A recent interviewee for the Rush Hour project, Anna, tells a brilliant story about how she has journeyed to the job she does now. But she also told me she travels three hours by train every day to go back and forth to work.
Interestingly, she makes it a strict rule while she journeys to work that she will only use her smart phone if the call is from a family member but no work or small talk with friends about friends or relationships, or anything to do with work with colleagues (unless it is absolutely urgent). She has also decided NOT to use her laptop, tablet or any other device, ( and there is now a wide selection : Kindle, Kobo, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus 7, Apple Ipad Mini, Asus MeMO Pad, Barnes and Noble Nook - who thinks up these titles?) while on board the express.
The only luxuries she takes with her are a cup of coffee bought on the train and her newspaper bought at the station.
She does, she tells me, recognise, many of her fellow commuters, and often nods to them as they wait the arrival of the train at the platform. Some, after years of familiarity on a train station platform, might even offer a few words (but only a few).
'Nice morning' the well-dressed young man with the floppy blonde hair might smile. She would respond in agreement and they might chat for a few minutes about the latest news headlines. A San Franciso air crash...oh...or a Paris train crash...ah...they shake their heads mutter platitudes...'awful'...the latest economic news...they both stare into the abyss.
Both fall silent, look down at their feet, their mood worsened by the encounter...thankfully the train arrives.
Alternatively, it might be the gushing blonde girl with the frizzy cascade of curls on top of her smiling face who engages her in conversation. Her stories are all about hen nights with her girlfriends that end up in disaster...'And then we lost Gertrude, she was drunk of course and being sick in the toilet, but we didn't know, and once we realised she was missing we had moved on two more clubs'... the girl (Heidi) giggles insanely, always laughs throws her head back in a great guffaw. Anna smiles politely, prays for the train to arrive.
Or, It might be Mr W., a smartly attired, mature gentleman who always gives Anna the latest report on his wife's ailments. 'He is a lovely, charming man but he must mistake me for a medical room doctor who has demanded a report on his wife's health.'
Once on board the train, she observes, the courteous and polite well-heeled, suited and booted young man, bubbly cascading curls, and the charming mature gentleman are quickly transformed, and all set about their business on mobile phone, laptop and tablet. In fact the carriages are full of fellow 'aliens' who are transformed once they cross the threshold of the train.
Frantically texting, making phone calls : 'As if the world will end if they don't make contact!'
'The financial news is bad Darren, yes...it's not good...'
'Oh we had a wonderful night! Gertrude, oh no she's not been seen for the last three days...'
'Well, it's the wife you see, she's not so good, no, she's in bed with her stomach today.'
It is as if her stomach would remain in the front room watching television while Mrs W lies stricken in bed.
Anna watches them squirrel away time on their various devices, people shouting out their personal calls as if they were on the trading room floor. 'MARTINE IT'S JOAN, NO JOAN, I'M ON A TRAIN, YES, A TRAIN!' Or, 'HI TONY, IT'S BILL, SORRY, I'M IN A BIT OF PAIN AT THE MOMENT, ( he shifts around in his seat) DAMN HAEMORRHOIDS ARE PLAYING ME UP!'
Others, she observes, are banging hell out of their laptop or Tablet keyboards, probably posting messages on Facebook, or using the appropriate symbols playing Angry Birds.
Hardly anyone ever engages her in any sort of meaningful conversation on the train, instead Anna uses her precious three hours to think or read her newspaper or just gaze out at the beautiful countryside speeding past. She says she really enjoys the 'chill' factor of these journeys, surrounded, as she often feels by a sea of mayhem.
Wasn't it Shakespeare who said 'Life is but a poor shadow that struts and frets his hour on stage'...I think that is from Macbeth, please feel free to correct me if I have it wrong.
Around her, she observes, is a kind of technological anarchy, as bug-eyed, frenzied looking aliens shout out their private lives to the world, or bury themselves in their social media obsessions.
It is the transformation, Anna, a senior researcher, admits fascinates her. 'On the platform, they are perfectly normal human beings, but once inside the train carriage, out it comes, all their social network paraphernalia' she laughs. 'They are like aliens! It is like travelling with aliens', her eyes widen and she makes an 'alien' face.