“My Train Journey” an article for the New Inquiry.

25 Apr

Although I come from a generation of young, creative people who have gone to the best schools, taken courses at the best universities and got the best internships, in today’s world of decadent capitalism we are discarded like a used ticket receipt in the rubbish-bag of Cameron’s Britain. If one mode of transport was to be a metaphor for the radical social movements of today the train – fast moving, dynamic, yet seemingly filled with relics from another generation in the guise of grumpy old RMT men and stressed, dishevelled passengers who are more interested in checking their timetables than checking their privileges, the train would surely be a worthy contender.

I set out at 6.49 in the morning, an ungodly hour for those of us who are accustomed to getting up at 10 in the morning after a hard day’s work calling people on the internet out on social media networks for various types of oppression. Yet this is the condition which bright young people like myself find ourselves in. As I queue up to place my card into the ticket machine it occurs to me that this mechanised monetisation of transport is little more than an Orwellian hell.

Without a ticket, you are nothing in the world of rail transport. As I take mine dutifully like the good citizen I have been taught to be by my bourgeois surroundings, I hear a pair of Spanish Stalinists muttering about those mysterious beings any train traveller hears if they wait on the station concourse longer than a few weeks. The fare-dodgers. Perhaps you don’t have to be nothing without a ticket at all. Perhaps you can be something. Or somebody.

The train pulls into view, after a whole ten minutes of standing on the platform in the drizzle with the other commuters, with not even the humble roof of my Islington hovel, unslightly though it is, to shield me from the effects of Mother Nature. I step onto it and into another world. The coke bottles and old copies of Metro on the floor, thrown away like Britain’s brightest talents. Under a commuter’s foot I see a crumpled copy of the Morning Star. I wonder whether the squatters I met in Greece would see it as the death of the old tired dogmas and the beginning of something new.
The Spanish Stalinists have their own opinions. “That paper is being crushed, just like all our hopes.”

The train driver announces the next stop. Like so many other things in life our future destination on this carriage is being decided by an unseen white man.

“Tickets, please,” comes a gruff voice from behind me. A ticket inspector, employed to ward off the evil fare-dodgers no doubt, policing those who may even dream of another world, of a non-monetary revolution on the tracks. He wears an RMT badge on his lapel and I wonder whether Bob Crow ponders this intersectionalising of those identified by class (the train workers) and those who are no longer defined by their class, but simply whether they have a ticket, and what type of ticket they have.

“You have reached Reading, where this train will terminate.” I descend from the train. “Stand back from the platform edge,” we are told. We may be able to stand back from the edge of the platform but as I write this article on my iphone I realise that we can never stand back from the edge of a fundamental change in how we see not only the world of First Great Western, but the hipster squats of New York and London and the ethical cafes set up by Occupy activists. Would any of the grim-faced commuters standing about me know of these things, know that they are intended to benefit them?

I walk up the narrow escalator. Starbucks have a kiosk here, an intrusion of American globalisation into that very English institution, the train station. Throughout the station and even the train itself we are bombarded with advertising, and the tragic thing is most people aren’t even aware of it. For most of my generation, although luckily not me, the overpriced Starbucks coffees inside train stations are perpetually out of financial reach.

As I hold in my hand that most potent symbol of imperialist capitalism, the disembodied robotic voice of First Great Western bursts into life. “The 7.40 service to London Paddington is cancelled,” it says. Cancelled it may be, but despite the groans of middle aged men in suits and workwear wishing to turn up to their dreary forbidding jobs, our young, vibrant future is not.


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