Travelling Hopefully on a Train

Unlikely as it may seem to many I have grown to like public transport. As a child in the fifties of course it was a great thrill to board a train or a bus. Trains, in particular were glamorous contraptions with long corridors and compartments with sliding doors. I loved tumbling into an empty compartment, fighting for a window seat and sitting on the prickly upholstery. The windows could be opened and bore only a warning not to stick anatomical parts out [especially in the approach to tunnels!].

When I began working life in London I endured a gruelling commute consisting of a 20 minute walk plus a train journey plus a tube journey plus another 15 minute walk. The tube, in particular was an unpleasant experience not unlike standing in a crammed cattle truck. There was never a seat but no chance of falling over due to the bodies on all sides. The station I alighted at, Vauxhall was a dismal, dirty drift of tarmac and I was delighted when I was able to change both my job and my place of residence.

Trains now have come to resemble buses-the utilitarian seats and the maximising of space to squeeze in as many travellers as possible in this age of too-many-people. Travelling jet-lagged and with that stretched feeling that not enough sleep bestows, we took a very early train back from the airport. Too tired to read I amused myself by observing our fellow passengers, most of whom were far more habitual train travellers than we are. They have long since become bored with the views from the windows. What do they do to pass this time they must endure each day?

A very large number indulge in eating and/or drinking. A woman with a number of bulging shopping bags withdrew one bag of sweets or crisps after another and set about each item with a determination that indicated none should remain, proffering the goodies to her companion opposite more out of duty than generosity.

Two teenage girls gossiped whilst one sipped from a giant, cardboard container of coffee and the other, her feet tucked neatly on to the seat beneath her arranged a fruit drink, a plastic container of prepared fresh fruit and a yoghurt on their table, working her way through all of this bounty with tiny bites of her perfectly white teeth and nodding at intervals while her friend talked. Does she do this every day? How can she afford it?

There is always, now, someone bellowing into their phone, unconcerned about the proximity of others whatever the subject matter might be. Others will be plugged into tiny devices to either listen to music or [and this astonishes me] watch films. As one who is barely able to see enough to text I wonder what kind of cinematic experience the little screen can provide?

We alighted at a provincial station where we were obliged to wait for the next train, stepping out into the freezing cold and back into 1950s Britain, where the comfort of a panelled, apple green waiting room provided warmth and an old fashioned café filled with an eclectic collection of objects served us a hot coffee reminiscent of the coffee of my childhood [ie nothing like coffee]. Long may these ancient, curious places remain!

How do you Sleep?

                      Sleep is featuring heavily in the news at the moment. It always amazes me that subjects that have been studied and analysed for so long and then put aside can yield new discoveries. Sleep is one of those subjects that people either think nothing about at all or it has become an overwhelming misery and an insuperable, life altering problem. I suppose I am fortunate to be in the former camp, most of the time. I have rarely experienced difficulty in dropping off to sleep, but fall into the category of not being a ‘morning’ person, preferring to stay up later and [particularly in the winter months] dozing until wakefulness becomes an acceptable state.

                    Often, once people become parents and have had to go along with the timetable of their new offspring they continue to rise at intolerable times through habit, even though their progeny have become teenagers and pursuant of a nocturnal lifestyle. My own parents were such paragons, rising early even in retirement. Myself, I regressed to sleeping in whenever I had the opportunity [weekends] as soon as my tots were able to tell the little hand from the big hand. As a proper working person, early mornings were a drudgery and a chore to be endured only with the promise of long lie-ins at weekends-and once the holidays began I’d catch up by sleeping for days and nights, waking only to eat.

                    Enforced sleep deprivation, such as long haul flights in economy or periods of stress induces nasty side effects such as cold sores in me. I get so far into the night and then begin to feel stretched, as if my skin is being pulled taut over my bones. When I retired I began by taking advantage of the situation and sleeping in every morning, until finally I achieved sleep satiation, after which I ‘bottomed out’ at about 8.30am.

                    Now experts are finding ways that sleep patterns influence our lives and seeking applications for such knowledge. Drugs such as cancer treatment are better, apparently, for being administered at night, in order to reduce side effects. The surprise here is that no one thought of it before! But the revelatory discovery that caught my attention was the one about teenagers, who are thought to make more academic progress when their day is moved later, giving them time to sleep in. This would have suited me. I loathed getting up for school and would habitually leave it to the very last moment, scrabbling up without much attention to my appearance [no change there] or to consume any kind of breakfast item, much to my mother’s frustration. She would call after me as I fled to the bus stop, ‘what about breakfast?’ or ‘You haven’t eaten anything’-a routine that was repeated with my own offspring further down the timeline.

                   Awake at night? Now I have the perfect solution-compose a story. I can guarantee you will have forgotten it by the morning.

My My Generation, Baby…

The amiable Dutchman in the reception office beamed at us as he rose to increase the volume on his ipod. “I LOVE this”, he said, in the expectation of our immediate affirmation, or at least the knowledge of what it was. Catching our blank faces, he enlightened us with a ‘how could you not know?’ expression. “It is DEEP PURPLE!” he boomed-“My wife got it for me. Fantastic!” Husband murmured into the ensuing pause-“Now if it had been Led Zeppelin”, and I followed with, “Well-Deep Purple was never a huge favourite of mine, but I know ‘Smoke on the Water’”… The Dutchman shrugged, grinning and eulogising over the music of ‘our’ generation; a strange remark, since he was at least twenty five years short of ‘our’ generation.

                Each generation feels its culture to be the best, the most creative, the most brilliant, the most enjoyable of all time. Despite the Dutchman’s love of Deep Purple, he is certainly not of the generation that spawned them, although it is common for non-British Europeans to be fond of rock music’s dinosaurs.

                The older I become, the more remote I feel from today’s music and culture. I begin to understand where the phrase ‘generation gap’ [much used when I was a teenager] came from, and even those fads which have themselves become ‘old hat’ have passed me by. Bands that are now doing ‘comeback’ tours hail from after my time. That [old] boy band, Take That inspire a feverish tsunami  of middle-aged-housewifely hysteria from thirty and forty somethings, yet to me the likes of Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams still seem like teenage upstarts!

                I admit to having given up on what is new, other than coming across occasional eulogies in arts and culture supplements. At least I can say I’ve read about an up and coming artist, or seen their name. During my Pilates class I was even able to put a singer’s name [Ellie Goulding]to a song recently. But mostly it passes me by. And in an even more startling turn of events, it is all beginning to pass my children by, too.

                In the wondrous van there is a music player, filled with the kind of music beloved by Husband, a fair number of songs we both like and a few things I enjoy listening to but attract derisory comments from him. Amongst these are several numbers by Coldplay [deemed middle-class pap- a label that may well be true but nevertheless does not impair my listening experience]. I still think of Coldplay as ‘new’, although I read that Chris Martin is 39. Thirty nine! He is tipping into the wastelands of middle age-and separated [or whatever they are calling it]-a sure sign of middle age.

                My father ignored contemporary music trends altogether, preferring [allegedly] classical, or ‘serious’ music, as he called it. He was fond of asserting that I would grow out of popular music to adopt his [adult] tastes. How wrong could he be? It was a disappointment he took to his grave…