In the absence of any new podcast episodes, I (Chris) thought that I’d throw up some blog entries here instead. Here’s one now.
This morning my train to work is about a quarter full of people who appear to share my Monday morning feelings of muted despair in the face of the week ahead. We are all alone in the same way that we would be in a lift, ignoring each other but probably able to take a pretty good stab at speaking one another’s thoughts.
“I can’t believe it’s Monday already.”
“I felt so upbeat on Friday, but now look.”
“I wasted my free time, and now I have to go to work again.”
“I should leave this job and get a new one.”
“I should leave society and go and live in a camper van.”
“I can’t afford a camper van.”
Most of us work five days out of seven, and then we spend two days tidying up after ourselves and getting ready for the next five. We feel a sense of great accomplishment because we’ve got all of our washing done ready for us to wear and throw back into the washing basket ready for next weekend’s triumph of organisation and good laundry practice. We are pleased that we have five plastic containers in the freezer each holding a meal for us to eat at our desks while our bosses fail to notice or reward the fact that we never go out for a proper lunchbreak.
These things prepared, maybe we can have a Good Week this week. We will eat healthily, exercise in the evenings and get enough sleep. We will keep our homes presentable so that the invisible people who deliver the daily takeaway menus and Aldi leaflets will think that we are switched-on and contented.
But now it is Monday morning, and the train is lying to us. We almost glance at each other as we realise that even though it’s two minutes late, the electronic sign in the station is pretending that or train has already been and gone. We watch the sign cycle through information about trains to exotic places ten miles in the opposite direction and we all experience a sort of damp panic at the idea that our train really has been through the station without us noticing it.
Then we take comfort in each other. Not like how other people’s friends or other people’s families do; not with hugs or reassuring chats, not with offers of help or even vague gestures of support. We just look at each other in the knowledge that we are the same loose group who always get on our train, and we can’t all be wrong.
We’re like raindrops looking at each other to make sure it’s raining. There must be times when a raindrop goes too early, right? There has to be an over-eager and inexperienced raindrop involved in every time we remark that we’re sure we just felt rain and then stand with our palms and faces pointing skyward waiting for confirmation. Perhaps if we could hear better we’d sometimes hear a lone raindrop shouting “Leeroy Jenkins!” and launching itself at the ground while the rest roll their eyes and await the proper signal.
Then our train arrives and we forget that there was ever a problem. It isn’t a big enough story to tell anyone about. Well not out loud anyway. Not unless it happens a lot, at which point you can still only tell each other, but we never speak to the other people who get on our train.
We are strangers who know a few things about one another. The guy with the mod-style haircut probably knows that I have recently given up smoking because I no longer stop outside the station for a cigarette when I arrive. I believe that the attractive but unconfident-looking girl is probably a student because she disappears outside term time and looks a bit too young to be a teacher. It’s like a very low-circulating but equally valid celebrity magazine.
The train driver looks at where most of us are standing and carefully positions the doors of the train somewhere else. We move towards them like the world’s worst tennis players anticipating a ball, as one of us hits the jackpot and finds the door stop in front of us, before realising that the Devil has given us a deal. The one who stands before the door must now stab at the “open” button until the driver activates it just at the moment where we start to feel ridiculous.
On the other side of the door, people who work where we live wait to disembark while one of them casually, then purposefully and finally frantically jabs at the interior version of the door button. Then they emerge, for some reason always appearing surprised, and start their day. In our minds, they get the hell out of our way so that we can get on. Their faces are familiar too, but they don’t belong to us. They don’t get on our train, they get off it.
There are plenty of seats on our train so we all take two and place a bag on the seat next to us, knowing that anyone insane enough to want to sit next to someone is someone we don’t want to sit next to. Most of us fiddle with our phones; some read a copy of Metro left on the seat. Unlike the journey home there are hardly ever any drunks and so nobody speaks to us except for the train conductor asking to see our tickets. Once in a while there are two people who know each other and they come to life while the rest of us silently and passively hate them.
Today the train passed a horse in a small field. It wore headgear but no saddle, and was alone; running in jubilant circles around a drinking trough. It must have thought it was Friday.