Tuesday, March 29

Two hundred hours

In the last ten weeks I’ve spent two hundred hours either creased and crumpled on trains and buses, or blown to bits along Waterloo Bridge, or hunched at draughty bus stops trying to avoid the drunkard’s eye. I watch the city slide past me: late at night, the streets glistening with life; or during the quiet midday, suspended alongside brick and window on high line trains that pull serenely past the scurrying Thames, blocks of sunlight clasped in their empty carriages. I’ve inhaled the morning waft of suited males and the evening tang of crisps and gin. 
I love the regular faces: the bearded hipster on the bus looking out of place in this corner of suburbia, the three schoolgirls who always meet at the bus stop outside Tesco, the girl who clutches a different homemade cake every Thursday, the heavy breather watching Seinfeld on his ipad, the fine-boned Asian boy with a man bun and tortoiseshell glasses who sits, eyes closed, so still on such a busy train. The tanned man in tight jeans with a handbag. I sat next to him once in my tomboy clothes, and there was a strange moment when we simultaneously crossed legs at the knee, his movement far more graceful and feminine than mine'll ever be. 
Then there's the disorientating transition between leaving the house in the early morning black, feeling like you're the only person alive in the world, and thirty minutes later boarding one of the sweaty sardine tins herding hordes of suits into the city. Arriving to class late, damp and frazzled. 
I happened to be reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust on many of these journeys. And what she says about how modern transport messes up our idea of space, time, scale - our idea of what it is to be human - played itself out as a real life example every day I made that seventeen mile journey between home and city. It was hard to connect the suburbs with the city: the suburban girl with the city girl. Living in the middle of London last year, whenever I came home to the suburbs I felt overwhelmingly different, like I was pulling on somebody else's clothes. This year that feeling repeated itself daily. By the time I’d stepped off the train at Waterloo and breathed the grimy, busy air I was somebody else entirely, with different priorities and preoccupations. And in the evenings, with every inch I was tugged back towards home, I could feel myself shedding that identity. To commute for four hours a day is to be in a permanent state of transition, without actually getting anywhere - it is to be two different people at the same time.
I complain a lot about commuting but actually, the secret is I quite like it. Not the dandruffed shoulders of middle aged men in the morning, not the gladiator tactics of traversing Waterloo Station at rush hour, not the lady at the bus stop who went into great detail about her toe operation while I cast my eye desperately down the road, not the buses that smell of hot breath and squashed stale crisps. 
No, I love the travel, and the knowledge that for a certain amount of time I don't have to do anything, make any decisions, be anyone. I am neither here nor there. I love it when two trains converge to run alongside each other and for a few minutes the two bouncing interiors are not-quite reflections of each other, and my reflection is of somebody else.


'They are wrapt, in this short passage from work to home, in some narcotic dream, now that they are free from the desk and have the fresh air on their cheeks. They put on those bright clothes which they must hang up and lock the key upon all the rest of the day, and are great cricketers, famous actresses, soldiers who have saved their country at the hour of need. Dreaming, gesticulating, often muttering a few words aloud, they sweep over the Strand and across Waterloo Bridge whence they will be swung in long rattling trains, still dreaming, to some prim little villa in Barnes or Surbiton where the sight of the clock in the hall and the smell of the supper in the basement puncture the dream.'
- Virginia Woolf

No comments:

Post a Comment