30 September 2008

Ruby Tuesday

A new weekly season ticket in my pocket, I am heading to London to spend
a day presenting courses followed by a few days in the office while my
colleagues enjoy a visit to the British Virgin Islands. Tough work, but
someone has to do it. To ensure that I am immediately at home with the
commuting life, the weather has entered a grey, wet and cool autumnal
phase - far from Keats's season of mists and mellow fruitfulness about
which Harry Eyres wrote on Saturday in the FT. Season of drizzle and
chilly dampness. But inside the train the atmosphere is rather
different, though no more pleasant, as a couple of dozen damp people
wrapped in overcoats (or wearing wet suits) enter an already humid
environment. Immediately I feel warm and sticky, and take my jacket off
and place it, carefully folded, on the luggage rack.

No "priority seats" with extra legroom here - I have taken a seat in
coach A, the next one being a trifle full, so no listening to music or
podcasts for me. (My most recent bit of podcast listening was to BBC's
Arts and Ideas podcast from a couple of weeks ago, which was devoted to
"The Quiet Carriage", with Alain de Botton making deep philosophical
observations about this flawed institution which chimed very much with
my own thoughts.) So I take a seat next to a very quiet, indeed
somnulent, traveller with a wool hat pulled over his eyes and a
disreputable-looking hoodie over suit trousers (the jacket, a plain
charcoal grey, is hanging from the hook provided on the back of the seat
in front of him), his feet not in a very battered but fairly shiney pair
of black lace-up shoes. He might be an investment banker, especially
one down on his luck - if luck ever came into it - but now I see the
side of his face, which has not had an encounter with a razor for
several days. Over the aisle sits a more conventional-looking
investment banker type, reading the Telegraph, also in a grey suit,
polished Oxfords, but no tie. Well, I guess I often don't wear a tie to
travel in the train, but that's usually because running vests don't
offer suitable collars.

Of course, neither of them can be investment bankers. However down on
their luck such people may be, they will still travel (if at all) on
first-class season tickets. Coach A is not their mileu. And would they
be seen reading the Telegraph? Perhaps for light relief after having
skimmed the FT earlier, or before having to peruse the Pink 'Un when
they reach the bank.

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