Tilting at Windmills

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An account of rail travel in the 21st Century

Just for Fun!

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, travelling by train was a real adventure – for adults and children alike – then the march of progress delivered us the excitement of motorway travel, speed, convenience and personal choice. Today we have anti-social trains, with connections between travellers limited to a few seats in each open carriage or coach, with vast majority of travellers – especially over medium and longer distances facing an immovable plastic wall, commonly known as the back of the seat in front. This wall, rarely more than a few centimetres in front of the face becomes your friend and companion for hours – yes there are windows – but there are also some of these aircraft style seats which are located next to a blank wall.

All of this high speed technology helps us get from A to B so much quicker – and we only occasionally have to speak to our fellow travellers.

We also have the added benefit of the ‘voice from hell’ announcing our welcome to this service, to… – well the gaps in the language and spoken word just remind me of the film 1984. But I was forgetting, we have passed that date and are now much more advanced!

Where does that leave us in our comparative rail tour – is it just nostalgia that demands that we look for more spacious accommodation, and conformable seats, a corridor that allows us to choose whether or not to join conversation with our fellow internees.

Seat reservations are the most joyous sight – or not if you travel by tilting train – where there is no accommodation for luggage – some of the backpacks or rucksacks as we used to call them are the size of mount Everest. Our poor unfortunates then look for somewhere to stow these monstrous items – alas no, they are left near the ends of the coach, or crammed into a feeble couple of shelves mid way down the coach. Amazing that there are not more injuries from people falling over, into or across this baggage.

On longer distance trains there is food and hot beverages available.   These are served from a counter in what we used to call a buffet, in those ‘Tommy Tippee’ cups with their little plastic lids and spout so preferred by the chain store drinking dens. To cap it all, there are a bewildering array of coffees, from the double mocha skinny latte, in regular – whatever size that may be! – to the just plain enormous. They are usually then carefully inserted in those brown paper bags – with handles – my daughter would have loved to play with these in her ‘toy shop’ as a child.

The correct etiquette for requesting this refreshment is to enquire… “Can I get?”. Woe betide you if you say “May I have”, or “Can I have” – clearly that requires a phrasebook and translation into modern awesome English.

Travelling by train in the 21st century is no longer an experience that may be enjoyed, with some knowledge that you may at least find a comfortable and spacious compartment with room to breathe, exchange thoughts and opinions with others, or simply rest. Now everyone has the mandatory headphones, laptop, or iPlayer, and connecting with their legions of followers on Facebook, or Twitter. The more the technology advances, the less the people communicate!

But I digress, we are almost at our destination. That hellish voice sounds again to advise us that we will “Shortly be arriving into….”

We leave our seat, struggle over the undulating terrain of rucksacks, trolleys and suitcases on wheels – after having apologised to a fellow traveller for a minor infringement of his/her space, and the necessity to relocate his/her laptop! – and finally make our way to the vestibule.

Please don’t be alarmed, I chose the word ‘vestibule’ out of ignorance – I didn’t read the safety instructions, or the on board magazine. (I do confess to having flipped through the odd page or two, whereupon the utter banality of it drove me to the refreshment area!).

So, our train arrives, finally at the train station on this train line – I understand the use of the word railway has now all but disappeared, and comprehending the distinction between the function of the railway and the train has gone the way of our good friend the Dodo.

The train stops – don’t forget you are not permitted to leave the train whilst it is still barely moving – the door’s locked anyway! We are enjoined by a shrill beeping noise and illuminated button, embossed with iconic hieroglyphics to open the door and alight from the train, which we do, stepping down to the platform and the free world once again.

 

oOo-

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