Saturday, 29 August 2009

A life on the rails

Central Station, Newcastle Valentine's Series 1907 - the hanging clock in this postcard still hangs over the concourse

The last week has seen me spending going on fourteen hours waiting or travelling upon the historic preserve of Britain - its railway system one often narrated as either slow, packed and delayed. A system apparently reaching full capacity. As a British invention with its origins in 1804 and Richard Trevithick's locomotive hauling iron and men, to the Rocket and the Flying Scotsman, as a nation our industrious nature and cities were created and built around the railways.

Being one of the few people of my age who doesn't or can't drive, since moving to University four years ago, trains have become my key mode of getting home, getting to University, seeing friends and at the moment going for interviews. On the fun side however, watching and journeying upon the trains gives me, (a slightly nosey person at heart - my excuse as a sociologists) the perfect chance and opportunity to do some first hand ethnographic study - otherwise known as good old fashioned moment of people watching.

I was stuck (and perhaps bored) enough to write all my observations and thoughts down, from the informed "signalling problems" between Derby and Leicester in the East Midlands which made us somehow miss the station and then reverse backwards into Derby for 15 minutes - how that worked or even occurred I'll never know. Informed over the crackly intercom, a knowing glum acknowledgement of the delights of the rail system seemed to pass through and between unfamiliar strangers, their only connection being in the same carriage going to the same station. This first journey of the week is one where I left my railcard at home and had to re-shell out on tickets - don't get me started on ticket prices or I'll never stop typing.

Suited and booted business men, most of which on their return from it seems a working day in London, always seem to spend most of their journey asleep or messing and sighing at their failed workings of their qwerty phones. While shouting their business deals over the phone they battle to be heard against the shouts of eager children playing upon their Nintendo Wii's their loosing-patience mothers trying to keep them seated and quiet as the food and drink trolley wobbles its way between out reaching feet along the narrow, bag covered aisle.

Another of the so called pleasures of rail travelling is the time spent in the waiting rooms. Unfortunately never having the money enough to wait in the First Class Lounge, my time has always been spent in the either overly cold or overly warm waiting rooms - temperature difference also always echoed within the coffee. Before this it always seems funny to watch the caning necks of travellers trying to comprehend the neon yellow lettering of the Departures board, their looks confused as if all the destinations were written in another language. Moreover competitions seem to occur between who can get the most into their hand luggage, who has the most annoying suitcase which can run over the most feet and which carriage can fill up its luggage rack the quickest - the latter most often the one I'm in.

The historicity of the railway system is most important perhaps within the North East. Newcastle itself was the site of the first working tram lines with the worlds primary rail track running between Darlington and Stockton. Compared to all three train stations (York, Sheffield and Leicester) that I'd used this week - it is Newcastle which seems to be bursting with the life, the most noise and the most activities. At the others people just wait, just watch and look glum at the passing trains. Maybe because it was a Friday afternoon, its a bank holiday weekend and Newcastle is the party city of the UK, yesterday afternoon Newcastle seemed to be attracting all the drunken male hordes. Waiting for my train back I was met with hordes of drunk Scottish Geordie impersonating men, some dressed as women some wearing ginger wigs. Their impersonations only to be met with disapproving Geordie stares and shaking heads.

While the British transport system does have its faults (yet I have to say none of my trains where even late), and most often costs the earth, its the best excuse for a good old nosey of watching the emotions of life - of meeting and leaving people and places behind, of new beginnings and the ending of stories, of the passing of time and of being together.

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