Monthly Archives: January 2011

London Calling

I was told that 29.01.11 doesn’t sound like a good date for a terrorist attack, doesn’t have the right media ring to it. I hope they’re right.

The train’s delayed by 10 minutes. I feel delayed by a life time. What a shitty night, I am emotionally exhausted.

10.31 expt. 1042.

It’s freezing. I suspect I look like shit. I’d like to sleep on this train but that’s not really the purpose of the trip! Coach E seat 33. Hope it’s an aisle seat.

It’s a long train. I’ve sat in my seat as it’s the sort of ‘busy with reservations’ that although there are seats no-one wants to risk it. People dither trying to decide before heading for their reserved seat.

It’s a nice day. Blue sky dragged with traces of softly mottled clouds. The fields yellow and brown and green and frosty, which is the only clue it’s not an early Summer’s day. Taking the route of the Flying Scotsman.

The train reminds me of a video in the NRM, its the same type of train.
The woman in the seat next to me is completing a ‘Pick Me Up’ puzzle, ‘Crack It’.

A girl in a green coat got on in York. She had a shoulder bag and a coffee from AMT, probably a latte. She looked tired, defeated almost, asking a woman if she could move so she could get to her seat, she sat down, drunk the rest of her coffee and pulled out a chunky, spiral bound notebook. The sort with loose leaf bits of paper secured between pages, looking around a bit befre writing and then stopping occasionally to look pensive or to look out of the window or to close her eyes.

Been for a walk. Coach F has fewer reservations and many spare seats. I was tempted to move but then I’m supposed to be trying to get closer to people. Guess its my frame of mind.
Coach H houses the buffet bar. Quite large, unusual for trains these days. This is the London train though, faster, bigger and more luxurious.

An older woman in a maroon coat sits next to the girl in the green coat. Shortly after the girl asks to get up, she disappears for quite some time. When she returns the ticket collector is almost there which causes a small kerfuffle  as seats are vacated and then taken so that everything is back in its place.

The vestibules are spacious, I spent some time standing looking out the windows, its more invigorating somehow. I saw a man and two dogs in a field.

She rests her tired, hung-over head on the cool glass of the window, listening (without a choice) to the personal (ha!) music player of a woman in a mustard cardigan behind her. She can’t tell what the music is, but errs on the side of, ‘not very good’. After she reaches this conclusion she opens her eyes and writes again in her notebook, her eyebrows furrowed, serious in mood or perhaps just in concentration.

I nod off for a while and a man with a loud middle class voice wakes me up:
He apologises to the person on the other end of his mobile phone, if signal is lost its because he’s on the train. He tries to book a table for tonight. 5.30-6pm ish.

I decide he lives in London and knows how it all works there, How self assured, knowing a number for a restaurant in London that he’d like to take someone out to. How exotic this seems.

There’s a table at 7.15, he doesn’t take it, they need to be at the theatre for 8.

Dinner and the theatre on a Saturday night in London. That’s living. Knowing how such a life is lived in such a busy place, that’s admirable, enviable.

The optimistic blue skies have turned grey. This is an exciting trip. The thought of the capital.

National Science Museum discoveries:

Puffing Billy: (circa) 1814, designed by William Hedley, designed to pull coal along rail tracks at Wylam Colliary.

Stephenson’s Rocket: 1829, designed by George Stephenson, designed for a competition, which it won achieving 29mph along the Liverpool/Manchester Railway (passenger line).

Columbine: 1845, designed by Stephenson and Locke, designed to run on the new ‘Junction railway’, Britain’s first trunk railway 1837.

Authorised by Parliament in 1833 and designed by George Stephenson and Joseph Locke, the Grand Junction Railway opened for business on 4 July 1837, running for 82 miles (132 km) from Birminghamthrough Wolverhampton (via Perry Barr and Bescot), Stafford, Crewe, and Warrington, then via the existing Warrington and Newton Railway to join the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at a triangular junction at Newton Junction. The GJR established its chief engineering works at Crewe, moving there from Edge Hill, in Liverpool.

Between 1844 -47 so many railway proposals were accepted by parliament that the basic national network (as we still know it today) was complete by 1850. – meaning the same lines (and in some cases one might think even track) have been in operation for 160 years.

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Worried, London

London always worries me, ever since the bombs on the tube. I went to London only a few weeks after, King’s Cross still reminds me of that t.v. footage. I was working in Nottingham, it was the television of the waiting room of a hospital I was working at. I was in London walking back in the early sunlight from Fabric to wait for the first train home. I had a cheese and tomato baguette.

