The sound of the alarm clock is a piercing beeping which travels through my body shaking me awake with every decibel of noise. What’s the first thing I do in the morning? I check to make sure the trains are running on time then subsequently calculate how much time I have to get ready and the time it will take to get to the station. I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t really want to see myself never mind anyone else and I sure don’t want to be out of my bed on these winter mornings.
I love to travel. I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to many places across the world. For the last six months travelling to university has been part of my weekly routine. In fact it is more accurate to describe my journey as a commute. Yes, I’ve become a commuter. All those younger years spent wondering why older people look depressed on public transport when all I could do was smile has begun to make sense. There has to be a stereotype for the commuter: the unmistakeably stony face with vacant eyes as a result from too much staring at departure boards and an unsociable dislike of anyone who isn’t going through the same soul destroying repetition as themselves. Three or four times a week I spend four hours of my day on a train sitting beside inconsiderate people with bad odour, over exaggerated laughs and overhearing their petty phone conversations. Very occasionally I embarrass myself when I sing out loud along to the song I’m listening to.
Time dictates our lives. Each and every second waiting for public transport seems to be nothing more than a waste especially considering the distances covered when on board. I’ve read, listened to music and starred out the window whilst on the train but even those activities are restricted by the constraints of time. I’m forever told young people have no concept of time. ‘Enjoy yourself while you’re young!’ I’m told again and again as if one day I will no longer be able to enjoy myself! It isn’t true, is it? Right now there is no allocated ‘bedtime’ or ‘dinner time’ only that it’s to be fitted in to the day when needs must. Commuting I’ve noticed is a middle-aged thing to do when other aspects of your life are fixed. Commuting has left me looking at clocks far more often than at any other time in my life. Goodness is that the time: I should be getting on.
No point in looking at the departure board at Edinburgh Waverly station. The 8.30AM train from Edinburgh to Glasgow is always on platform fourteen. Always. I swagger down humming away to a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song on my iPod. I often get the “he has the volume of that music far too high” look. It maybe isn’t – I shouldn’t think so it’s just on halfway. I stop below the heavily scaffold bridge just to the side of a leak from above. This has been a long maintenance job! The door to my carriage is always here. Always. People are waiting up and down the platform. In fact far more down than up. The train is always six carriages long and I’m always in carriage two. The number two is my lucky number. In primary school I worked it out from a textbook and I’ve never had any luck with the number two since. There are a few people waiting at the top of the platform where the buffer stands, a crowd in the middle and an obscene amount of people at the bottom end. Is there a movie star doing a book signing? No they all want to be in carriage number one. They’re standing a sizable distance away and I know carriage two stops here. It always does. The next song starts: ‘The waiting is the hardest part’. There is a song out there for every kind of situation in life. The train is late, again, and over five minutes is a long time to stand and look cool and I need a rest.
The hands move round – tick-tock – and the announcements for the 8.30 service become more frequent. People begin to make their way toward the platform edge eyeing up any potential competitors in their quest for first choice of seats. It must be time. If one person glances at their watch then it results in a domino effect right down the platform as everyone wants to know how much longer we’ve to be kept waiting. Departure boards have symbolism of monarchy portraits and religious portraits at home (that’s a dated metaphor. Brad Pitt or Megan Fox posters seem more appropriate). Hundreds of people gather around these screens of knowledge to acquire information which they pass off to others as their own:
‘If you made this journey every day, as I do, you’d experience this a lot. The reason this service is always late is because it stops at Linlithgow and Polmont on its way to Edinburgh.’
‘Oh really. Are those busy stops?’
Tedious commuter conversations are at best dull and conveyed with an expression of sheer boredom. There isn’t a better signal of boredom than checking your phone constantly to find no new messages and then simply look back at previous messages and pretending they’re new and reply. I’ve seen it. And I’ve done it.
Eventually the train approaches: tip toeing up the platform at a slower than usual speed. Is this the drivers joke to frustrate us even more? I wouldn’t begrudge him. It’s quite amusing: people’s impatience that is. Suddenly there is a rush towards me as those crowded in the middle of the platform head down towards the bottom carriages. What’s the rush? Is there a secret door that is letting people on before the train’s stopped? They brush past me down the platform. I remain. It’s a long way up to that buffer. There is going to be a door right here. The train still hasn’t stopped and it looks like a crowd from Saint Peter’s Square to my left. Are there extra carriages today?
Eventually the train stops and I’m spot on. Right on the door again. Now however I’m being shoulder barged and elbowed from all those who were waiting too far down the platform there was nothing but open air in front of them. Realising their error they’ve come crawling back up the platform eagerly anticipating the yellow flashing light which grants entry to the carriage. Carriage one is going to experience the equivalent crowd numbers of a Justin Bieber concert. Six carriages and everyone wants to be at the front as if it guarantees a better journey. I’m still going to get to Glasgow at the same time as you! It’s a common misconception: that being in carriage one results in less passenger numbers. At every station you will find people move towards the front. I’ve had enough journeys to conduct the experiment for myself. Universities waste money on this research. Examining human behaviour requires nothing more than a railcard.
Doorways are crowded on both sides. Those with their nose pressed against the door window are eager to get first choice of seats. Manners: you need to let the people off the train first. I wait patiently watching this farce unfold. I stand well back to give off going passengers more room – as if they notice – to get off. However I find the best place to stand is to the side of the door almost touching the train because those who do come off head straight for the furthest part of the platform. Anticipating human behaviour is tough especially at grumpy o’clock in the morning. I look up the platform to where it looks less busy. I bet those carriages aren’t going to be as busy but I’m not walking back up there. I always sit in carriage two. I don’t do backing down.
I always hear that Scots are amongst the most friendly and hospitable people in the world. Perhaps it’s a charm reserved for tourists because there is a lack of it when those doors open. There is Impatience from those on the platform mixed with the growling from the vast amount of passengers exiting and squeezing past the awaiting flock. On run the troops to get the seat they want, gliding past those off going commuters; throwing bags over seats, spreading food and newspapers on the tables and very slowly taking off jackets in the busy aisle to the annoyance of others. Let me past! I want a seat!
I don’t feel I’m cut out for this. Commuting is frantic and chaotic. I’d like just a minute to myself. A single minute without interruption from someone or something to daze out the window, dream of future aspirations and reflect on less responsible times. The over amplified sound of the conductor comes over the intercom blasting through my noise cancelling headphones. It’s my stop – I’m back on the move again.