19 January 2010

Blue Monday

Yesterday was Blue Monday. It seems it is official, because Sky Travel (the travel agents' equivalent of that curious satellite TV channel for the motor trade on which I once appeared, talking - probably to no-one - about the block exemption) put out a press release some years ago with one of those spurious formulae, in this case for calculating the most miserable day of the year. I thought everyone could see they were a joke, even with my grade 6 in O level maths, and the excellent Ben Goldacre (to whom I am forever indebted for coining, or at least alerting me to, the expression "absolutist" in the intellectual property context) comprehensively debunked it in his Guardian column some time ago.

Working out that the third Monday in January would be a bad day is no great intellectual achievement. I suspect that the second Monday was worse this year, because of the snow, and yesterday actually felt like a new start. But on the other hand, phone calls to someone who owes me money and who I hoped would help me generate more in the future reached a full voicemail box, and I find they have closed down their website and stopped trading. Now I learn that a friend is suffering a recurrence of a serious medical condition. These things don't even feature in
(It's all here in Wikipedia - must be true.)

But it had its moments. I travelled up to London to spend a bit of time in the office, where I found a couple of Christmas presents which had been waiting since before the holidays. Unfortunately one of them was cheese, but it displayed no green bits so I am hopeful that it might do for lunch today. (The other is an audiobook of Dean Karnazes's "50 50" - "Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days and How You Can Achieve Super Endurance". My sort of book, for so many reasons.)

I was pleased, in a starnge, sadistic (or perhaps masochistic) sort of way, to find that rail travel offers much the same experience as when I last tried it a few weeks ago. I noted it down at the time, and to practice my creative writing thought I might regurgitate it, slightly revised, here ...

I took a seat on the Oxford train (being restricted, on a cheap ticket, to frequently-stopping boneshaking sardine cans). It is invariably full to Maidenhead, the first stop, but spacious enough thereafter. As I was stowing my coat on the overhead rack, I dropped my copy of the Evening Standard and the gentleman sitting in the window seat facing the one I proposed to take picked it up and handed it to me. Come to think of it, that in itself was a remarkable event. He and I struck up a conversation, mostly about the quality and size of the Evening Standard, both reduced since it became a freesheet.

While we were talking, a pretty young lady took the middle of the "back to direction of travel" seats in our group, next to me: and almost immediatel - so quickly that it might have been because she had taken that seat - my interlocutor jumped up like a scalded cat and left the carriage. The young lady moved to the vacant seat - even for slim travellers the seats are only comfortable if the neighbouring one is empty - and we speculated about the motives of the former occupant, now standing outside the window staring at the departure board.

The middle seats of the set were then taken by a man, who sat next to me, and a fat woman with a nose stud. She would probably be offended if I referred to her as fat: but it is an objective comment, based on my observations - particularly of the fact that she did not fit the seat. She declined her companion's offer to place her possessions on the rack, pleading that she had once left a coat on such a rack, though as she seemed to have most of her possessions with her on this journey a similar lapse would bave been highly unlikely.

"Is that all right? Have you enough room?" she asked her companion, as she placed her bag on my foot. He assured her that he was, and he did, although it seemed manifestly untrue, and I laughed to myself. Crammed into the space with the woman's luggage (and my own rucksack), my knees were forced to rest, under the table, against those of the girl opposite.

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