If I’m honest these journeys are wearing me out. These orchestrated journeys aren’t real, its like trying to simulate the experiences I’m trying to capture, they aren’t authentic, the reason for the journey is in conflict with the research because its purpose is research…and seeing old friends along the way I guess.

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Script for Work in Progress

Found sat on a stool lit by a spot or similar

Reads aloud – opening stage directions from Still Life by Noel Coward

No, no this isn’t right. We’re supposed to be taking a journey together. I can’t do that with you over there and me over here.

Audience lights up

We’re supposed to be on a train, we’re meant to be going on a journey.

I wonder if we could make one, a train I mean. Maybe if we just re-arrange the seats …?

Works with audience to configure a train, positive comments make this a fun icebreaker. Use tables. Ensuring seats are left spare to talk to people from.

When the carriage is satisfactorily complete, change performance mode, allow a pause.

At one end of the room position yourself and mime waving goodbye, walking slowly backwards to create the feeling of the train moving.


Tanoy announcement:

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for boarding the ‘Art of Train Travel’ service to ‘Find Yourself’. This train will be calling at hope, love, loneliness and curiosity, terminating at ‘Find Yourself’.

Board ‘the train’

A story

A knowledge

An observation

A historical fact

Take a seat. Carrying luggage. Unpacks a bag on her lap…sandwiches, water, books, general detritus, make up, file folders, newspaper, magazines, can of pop etc.

Hi there, nearly missed it, other niceties etc.

Have you ever noticed how in trains, if you sit in a window seat a man with an extremely large paper and the need to spread his legs to the point where you’d like a refund on 33% of your ticket will sit next to you, if you can pre-empt a busy train always sit in the aisle, then spread your legs as the squeeze into the window seat… putting the arm rest down to clearly delineate ‘my chair’ from ‘your chair’.

Blonde guy story,

I was on the train over Christmas, travelling from Blackrod where my Dad lives to York. It was quite good actually as I didn’t have a ticket and with it being between Christmas and new year there were no ticket collectors and when I got off to change in Manchester all the barriers were open so I got a ticket for the journey between Oxford road and York, which with my railcard was only £14. Anyway, that wasn’t the most interesting thing. I got on the train, which was late but then came on time, and it was busy, really busy so I scanned for a seat and went to sit down, it was a trans-pennine express so I knew that my suitcase would fit in the overhead luggage which made getting to a seat quicker.

I sat down next to this guy and he started to breath quite heavily so I glanced over and realised he was acting really oddly so at the next stop I made an excuse about wanting to watch my luggage and moved to the opposite seat and then I watched him until he got off at Leeds, his ticket on the table said he’d got on at Liverpool.

He was odd, nothing about him made sense, he had blonde hair and skin that looked as though it might be slightly flaky. He clothes were covered in animal hair.

He was nervous, anxious, breathing deeply, agitated almost. He was dressed quite well apart from the animal hair and a small stain on his cardigan jacket.

I wondered about his ticket, Liverpool to Leeds, I glanced at him again trying to decide if maybe he was a junkie and was experiencing some withdrawal symptoms, but his clothes and the fact he’d purchased a ticket meant that this wasn’t likely.

He kept biting his fingers and sighing a lot, fidgeting in his seat with an anxious energy.

Maybe he was experiencing some sort of mental distress, so keen not to be too obvious I made furtive glances and observations, mentally noting them to write down later. I didn’t want to add to any paranoia or anxiety he might be going through.

Sometime later he climbed across the seat next to him, knocking my luggage as he looked down the aisle behind him, immediately he sat back down again. Whatever journey he was investigating, not worth making.

I apologised about my bags being in the way, he smiled and spoke quickly, mumbling a response which seemed to indicate, ‘don’t worry about it’ but wasn’t even slightly clear. I then wondered if maybe he had a disability, not immediately obvious but perhaps explaining his bizarre behaviour.

He had two cans of fizzy pop, which made me imagine a mother who had put him on the train with something to drink. One had been drunk before I arrived, the second a can of Lemon Fanta with the 59p shop sticker on the side was drunk sometime after. Before we got to leeds both cans were grasped by a hand and squeezed continuously like stress balls, making the clicky, tinny sounds you would expect to hear.

Ever so odd.

It’s the things you can’t quite put your finger on that make people interesting, the visual clues that don’t quite add up.

Like those people who look often look resigned and carry their possessions in black plastic bin liners? where are they going? what happens to them?

