My broad aversion to travel has been well documented in these pages. To be clear, though, while A (home) is always to be preferred, I’ve no objections whatsoever to B, C or – venturing further afield – even D. Being somewhere else is fine, it’s the getting there that I don’t care for.
That’s because the actual process of travel has two major potential pitfalls:
- Things might not go according to schedule.
- It involves other people (or ‘Hell’, as Sartre described them).
Here, I’m not going to dwell so much on 1, other than to establish the context that, earlier this week, a simple flight from Liverpool to Limoges, which would (should) have delivered me back to all the comforts of A in a perfectly straightforward manner, instead fell foul of the bolshie bastards that are collectively known as French Air Traffic Controllers. As a result of their industrial inaction earlier this week, my journey home instead involved three train trips and an unscheduled overnight stay in London.
My real focus here is on the middle leg of this unplanned, unwanted and expensive caravenserai – the Eurostar from London to Paris. Everything ran to time but the experience struck me as an archetype, demonstrating much that is wrong with public transport.
I.e. the public.
You may think I’m being particularly jaundiced about this, perhaps because it was very early in the morning (work your way backwards from the 05:40 departure time to imagine what my alarm(s) were set for), but it was the same for everyone and at least I managed to comport myself with some dignity and respect for my fellow-travellers. Such a shame that some of them were apparently unable to do likewise.
On the positive side, though, my misanthropic ruminations during the journey led me to establish what may be a new cataloguing system for utilisers of public transport. You probably all recognise the types.
Unless you’re one of them.
The innumerati. Hey, genius: every seat has a number on it. So does your ticket; all you have to do is match these two numbers and sit where you’re supposed to. It’s not difficult. Furthermore – although you apparently find this impossible to comprehend – the seats are labelled in numerical order. They are not in random order. This means that if your ticket says ‘Seat 15’, for example, the chances are pretty high that the place you’re looking for will be found somewhere between Seat 14 and Seat 16. Why therefore do you block the aisle with a bemused expression and an inability to locate your seat?
Love’s young dream. I’m genuinely very happy for the pair of you, and in most circumstances it’s heartwarming to see such genuine, nay ardent, manifestations of mutual attraction. But not on a train at six in the morning. Get a room.
However, my real insight on this occasion was to realise that some of the most common vulgar pejoratives that colloquial English has to offer are actually based on the behavioural patterns of some people on public transport.
Tossers. Fine; you have the seat next to mine – but who’s arguing? Is it really necessary to send your newspaper flying inches from my nose to ‘claim’ your window seat? Do you also get up early to get your towels down on the sun-loungers? Is it a coincidence that you are reading Die Welt?
Plonkers. Chances are that travellers of this type are also tossers, although I suspect that some of them can’t read so have no newspapers to toss. Do you absolutely have to plonk yourself down in your seat so hard that the carriage rocks and coffee is spilt three rows away? No, of course you don’t, so why not just lower yourself gently into your allotted space?
Slappers. You’re obviously not very good at packing, are you? Why else would you have three or four bags slung over your arms or shoulders with which you beat the heads of those already seated as you force your way along the aisle to your own seat, or where you think it might be? You could at least apologise, you ignorant bastard.
And finally, perhaps the worst of all:
Bouncers. Why don’t you just sit still? Do you really have to bounce up and down every five minutes to check in your luggage that you’ve got your passport…and your wallet…and your onward ticket?
Oh hang on: that’s me…