On trains you meet the funnest people (part 1)

One of the fringe benefits of travelling to client sites regularly is the amount of people-watching you get to do. And in the words of the late, great Bill Hicks: there are some real pockets of humanity out there, it’s amazing to see them travelling around.

You can spot the regular travellers of course, they tend to be quite quiet, keep to themselves. They know exactly where they are going, they know which cars on the train are which and how the seat reservation system works. In general they get on the train and settle down quickly, surrounding themselves with the trappings of the regular traveller – the laptop or MP3 player comes out instantly and gets arranged artfully in front of them. On the morning trains down to Cheshire I’ve seen people get on, set up their space and have their head leaning against the window close to snoring, before the train has even left Edinburgh Waverley. Now that is a professional traveller.

On the flip side you get the occasional travellers, who are easily marked out early on by the fact that they come on, wandering down the aisle and staring at each and every number in turn for a few seconds before moving on. Which is odd really, given how little information is on there. Read the number. Does it match your number? No? Then keep moving until it does. There’s four seats in every row, if your number is 48 and you’re just passing 4, then you don’t need to stop and check every row, you’re at the wrong part of the carriage. If it matches? Then sit down, or at least move out of the way so the dozen people patiently (or not so patiently) standing behind you waiting to get past to their own seats can get along. In particular, don’t stare at the seat number, look at the seat, at the seat number again, then look around and see if you like the other seats nearby better.

Couples and families are especially bad for this. It’s not rocket science, you’d think, getting to your seat and sitting down. But watching a pair of grandparents with a young child going up and down a carriage, dithering over where to go, because there’s someone else  sitting in the unreserved seat of their table for four; well – it’s excruciating to watch. Sometimes the conductor happens along while they’re still dithering, and I don’t envy their job at all. You can see the distress on their face as they try to resist the urge to shake the errant passengers by the shoulders and shout “Just sit down! It’s not that hard!”

Families are also the worst for the crazy bag sizes, which is great fun to watch, as long as you’re not sitting by the luggage racks. At a distance though, it’s great to watch them trying to manage with a bag big enough to fit a small child in. From the moment they get on the carriage and struggle to even get their bags through the doors, you know there’s going to be a dilemma before they get to sit down. And sure enough, they eventually get to the rack, banging peoples elbows and ankles along the way, only to find that it’s already pretty full of normal sized bags. Then they huff and puff and half-heartedly push other bags around, even though it’s clear that the only way they’re getting their bags in is to throw all the others from the train and hope no-one notices. With couples and families though, you get a further treat, which is to watch them turn to each other and start complaining that there’s never enough room for bags on the train (or for bonus points – complain at their partner that they’ve packed too much stuff). As if it’s somehow the train company’s fault for not accommodating their giant-sized luggage. The more belligerent amongst them will even start asking around if other people could move their bags instead – only to be greeted with shocked stares and disbelief at their gall.

(to be continued…)

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Last modified: April 12 2020.