It’s a long time since I’ve been a commuter. Now I come to think of it, it’s been a very long time. My first job after leaving school was at an Insurance company in Manchester and I travelled to work either by bus or by train. Going by rail was slightly more expensive as I remember it but the advantage of going by rail was that the railway station was only a stone’s throw from where I worked. That was quite handy after work as it was nice to pop into the pub, either the Salisbury or the Beef and Barley for a few pints then nip round the corner to the station when I was ready to go home. I remember it well: The walk to the station and then finding my usual spot on the platform. There were plenty of other regulars who travelled with me, not that I ever got to know them but day after day we waited together on that platform. We boarded the train together and slipped into our own favoured seats. On the journey back I particularly remember one young girl, slightly older than me with lovely long legs. Wish I’d got to know her!
In my current job I work shifts so the rush hour is something I rarely embrace. This week however I went to a training course in Manchester which started at 9 am so once again I joined the ranks of the commuter.
The 07:27 from St Annes on Sea to Preston where I had to change trains was a pretty nice trip. Busy but not excessively so. Everyone knew their place and seemed calm and organised. No one played loud music or hogged seats by leaving bags or coats on them. In Preston I nipped smartly across to the next platform and was just in time for my connection to Manchester. This train was pretty busy but once again seasoned commuters filled the train and as it was the trans-Pennine express to Manchester Airport, it was a much comfier train with roomier seats.
The train stopped at Oxford Road, my old stop from my insurance days and a great many people left the train there. After that we rumbled on through the centre of Manchester, bumping and squeaking over the old track, looking down on Oxford Rd and passing behind my old office and on to Piccadilly station.
The journey back was something of a different nature. Those who had come on the train from the airport were a little surprised by the rampant hordes waiting for them on the platform at Piccadilly. Many had returned from trips abroad and sat scanning newspapers for news of the home country. Coffees and teas littered the tables and some had left bags and cases on the seats. Then the train slid to a halt. Some looked idly up to see where the train had stopped just in time to see the doors open and a mass of humanity surge in like a tidal wave. The afternoon rail trip brought passengers of a different nature. People playing loud music, people taking up two seats who gave them up reluctantly as ever more people crammed into the carriage. Many people seemed glued to their mobile phones, oblivious to the outside world and blocking it out with their earphones. Back in the seventies commuters read books or magazines on the train. Nowadays, they listen to music or watch video on smartphones or tablets, plastic earpieces plugged into their heads.
The trip back home involved a long wait, usually half an hour for my connecting train in Preston. In the early evening this train was invariably rather like an old bus that had been dragged from the back of the garage to help out in the rush hour. It was dark going home and the conductor garbled the name of the approaching stations over the rather raucous tannoy. I listened incomprehensively and peered through the gloom of the window to try and spot a familiar landmark. One evening I nearly exited at Ansdell and Fairhaven by mistake. I was glued to my book and glanced up to see what I thought was my station coming up. The lady next to was watching a video and didn’t appear to see or hear me trying to get past her. She had her earphones set firmly in her ears blocking out any unwanted sound and I had to shout to get her to see me and let me past. The train doors closed just as I got to them but luckily I was a station early and St Annes was the next stop. Looking around I seemed to have been the only person reading a book. Almost everyone was concentrating on a smartphone or tablet.
Times have changed since the late seventies.