As if I was going to wax lyrical about that cliched voyage of self discovery. No, no, no, I’m far too self conscious to be that self aware. Introvert all the way with me.
I was ruminating, without any thought of euphemism, on one of my rare train journeys recently. I was lucky. The train was clean, comfortable, air conditioned, and hardly anyone in the carriage. It was an environment that, if not exactly engendering positive thoughts, was very relaxing.
It’s not always that way though. Without a doubt, if it catches you at a bad moment, travelling on public transport or in the car, can deepen your negative moods to alarming levels. It rarely has the opposite effect.
Now, when I’m in the car, by and large I’m fine. I like the solitude of it all, even with other people in the car. I can switch off from the traffic around me, the radio, passengers or driver chatting, everything. I can just gaze out of the side window or windscreen, and either concentrate or relax.
Even traffic jams aren’t a hassle for me. I tend to see it as a chance to chill out. If the car is cramped, or the weather is one extreme or the other, that may be different, but by and large the car is a sanctuary for me.
The bus, however, is a completely different kettle of fish. Normally grubby, invariably draughty, and the variety of people getting off and on makes it extremely difficult to switch off and chill.
When buses get into traffic jams, again, it doesn’t bother me. When it trundles slowly along in normal traffic conditions, however, it serves to irritate more and more as the journey wears on. As a case in point, one recent voluntary job required me to be relaxed and happy throughout.
Without a car, though, the only way to get there was with two buses. A trip of 25 miles took uncomfortably over two hours each way, on packed vehicles, with passengers either sprawling over spare seats, playing their iPods so everyone else can hear them, or unruly kids being ignored by parents. Horrible.
Now the coach may seem similar, and very often it is. Their seats, however, are far more comfortable, and they are a fair bit quicker. When I’ve needed to travel hundreds of miles and money has been low, the overnight coach has been a good choice.
One Saturday night sojourn of over 500 miles had only 11 people in the entire coach. We stretched out, slept, and got there refreshed and relaxed. Daytimes can be the polar opposite, admittedly, and a rammed coach in sweltering heat is no fun. But for me, they’ve been the exception that proved the rule. Coach travel has been better for my mind rather than worse.
The trains? Well, what can you say. Such a mixed bag. If the inter-city is chocker, with a loud group nearby, and you’re crammed into their pokey airline seats, the journey can be a nightmare and really stresses me out.
When I commuted into London, in my much younger day, I hated that too. Even if you managed to get a seat, you were crowded in by the sheer numbers and size of people. I found it eerily disarming, too, that nobody said a word the entire journey, preferring to bury their head in a paper or stare vacantly at other commuters.
Having said all that, I’ve found so many train journeys to be really good for the mind and spirit. A lot of my time has been spent on Britain’s East Coast line. The stretch from Newcastle to Edinburgh is absolutely glorious to see. You can’t help but feel better for seeing it.
Elsewhere in Scotland, the route between Perth and Invernees is breathtaking at times. Dozens and dozens of miles of hills, greenery, or dark brooding moor. It’s mesmerisingly beautiful. Whenever I’ve had to travel northwards, I’ve chosen train over anything else simply for that. It makes me feel wonderful.
The planes, however, offer little in the way of such mind enhancement. The seats are uncomfortable, the windows small, the air stale (although I’m kind of pleased the air is there), and the queuing, the waiting, the scores of people really make me feel, not quite claustrophobic, but uncomfortable. I’m fine being in a crowd of people, I just don’t particularly like it.
What is also a little unnerving is seeing or hearing other people on the flight who have an anxiety of flying, rather than outright phobia. I don’t think too many people particularly like the banking just after take-off, and there’s always a feeling of relief when the flight soars through the clouds.
But to then hear someone talking of how long it is to land, how they wish they weren’t here, really adds to the negativity. There’s always a slight feeling that you’re inside a sardine tin, too, so again the claustrophobic senses kick in again. No, if I don’t need to, I won’t fly.
So where does that leave me in mind and spirit? If I’m in the car or train, I’m better for it, more positive. Yet, put me on a bus or a plane, you can guarantee I’ll be down and feeling depressed by the day’s end.
The moral of today’s scribblings? A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. But if the rest of it is on the 28A, avoid me.
For your good as well as mine.