Friday, 8 December 2006

Being Stuck on the Train

A small number of you commented on my post ‘The Day a Stranger Asked Me Out (On the Train)’. It seems there are many of you with experiences of random (frequently drunken) conversations with people on the lengthy commute. It’s quite a strange environment, the train. The perfect writer’s device for building a plot. You know, the one where people are stuck in a strange situation/place that they can’t get out of and so therefore are forced to talk to each other eventually and all of the old social barriers that mattered in the life before no longer matter.

It reminds of a French text I studied years ago in A Level French, ‘Boule de Suif’ (Guy Maupassant). This short story revolves around a group of people thrown together in Wartime France (Franco-Prussian war of 1880s) attempting to escape the country in a ferry from Le Havre. For a reason that now eludes me they ended up sitting in an immobile horse and carriage for ages and had to strike up conversation with each other eventually. It turns out that one of the passengers is a former prostitute. A former prostitute in a carriage-full of vicars, mayors, businessmen and their wives. Naturally her status in life does not go down well with the bourgeoisie of nineteenth century small town France. She was accordingly alienated from the group.

I think she ended up sleeping with the Prussian guard in order to save their sorry lives, despite their petty attitudes in the face of danger during the war. A classic tale of wrongful assumptions, the underdog saving the day etc. Sorry if I have just thoughtlessly given away the plot there!

I’m trying to think of other novels where the plot revolves around being stuck in a strange situation with a group of people you otherwise would not spend time with. Can you think of any?

Anyway, the comments to my post (back to the topic!) got me thinking about talking on the train, an enclosed environment, and how this is generally deemed to not be a good idea for varying reasons!

And then I remembered something my Mum telling me about her ‘Train Gang’. She used to commute into London everyday. A 40-minute journey (not as long as mine now, Mum!) that she used to call (in a far from affectionate manner), ‘The Journey to Hell’. On that commute, over the years, she began talking to the people she saw everyday on the same trains. Her reasoning was, ‘it just gets a bit embarrassing to see the same people all the time, making eye contact sporadically, yet still to never actually utter any words to each other!’

They built up quite a solid comradeship as the years and train miles passed. I think there were about 5 of them. A couple of men, a trio of women. One by one, they stopped travelling on the train for various reasons (redundancy, change of location, general knackeredness) but they still meet up today for ‘Train Gang’ meals and reminisce about those days on the trains. (good days, but according to Mum, mostly bad days).

She hasn’t been a train commuter now for about 6 or 7 years. Yet, she still meets up with them at the Café Rouge/ASK restaurant of choice each year. Incredible.
Does anyone else have a simliar experience?

And I baulk at the thought of even smiling at anyone on the train!


Mike said...

Thanks for stopping by at my blog! You have a nice one here yourself! Sorry to here about your problems on the trains - don't you hate it when the train is stopped about 20 foot from the station? And they tell you that you'll be there for 2 hours? So near, yet so far.

The Boy said...

Couldn't imagine talking to the fellow sufferers around me. Friendships are good, but some of those around me annoy me greatly!