Staying on the rails. Some of my most enjoyable and memorable experiences have been on trains. I once took a train along part of the Orient Express route through southern Europe, as part of the return leg of a month-long trans-European Interrail excursion. I joined the train in Athens, Greece, and trundled along through Belgrade, Vienna, Zürich and eventually Paris. The journey was not uncomfortable, but it was long. People were very friendly, even the conductor who shared part of his lunch of bread, cheese, and tomatoes. I did not have enough languages to speak with everyone, but English, French and German went a long way with many people. Back then, it was not normal to travel through Communist countries, and I had to hope my papers would pass on what was an unplanned journey. But, I never had any fear of being dragged off the train as nighttime came, and the carriage seats had to be converted into bunk beds. Not the quietest nights of sleep, but the most moving of experiences :-).
Jamaica had a passenger train line, which went from Montego Bay in the north to Kingston. The amateur video is not a perfect substitute but gives a good impression. The ride itself was just a beautiful course across the Blue Mountains and the so-called Cockpit country. But the ride I took in the mid-1980s was eventful. The encounter with a fervent evangelist who wanted to convert all the passengers before we headed into eternal damnation. The train broke down at one stage and all the passengers had to get out and push! Really! That warrants a refund if it weren’t so great a memory. I can still hear the vendors: “Bun ‘n’ cheese…”
I spent most of my school days in England travelling on a train–Southall to and from Westminster for over 4 years. I got to know the repetitive clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails. At times, it was irritating; at other times, soothing enough to bring on sleep. Thankfully, I never woke up at a terminus. When I went back to London on a recent trip, it was quite a step back and forward in time to have to leave Paddington and take that same train line (the former Western Region), not just to my former home station, but further out into suburban/rural areas, which used to just be names (“Iver, Langley, Slough, …, Oxford…”) but were now stops through which I passed. Of course, much of what I used to see was no longer there (the old station waiting room; the Walls sausage factory in which I worked one summer), but enough sights were still there (like the Hanwell Viaduct) to make me ponder how the years had passed. The old and the new blended.
I have to smile, as I think back to days travelling to school. Passengers seated, reading newspapers or books or comics. Children giggling and playing, some doing homework. Men hanging onto rails or straps, having (happily?) given their seats up to women. No feet on seats. No phones in sight. No devices in sights. Gadget-free. Carriage doors that had to be opened manually; no whoosh of the electric sliding kind. People gazing through windows. Some interacting. Some distracted. Clickety-clack.