{21/12/2012}   How to spend time on the train

When I stay in London and do a seven-minute commute to London Bridge, I feel this is not long enough to contemplate doing anything, plus I almost always end up standing anyway.  It is on these commutes and similar ones that I tend to look around to see what other people are doing.  It’s all about the mobile phones and free newspapers, but mostly about mobile phones.  On longer journeys, I feel that people are more gainfully busy, often reading, doing work, eating breakfast (grr), painting nails (grrr) or on a laptop.

My usual commute is usually almost an hour and I always get a seat so I usually read, write letters (or Christmas cards), occasionally catch up on emails (so, yes, on my mobile) or, on the way home, work.  It occurred to me, while staying in London for a couple of weeks last month, that I don’t read, I barely write and I don’t feel I have any real sitting time (ie sitting with nothing specific to do) when I don’t have a proper commute.

As for the mobile phone and Metro-reading, I often think about how brainwashed we are regarding news.  I mean, a lot of the people who read the Metro probably don’t read other news so we are all fed the same stance and the same news.  I’ve always found that a fascinating phenomenon.  As for mobile phones, I increasingly see people playing games on their phones, something which I see purely as killing time.  Some people even watch videos on their mobiles.  I also see a lot of emails and texts and sometimes I have a sneaky peak at what they’re writing and reading.  We have lost so much privacy by having mobiles and using them in public.  Oh well, if you’re going to have a large, bright screen, what can you expect but someone to catch a look!  I’ve seen some fairly interesting things and a lot of banal nonsense.  Snoop?  Me?!

I know it makes a difference as to what you can feasibly do beyond playing with your phone or reading a paper, ideally a free one or one someone’s left behind, but, really, but what did we do before phones?  I guess trains were probably far quieter (no loud phone conversations or ring tones – can you imagine the quiet?!) and maybe people read more, listened to music more (though loads used to and still do that) or just sat looking out the window.  At least on a longer journey, particularly one where you’re seated, you have more time and space to read/work/write, etc.  That’s what I genuinely love about my commute though, it’s the time to do things like that, especially as this year for me has been an epic letter-writing year, pretty much all of which have been written with the caveat that my writing will be awful because of my being on the train (in actual fact, my writing is just as bad when I’m not on a train!).

Every now and then on days when I am staring at other people and thinking about how they’re spending their commute (from the busy, shorter-distance trains), I think that I won’t be like them and get out my mobile and idly look at Facebook in the desperate hope someone will have posted something exciting in the 30 seconds since I last checked it.  In reality, once I’ve concluded that maybe 80 percent of people are doing something on their mobile phone, I then resort to my phone for company.  Maybe one day I’ll switch off and keep off my mobile for at least a week’s commute … and then I could think about all the things I could write in my blog about what people do on trains.  Yes, I’ll write notes in my notepad and one day write it here, assuming I ever manage a week without my phone on my commute!


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