”. You know, if you have done the journey as many times as I have over the past few years, that the train is about a mile away, or a few minutes till it arrives. If it has been raining, people come out of the rain shelters. Umbrellas are folded away and people get ready to board the train.
The train arrives and the regulars have positioned themselves almost directly in front of a door. Sometimes, the train driver overshoots or undershoots the correct stopping point on the platform. Difficult, I know, as there are large illuminated signs to inform the driver of the correct stopping point. When this happens you can just hear the tutting from some people. Anyway…
People press the open door buttons and climb aboard. A brief scramble and everyone gets to a seat.
At this point, I’ll point out, that whilst I live on a main line railway into London, my station is far enough out, that I always get a seat. The interesting point, though, is that time after time, people choose the same seat. Rarely do they choose something different. Laptops open. Books are extracted. Tablets and iPads are turned on. Smartphones twinkle in the carriage lights. Everyone. And I mean nearly everyone, does something so that they do not have to interact, even look at the person opposite or beside them. Silence reigns.
The train leaves and picks up speed. Soon, it is slowing down and arrives at the next station. The process is repeated. And again. And again. At some point, there are no more seats and people stand. Yep. Stand all the way into London.
Some people pay over four thousand pounds [£4,000] every year to stand on a train!
Eventually, we arrive in London and there is the queue to exit the train. The rapid walk to the exit barriers. Followed by queueing to present your ticket and leave the train station. A further walk and some of us, continue by foot to our offices. Some turn right and queue to go onto the London Underground. Followed by queueing to get on the underground train. Queueing to leave the station and then the final walk to their office or place of work.
For nearly the whole journey, there is silence. People do not talk. Hang on, though? Right at the beginning, everyone that was commuting that morning was greeted by the people in the coffee shop when they borough their morning drink. Each one by their name. Everyone who is a regular, at some point, will find out the name of the people they are traveling with.
This whole experience, I call getting onto the “Vampire Express”.
Why on earth do I call it that? Until I took up Mindfulness, I felt as though my whole soul was being sucked dry by this depressive, negative and repetitive process and atmosphere. You might have felt it too reading it just now.
So now when I travel to London by train, how do I deal with it differently?
Moments of happiness is the key
When I go to the coffee shop in the morning I order water and always smile and chat to the staff. I choose to stand in different places on the platform. When the train arrives, I always wait for the person in front to get on. I generally say good morning to the person next to me. I do not have a fixed seat, but try to consciously be aware of where people want to sit.
When we get to a different station and the train is full, if there is someone who looks like they need a seat, I will ask them if they would like mine. The look of astonished gratitude on their faces when this happens is amazing.
I make the effort to look around the carriage and also to see what is rushing past the window. I try to practice a silent breath mindfulness practice and be present and aware. I never rush at the other end.
Does it make a difference? I think so. There are sometimes more smiles on my carriage. A nod and a hello back. Little acts of warmth and happiness. I treat the commute as a journey, rather than a means to a destination, and hence enjoy it for what it is.
I leave you with the following quote…..
“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” ― Walt Whitman