Speaking of odd behaviour, I think I might just change seats.

Gets up and changes seats

It’s the 15th October. It’s a Friday.

The digital display reads 15.38.

I am in someone else’s seat.

Coach C, Seat 32. A window seat.

It looks out to the right, my preferred side for this journey, but not my preferred coach.

The front coach, no good in a train crash, especially forward facing.

I’ve an open return. My return ticket is dated 16th October, which means it was bought on September 15th,  bought before I’d even envisioned this journey being made.

Before the leaves had turned golden and when the sun was still warm. How poetic, but that’s how it was and how it needed to be.

One final summer. One more artistic cliché. How romantic.

And now I’m travelling home. Travelling home for the last time because after today I can never go home again.


Gone. Past. Behind.

Gone. Past. Behind

Gone. Past. Behind


There’s a man over there on his laptop, casually dressed drinking one of those small bottles of station bought wine, no on second glance its Marks & Spencers. There’s an M&S at Leeds station, he probably got on there.

Sitting opposite him a man seemingly engrossed in his book.

And through the crack in the seat I can see the classifieds section of the Metro.

The paper of train travellers; Second-hand, pass-me-down, well thumbed sheets of world news. The risk of reading them when the flu season begins.


Broken toilet

15.59 and the man reading his book picks up his can of Fosters and sups in unison with the red wine drinker sat opposite him. A dance, a performance of pedestrianism for an audience of one.


Nearing. Slowing. Stopping.

Nearing. Slowing. Stopping.

The red wine drinker’s packing his bag, he finishes his glass, but not the small bottle. Stowed away safely for later. No wedding band, meal for one?


And this journey is just the beginning, this journey is the end. Tomorrow I’ll get on a train and it will be taking me to a new life.

This journey will change me.

Changes seats

Hi there,

Sorry to ask, only I’m doing some research on trains and I haven’t been very good at up to now, would you mind if I asked you some questions?

Ask questions, engage in conversation have to leave mid one sentence – your stop is here.

Tanoy: …. if you are leaving the train please make sure you take all your luggage and personal baggage with you. Please take care when stepping from the train onto the platform edge….

Get off train.

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Travelling the Indian Night trains

I would mostly eat marmalade sandwiches, this was because i could carry marmalade and buy bread at the station. Maybe this was why Paddington bear always ate marmalade sandwiches.

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Research trip York to Nottingham

18.24 Crosscountry (old Virgin train)
Coach D 42 A

Quite busy, I’ve sat in my seat. Adjacent to me is the table I purposely chose my seat for when using the online booking form.
A man. A woman on a laptop.
Lots of young people with attitude of various sorts.

Ticket collector came – I said hi and smiled (will work up to a question) he said hi back.

This is quite difficult to do. I prefer observations, talking to people is very daunting. The train is quite bumby, bit worrying when it does that.

Three young men behind me involved in the armed forces at a level, presumably fitting for their age. Talking about who’s platoon has it harder, drinking cans of Stella Artois.

The bubbly gaga of a child.

The other group of teens with attitude (emo/punk) appear to be Spanish.

Someone has an irritating clip playing, apparently on YouTube. I maybe able to tweet.


I feel closed in to my seat now, I’m under pressure. I wonder if my theory that trains are more social because of their liminal-ness was wrong. Totally knackered though.

Arriving into Doncaster. Short power nap. 18.53

At least one interesting thing: – a pallet load in a goods yard adjacent.

Oh no we just stopped. Our arrival gives the army lads something to talk about.

Things of interest: a stuffed toy of the Olympic mascot in the ‘Journeys Friend’ platform shop.

I can hear: cans. quiet male chatter. the engine or sound of the train. still.

the woman on the laptop is a student, she has an artile out titled, ‘other’ – boys negotiating non-hegemonic masculinities in the primary school.

She’s started reading one of those cheap real life magazines.

I am privileged travelling at night, not to see the landscape but the light-scape, straight carving motorway lines, industrial shopping parks with neat rows of car park lights, like a chess board (or better analogy). Random lights of differing intensities, some in clusters, some on their own.

The armed men still jock with each other. taking the piss out of their mothers or girlfriends in such a way that clearly says ‘I love them’, but is intended to cover up this feeling. How sad, how excited they are. How miserable they’ll be in 20 years, no-one cares for a broken soldier, they’ve served their purpose.

Change at Sheffield.

A quiet train. But busy I can hear quiet chatter and the hum of something electrical. People are looking for their seats and I’m in the wrong one.I hope it doesn’t become a problem, although whoever should be here should’ve been here from Manchester.

