The train squealed to a grudging stop at Liphook Station, where I stood waiting at the tired platform. The electronic chimes announced that the door interlocks were released, and so I duly stabbed the button mounted on the carriage door.
After a few seconds pause, presumably for the system logic to decide that the command was lawful, the doors sullenly opened, to enable me to climb aboard.
The seating area was packed; every seat taken by a dismal commuter. A sea of open laptops, and furrowed brows. The slight, tinny and insistent twitters of headphones pumping banalities into disinterested earlobes.
I leaned against the side of the carriage, contemplating how things had changed. I used to be a regular train commuter back in 1975. It was definitely different then. No rose tinted glasses in my reminiscing. My first experience as an adult going to work – October 1975
I used to board the 0715 bus from East Grinstead Railway Station in West Sussex, which would be filled with sleepy travellers, each muffled up against the autumn chill. Conversation was muted, even amongst regular fellow travellers. I would see Kathy and Sharon, with whom I would flirt outrageously, and the aged double decker would lurch and sway through the Sussex and Kent Weald, enroute to Tunbridge Wells.
Kathy and Sharon were both on a course at West Kent College – Nannies and Nurses One, and I was a fresh faced apprentice – a journeyman attending the same college to pass my exams as a communications engineer.
The old 291 bus would wheeze it’s way through Tunbridge Wells, finally stopping at Tunbridge Wells Central Railway Station. It would then be a mad rush for us students to cross the road and get down onto the platform to catch the 0836 – if we were lucky.
The train was old school. Slam doors, and grim, noisy and dirty. I would stand in the door area, and look into the carriage where I would regard with awe, the denizens within. Wreathed in cigarette smoke, a sea of newspapers, each edition shrouding its reader in the news of the day.
It would be the same on the way home, with the carriages filled with smoke, and returning office warriors, each unwinding with the Evening News, or unfinished crosswords.
Those bygone commuters thought they had it bad. The lonely pre dawn walk to the station, the tedious journey to a London terminal punctuated by a myriad of stops at middle class oases – Places such as Haslemere, Milford, Godalming – and Clandon and Effingham Junction, all bastions of middle class existence.
The modern commuter is definitely a different animal. They still “enjoy” the same commute, but now they travel in well it comfort, generally air conditioned. Today though, their bleary eyes are focussed on spreadsheets rather than broadsheets, Word documents rather than crosswords.
Sad intense faces, hunched over, fingers feverishly bashing away at their keyboards, buried against distraction, wringing out an extra one hour ten minutes on their way in to work for a nine hour day. Then to repeat the ridiculous exercise for the hour and ten minutes of travel home.
Almost eleven and a half hours of work, and get paid for seven. A cool extra two days a week.
Welcome to brave new world…
Mark Charlwood© 2018