I’m travelling to Manchester on a Virgin Cross Country service from Bristol Temple Meads. I don’t get to travel by train very often these days (and when I do, it’s usually by Great Western to London) so this is something of a novelty to me. Two things that have struck me already (an hour into the three hour journey) : one, that the seats seem to have been made smaller; and two, passengers have become a lot quieter.
I’m sure that when I was regularly travelling from Cardiff to Paddington, it was possible to curl up sideways on the seat and fall asleep comfortably without risking waking up dribbling on the shoulder of the person next to me. There’s no chance of that on this train. If I sit bolt upright in the seat, I can just about move my legs without having to thrust my knees out into the aisle first; but there is absolutely no way that I could put my head back on the seat and go to sleep (the headrest actually ends just above my shoulders!).
The inability to sleep would normally be compensated for by the entertainment that can be derived from overhearing snippets of conversations and one-sided telephone calls being held by fellow-passengers. There was inevitably the one person in the carriage who insisted on giving some poor subordinate back in the office a hard time over some minor administrative error, kidding himself (it’s always a man) that he’s the big ‘I am’ whilst actually simply coming across as a bit of an arse. Elsewhere, there’d be people talking about the meeting that they were on their way to, planning their negotiation strategy, anticipating the counter-plays of the other side, establishing their red lines. And then there would be the lawyer or civil servant opposite, working on official papers, furiously writing notes in the margin, or highlighting portentous paragraphs that were clearly critical to the business at hand. I became quite adept at surreptitiously reading upside-down documents, many of which meant little or nothing out of context, but around which it was possible to weave fantastic narratives that would allow the journey to fly by.
Unfortunately though, there’s very little informal, passenger-led entertainment on this train today – although the woman opposite me has just complained very loudly on the phone to her PA that she’s been booked in a seat opposite someone who is obviously reading her work papers upside down. I must be losing my touch!