Nice chap served me in the whistle stop at Sheffield. No-one smoking though so no-one to speak to there.

A small kerfuffle at the table I’m sat at to do with reservations, too complicated to explain here, but so typical of the non-verbal language of trains. Same girl from the previous train is sat on the table down in my eyeline. Amazing green top, showing off her tattoo on her back with a transparent panel.

*write a poem about mandatory seat reservations*

Ticket collector approaches.

The two girls sat next to me are discussing crochet: initially one girl, sat next to the window kept glancing up from her book at the other girl struggling with wool and needle, finally she puts a book mark in her book, closes it firmly, puts it down and methodically removes her earphones. She begins by explaining she can do it well and would she mind only she can see the girl has almost got it …and is now giving the other girl an impromptu lesson. They’re now engaged in discussion together. The crochet novice has a Scottish accent, perhaps Glaswegian.

“anyone like to admit to getting on at Sheffield?” the ticket collector gets closer
“anyone like to admit to anything at all?”, I feel tempted.

The crochet lesson continues, I feel involved now as I explain I am an audience to it all.

This is a much more open train. The lighting, seating arrangements, ticket collector, having to speak to people in order to be able to find a seat and sit down are all factors in this.
The wine and the train carriage carrying few young squaddies. People are plugged in left right and centre. The man next to me, Sudoku on his mobile. The man in front a small laptop and iphone playing songs.

Alfreton: square peg, round hole(chapter title), generally dark outside, A no smoking sign. I can hear the rustling of papers.

Slowing down.

I haven’t written about why I’m taking this journey. I am excited I’ve no idea what I will feel, if I will be disappointed? Soon the tax offices and the castle will appear, Nottingham will arrive.

Maybe I could be 18 again?

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Research criteria for a two hour train journey – Outwards

Talk to three people, try and pick them randomly, maybe like a train seat lottery; 39a, 12b, 62a…?

Ask them how their journey is?
or where they’re going?
or if they regularly use this train?
or what the best/worst/strangest/ordinary thing that ever happened to them on a train is?
Show them this blog on your phone in an effort to prove you’re not mad.

Ask people how they view their time on a train – is it non-space in which to find yourself?
Ask people what they think about on train journeys.

What’s their preferred seat?

Ask the ticket collector how s/he is and smile at her/him – note down the response.

Walk up and down the train at least once.
What is there to see?

At each stop note at least one thing of interest that you can see

At each departure write down everything you can hear.

If the train crashed which passenger would be most likely to save the day?
If the train were unexplainably delayed which passenger would be most likely to get cabin fever?

Write a paragraph on how tempting (or not) it may be to pull the emergency cord when their isn’t any emergency.

Take 1 photo every 10 minutes. Go on. If necessary explain you’re not a terrorist gathering information.

If you have chance between trains ask the people outside smoking if they can remember the last platform they smoked on.

although national rail www always suggests changing in Sheffield, anyone will tell you its simpler to change in Chesterfield


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Things I know about trains

Carefully judge your position on the platform, less experienced passengers will board at the easiest point, which means it will be a full carriage. Place yourself in a position to view the carriages as the train slows into the station, this way you will see which carriages will offer you more chance to get a seat.

As a general rule quiet coaches, if they operate on the train (Virgin trains or Midland Mainline who now have Virgin rolling stock) don’t have reservations and are a good bet on a busy train or one likely to get busier throughout the journey.

Virgin train staff are, in my experience rude and lacking in customer service skills, their trains however, when not overcrowded, are actually quite pleasant.

On a quiet train, it is not essential to seat in your reserved seat, the ticket collector will not make you move… so please just sit down, anywhere.

Although we’ve all put our bags on the seat next to us, closed our eyes with our ipod’s in our ears, pretended to sleep, just had to take a difficult phone call at the exact moment the ticket collector arrives, avoided the fare, sneezed and coughed a lot when new passengers board a train, eventually you will have to pay, you will have to move your bag and someone with a worse cold than the one you were faking will sit next to you, in instances like this it is best not to make too much fuss or the rest of carriage will enjoy a feeling of quiet smugness whilst you feel pissed off at getting caught. I’ve felt pissed off. And I’ve felt the glee…. especially when you can see it coming!

if you sit in a window seat a man with an extremely large paper and the need to spread his legs to the point where you’d like a refund on 33% of your ticket will sit next to you, if you can pre-empt a busy train always sit in the aisle, then spread your legs as the squeeze into the window seat… putting the arm rest down to clearly delineate ‘my chair’ from ‘your chair’.

