As I sit on a long-distance train on my way home from Somerset, I truly begin to understand the stigma attached to public transport. Overheated, over-crowded and dirty, trains and a selection of their passengers epitomise why people have, for as long as the option was available, preferred private travel.
After struggling aboard the vessel, we made our way to our seats with bags that contained way too much for a double-overnight stay (what can you really expect? It’s the unstated rules of holiday packing – for every night or day, twice as much as necessary must be squashed in, as well as an ridiculous amount of shoes of which only one pair will be worn). Needless to say, even when the seats were marked with unavoidable ‘RESERVED’ signs, they were filled with people who point blanked refused to move, despite our proof of several pieces of paper, tickets and our names on the seats. Having evicted them mumbling from our rightful chairs, the next challenge was to place – or should I say forcefully and mercilessly ram – our suitcases in the overhead compartments. Train-competent readers are likely to question our actions, puzzling as to why we did not just place it at the end of the carriage with most people’s possessions. Well, having discovered the pram, several guitars and what resembled a small lion’s cage (contents included) in this afore mentioned section, we decided that the overhead unit probably was the more sensible option. And yet despite the obvious struggles I was having in getting our luggage settled (My travel partner was – how to say? – at a disadvantage when concerning lifting objects onto higher shelves), not one person offered any form of assistance. I wasn’t exactly expecting some knight in shining armour to appear and profess with many ‘thou’s that I should not be attempting such laborious work unaccompanied; but some help would not have gone amiss. Instead I received several demeaning looks from surrounding passengers over whose heads my bags’ straps dangled (well. Serves them right really); shoves and bustles from people behind who were eager to help my head gain contact with the overhead section, but not so much my baggage; and an impatient ticket collector who seemed frustrated at my inability to multi-task like Wonder Woman. After reprimanding my companion in her attempt to place a glacé cherry on top of the head of one of my not-so-ardent admirers (it’s really best not to ask), we settled down for what we hoped would be relaxing train ride home.
However, for such a long-distance train, this was not to be. A few seats down a rather large family (in both senses) had an unfortunate incident including baby vomit, no wipes and a lack of nearby toilet facilities, providing the entire carriage with the privilege of that most delightful smell. Meanwhile at the opposite end of the coach was a child that decided that now was evidently a good time to explore the capacity of one’s lungs, and screamed at optimum volume and pitch the entire hour and thirty minutes that we were on the train. Despite the fact that this may seem like some scene from a comedy, I was – and still am – convinced that this is a conspiracy to see which snapped first: my patience or my sanity. The surrounding passengers were as equally delightful: in an attempt to outdo each other in how loud and irritating their laptops and TV screens could be, I was caught listening to a bizarre combination of Winnie the Pooh firing a shotgun and singing show tunes. These TV screens managed to land themselves on my bad side alongside their viewers. Tantalisingly filled with a variety of my favourite programmes and films, it decided that it would wait until I had gone through the painstaking selection process and arrived at my favourite Glee episode of the second season (“Britney/Brittany” undoubtedly) before it decided to tell me that I couldn’t in fact watch this without paying extortionate prices. Disgusted, disappointed and distressed, I turned my attention instead to writing “An Ode To A Cherry Bakewell” in order to disgrace public transport and its facilities.
Added to this seems to be the train’s inability to function properly at all. Perhaps it seems too much to expect, but during a boiling hot day on a train stuffed with too many people, I would like to have a little bit of air conditioning; or even a window in the carriage that opens beyond a millimetre. Yet when I located the minimal amount of air right at the end of my journey through the window by the door, I saw the unbelievable sign: “make a small change: Closing the windows saves energy and improves the environment for customers”. Yes I’m sure that an environment with the temperature of the inside of a volcano is perfect ‘for customers’, providing you like Southern Fried Humans. The fact that for some reason we were crawling along at one hundredth of a mile an hour so that we missed the next part of our journey (I’m not a train driving expert, but I know we could’ve have gone faster than that. I saw snails on the ground outside overtaking us) coupled with the suffocating heat managed to set off my previously secluded claustrophobia. This meant that by the time we had come to the end of our journey I was ready to scream and rip the heads off of anyone close enough to me, proving that it was indeed my sanity that snapped first.
Naturally, trains are not the only perpetrators: buses too have wormed there way to the bottom of the list of favourite things, beneath wasps, BO, and the person on the infernal bus itself that takes the last window seat. Reliably late, you pay overpriced fees to ride on a vehicle so covered in bacteria that it’s close to being green with slime, and are bounced around on rock hard seats so that you are forced to hold onto the hand rail that is guaranteed to have been shared by at least ten people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. The government are constantly trying new techniques to get the country to ride public transport, from allowing the Mayor to drive a bus to reducing fare prices (but with bizarre timings and conditions) and yet seem oblivious to the fact that no-one wants to use them due to their appalling conditions.
I hope that at some point in the near future, someone will change the way our public transport operates. In the battle against climate change, reduced use of individual vehicles is a key factor; but until better options become more accessible, there is no hope for change.