Contemporary travel etiquette

Why does seeing contemporary art always involve a train journey? Why didn’t I call this blog Train Journeys and Art? And not least, what is it about being on a train that always gets me writing? None of which are questions for now. The only thing exercising me now is how modern society behaves when travelling en masse.

I dragged myself out of bed in darkness to catch an early train for a prompt start to catch the delights of the Liverpool Biennial. I dragged my husband out of bed in darkness to taxi me to the station. We battled ice on the windscreen and road to get me there on time. Sadly, the Transpennine Express didn’t realise the effort I was making and failed to arrive on time.

Platform 16a was pleased to welcome instead an unmarked set of carriages which emptied itself of all passengers and then sat silently. Most travellers stood looking suspiciously at it at, but some couldn’t wait to get out of the cold, leapt on and triumphantly grabbed seats. A collective supercilious smugness descended on the rest of us when these overeager passengers were forced to gather their belongings and get off a train going nowhere.

As we continued to stamp our feet, an inaudible announcement apparently declared a change of platform. Now fully bonded through our collective scorn, we barged as one up the nearest escalator to platform 15 where three carriages awaited the rush hour crowd to the north west.

Clutching my seat reservation (just one of my seven printed tickets for this simple journey, all potentially invalidated by the absence of any single one), I pessimistically eyed up the carriage numbers. Naturally my seat was occupied along with every other seat on the train even before the Leeds contingent climbed on and naturally there was no reserved sign. And so the big etiquette question: I feel bad about it, but I still want this guy in ‘my’ seat to know it is ‘my’ seat even though clearly I am not going to assert my ‘rights’. So I lean over and ask him if he is going all the way, just wondering, you know, because I have a seat reservation, don’t worry, just wondering? Yes, he says, and avoids eye contact because he is probably worried I am going to make a scene. And the woman next to him now announces in a tight, polite, restrained tone, that she too has a reserved seat elsewhere which someone else is sitting in. This of course is irrelevant to me, but I realise she feels compelled to let me know subtly that I am being rather silly. And I realise she is probably speaking on behalf of many in the carriage holding useless seat reservations and wondering who is this idiot on a crowded rush hour train even thinking that the whole reservation system can operate in such circumstances. And everyone is hoping I will just shut up and put up and stand quietly for the rest of the journey. Which I am now doing, happily distracted and entertained tapping out this entry, letter by letter, on my phone.

And so a potentially embarrassing yet entertaining fracas is avoided and we all know where we stand. Literally.


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