Ticket collectors let old people away with murder…. “ooo he sold me a single love at the station, I didn’t know’ and young people away with nothing, ‘fill in the form with your name and address so we can collect the fare (and we know where you live, you thieving toe-rag, you’re what’s wrong with society) I will be confiscating your railcard from you’.

Some ticket collectors are too weary and beaten to ask you to take your feet from the chair, some are draconian in its implementation, my favourites are the ones that simply ask you to remove your shoes if you want to place your feet on the seats.

Ticket fares are not complicated, they work like this: buy it on the day it costs you more, a single is not the half the cost of a return but a couple of quid cheaper, if you’re lucky. Buy it in advance you’re naming your train time, no changes, quarrels or arguments (well you can amend it, but it’ll cost you more than the fare in most cases) but it will probably be cheaper*, its like a gamble you need to work out the pros and cons. For example, if the advance fares are only a few quid cheaper but you’re not sure if you’re definitely going to make that train home, buy a normal ticket and save the hassle. If you’re broke or know exactly what you want buy in advance.

*cheaper depends on the service, must be purchased before 6pm the day before travel – also the time you can make reservations up until generally. If its a quiet train you’re likely to get a good discount up to the day before.
If its a train to London or Newquay in the height of summer, then it won’t be dissimilar to getting hold of Glastonbury tickets) stay up til midnight 3 months before the date you want to travel and  hope that the web page loads before the 3 advance tickets released are gone.

Playing the system – dependant on the service, time of travel and frequency of your journey it may be beneficial to purchase a period return, your ‘OUT’ ticket will only work on the day of travel (or if a special, more costly, peak hours ticket within 5 days of the date shown on the ticket) but you get a calendar month on the ‘RETURN’ portion which means if you never get your ticket checked you’ve a whole month of cheaper rail travel – especially if you can get your outward journey in advance. Realistically this is also a bit of a gamble and requires strategic planning skills and a good knowledge of the route and the ticket collectors who patrol it in order to bring all factors together to successfully save a couple of quid….. more of a game to play with the fabric of life, perhaps representing more hassle than any significant savings.

people who travel with children, or even several children or even babies on commuter trains should have a special carriage all of their own… its too early and you make me want to cry.
In a similar vein people who travel with children on clearly busy services, who’ve clearly planned their trip as indicated by the suitcases, buggys, bags, general paraphernalia but haven’t reserved a seat for the 6 hour trip to Bristol, in August, when the air conditioning’s broke deserve no special treatment – we’re all pissed off, only some of us thought about our trip in advance.

who are the people who look often look resigned and carry their possessions in black plastic bin liners? where are they going? what happens to them?

if a train stops for no apparent reason its very unlikely you’ll be given one for at least 20 minutes, leaving you anxious and pissed off as you determine that you will miss that connection unless we set off in the next 5 minutes, 4 minutes, 3 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, right that’s it you;’ve definatly missed it, which is great, I’m never travelling by train ever again….mutter something about customer service…let out a loud sigh….look around the carriage for some empathy and at the first sign explain to whichever passenger was unfortunate enough to meet your gaze how unfortuante the whole debacle was and the continue to share stories about the longest delays you’ve every experienced.

The longest delay I’ve experienced was at Nottingham train station between Christmas and New Year when the driver for the train I was due to board hadn’t bothered to turn up, due to the large number of bags full of chritmas gifts, luggage etc and lack of helpful platform staff I went on to miss alternative trains for almost three hours (you can’t run for a train with two suitcases and several carrier bags).

You can no longer smoke on platforms, although people do. rebels.

I don’t want to listen to the shit music on your shit phone. I’m not going to tell you though because you scare me and I have another hour on this train.
Ipod listeners of the world, you are only slightly less annoying, I can’t quite hear your music but I can hear the tinny, hissy, bassy beat of the wasted energy emitting from the other side of your ear pieces.
If your kid wants to watch Spongebob Squarepants on that portable DVD player he had for his birthday because you can’t be bothered to entertain him, please buy him some earphones. (God this list is cathartic).

If you want to play a game of snake2 on your phone, please turn off game/keyboard sounds, if you don’t know how to do this I can show you how.

sometimes even people loudly eating a packet of crisps in the seat behind me gets me cross (maybe I’ve got an issue..?)


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Simon is 27, and it’s a tragedy. His young person’s travelcard has expired….

My railcard will expire on March 10th 2011 – symbolic?

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