Something I’ve Noticed, eight: journeys

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re on a train. You’re sitting in the window seat; shadows from passing trees fall across the page as you read. Can you see them? The people sitting beside you are a hazy outline in the corner of your eye. You can’t look at them directly, of course; that isn’t ‘allowed’. But, from where you’re sitting, you can catch small parts of them, like jigsaw pieces. A stripy sock peeking out from a suit trouser, wrinkled hands twiddling thumbs, chipped red nail-varnish.

The rhythm of the train, rattling along the track, travels up through your feet: da dum – da dum – can you feel it?

It’s early and everyone, pressed in tight together, is travelling into Glasgow. Listen to the sounds: the crunch as a girl in green bites into an apple, the tinny sound of hip-hop spilling from a phone, the rustle of a newspaper as the man beside you flicks through the Metro. The ticket man is coming, his voice is getting closer. He doesn’t use words; he just makes vaguely appreciative noises.

‘Anks,’ he says.

‘Ta,’ he nods.


The little boy in the next aisle is eating an orange; its scent winds towards you – spicy, sweet. He is blowing kisses to his mum who’s sitting in the seat across. She catches them and blows them back.

Look, did you see that? That man standing over there by the train doors – the ticket man asked him to put his rubbish in the bin and now his face has turned a deep shade of tomato.

‘I’m no fool!’ the man shouts. ‘I’m no fool!’

Everyone is looking, but pretending they’re not. The ticket man has turned away and is shuffling towards you, towards the next carriage.

‘I’m no fool!’ the man keeps shouting, over and over. ‘I’m no fool! Don’t treat passengers like fools!’

The ticket man keeps walking, he isn’t even asking for tickets. His head is drooped and he keeps on blinking.

‘I’m not calling anyone a fool,’ he murmurs to no one in particular, ‘I was just saying–’

The train slows at the station and, thankfully, tomato man gets off.

The man in front of you is wearing sunglasses even though it’s raining. He just forgot where he was and started singing along to his iPod. The woman beside him catches your eye for a second and twitches her lip. She buries her head in her book, trying not to laugh.

A tree branch scratches the window as the train starts moving again, rumbling, rumbling towards the city.

(Okay. Thank-you. You can stop imagining now.)

I’ve spent a lot of this year on trains. There have been days where I’ve been too preoccupied to notice what’s going on around me – days where confusing grammar classes have wrung me out, or where all the things that need doing are somehow stuck like a raincloud inside my chest. On days like that, the long train ride home is something that has to be endured. It is something to distract myself from by sticking in earphones. I decided this year though, as much as possible, to resist the urge to zone out. I decided to pay attention to the things going on around me: the sounds, smells, people, conversations.

As I look back over these columns, it strikes me how much of what I’ve written has been about seemingly ordinary things. I’ve written about waiting in queues and clearing tables at work. I’ve written about looking out my window, about walking down my street, about snatches of conversation I’ve overheard on buses and trains.  As a result, I’ve come to realise that what we call ‘ordinary’ isn’t really that ordinary at all.

‘Life’ isn’t something that happens outside our everyday moments. In fact, maybe life is these moments. I’m not claiming to be a philosopher though, and this isn’t a ‘theory’.

It’s just… something I’ve noticed

By Melissa Reid, (columnist 11/12)} else {