Riding the Rails

21 Mar 2009 Maleghast

I hate travelling by train. I know it’s irrational, but it is basically about control. When I travel by train someone else decides when I leave and when I arrive, and if I am delayed it is only ever because I am at the mercy of others. Even so, I often do travel by train; I commute to my office in London, and I am currently taking a break from driving, due to my knee injury, so trains represent a necessary evil.

There are upsides to travelling by train, and my journey towards Manchester today has benefited greatly from one of them; the opportunity to meet people. We were just pulling out of Oxford when I looked up from my book to be asked by a young woman if there was anyone using the seat opposite me. I smiled, told her that both seats were indeed free and she sat down. From that point until we arrived at New Street (where she left the train to catch another to Nottingham) we talked about our lives, likes and dreams without any sense of discomfort or self-conscious British reserve. In my experience there is a strange alchemy to these things; one rarely ends up with an enjoyable conversation after ‘breaking the ice’, but now and again something truly special and enjoyable can grow out of a simple “going far?”, or “heading home for the weekend, then?”.

Grace is in her final year at Oxford, studying PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics). At twenty-one years of age and all of 4 months away from holding an Oxford degree she has already worked out that she wants to spend a few years teaching in order to give something back to our society and then continuing in the vein of service, would like to work for an NGO or the Civil Service in development or diplomacy. I was intoxicated by her intelligence and wit, and very sincere commitment to doing something worthwhile with the opportunities that she has had, while still being human and unpretentious. I spend a lot of time being infuriated by a media and an older generation that speaks about my generation (which I can just about say that I share with a twenty-one year old, but perhaps not for very much longer) as if it were populated solely by selfish, feckless wasters, looking out only for number one and the easiest possible way to make a buck. I could honestly say that I don’t know a single person of my generation who actively prizes money and perceived success above happiness and as clear a conscience as one can muster as a member of a first world nation at the start of the twenty-first century.

It was a genuine pleasure to meet a fellow mind, a fellow young and energetic person on my train journey today and to simply converse, about both the weighty and the sublimely trivial, about the future and the past, and more than anything to do so merely for the joy of human company between two strangers who will likely as not never see one another again.

I hope that I will remember to spare her a thought in September, when she starts teaching full-time, and remember to thank her in my mind for doing what I lacked the courage to do when I left University; for becoming a teacher. I cannot say that I regret my decision, mainly because I still maintain that I would have made a lousy teacher at that point in my life. Even now I am unsure that I possess the temperament to be a good and nurturing teacher, but I suppose it would also be fair to say that my involvement in erotic photography leads me to wonder if I would ever be permitted to become a teacher. I know that I am not a danger to children, and that I have no inappropriate interest in them but in the current social climate, where as a single man I feel I have to be careful about playing innocently and joyfully with my friends’ kids, I fear that my work thus far might be too much of a red flag for some parents and education authorities.

Still, my current job is proving to be fulfilling and interesting, so perhaps I won’t have to think about it for a while yet. For now I can focus on doing my part to make RiverMuse a success and worry about the latter half of my career on another day.

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