I am multitasking in the quiet coach. The external dvd drive has failed in its main purpose and the stand-up disc lies dormant in the shiny black casing. So instead of watching funny people and quietly chuckling to myself I’m finishing The Metro’s Sudoku, chewing on my pen lid as I try and work out the logical positioning of the numbers – the ‘Easy’ one is always the hardest for me and the one I make most mistakes on as it takes a while for my brain to click back into that form of thinking. Actually I’ve spotted an 8 in the wrong place. Shit. I have also been fixing the track names on my newly installed itunes as I hate it when one album comes up in 7 different parts because of one or to listing errors. I am listening to the revolving selection of tracks from my collection, something from a Now album, then some jazz, musicals, punk, rock… It’s a bit more fun letting it sit on random. Occasionally a song will come on that I think I should add to a playlist. It will be titled ‘Film Soundtrack’ and I will walk around listening to it pretending I’m in a film about my own life. I suspect I’ll find it hard to pick only 15 songs, the sort of standard for an OST.
It’s the quiet coach and I hope I’m not disturbing anyone with the faint buzzing from my headphones. No one has complained and I don’t see any disapproving looks so far. It probably doesn’t matter too much as the Spanish student across the aisle is talking quite loudly to the old lady and her grandson on his table. She listens on approvingly to his tales of moving to England attempting university in a strange country. I don’t hear what he is studying, I only catch small snippets in the quiet between songs and the dips in the music. The song has moved onto some drum and bass I don’t remember buying.
The man opposite me in a green cable knit jumper that probably comes from Marks and Spencer has asked me to wake him at Sheffield should he fall asleep. I agree, but there is no sign of him nodding off. He looks around anxiously and pulls out a dog-eared book about Churchill. His place is kept with a make shift bookmark, a playing card. Long used and worn down to about ¾ of its original size. The centre of the 7 of clubs is worn down by a left thumb gently moving forwards and backwards across its surface. His right hand moves frantically. He pulls a back biro with a blue lid out of a jacket pocket and for a second I think he’s about to start making notes in the books. I baulk at the idea – if you are writing in a book it should be with pencil that can be rubbed out, but instead he taps and swirls the pen against the page. It is a fast moving pattern that seems to be well practised and habitual.
My listening/writing is interrupted. We arrive at a station, the man in the green jumper gets up to move and he is replaced but two girls in their late teens. One has a long floaty dress covered in flowers and a floral garland in her hair. Mostly plastic flowers but she has interwoven some daisies that are beginning to fade and droop sadly onto her brown, tangled hair. The other has light brown dreads, some flashes of felt added in to the back. Her army style jacket is heavily laden with badges of bands I’ve never heard of and she’s added her own embellishments of bras looking clocks and scissors to one of the sleeves. As she shuffles onto the window seat she adjusts the top hat that balances dangerously on her head. She checks her reflection in the window and moves the goggles that are strapped around the hat so that they are not perfectly centred. She rummages in her bang and finds a tube of henna. Spreading her left hand across the table she starts to draw an Egyptian style eye on the pale skin. The dark henna stands out in the muted light of the train and she starts talking to her friend about what Jonty and Rupert were up to the night before on their bicycles. Even through the wall of sound (The Civil Wars – Barton Hollow) coming through my headphones I can make out that they all thought it was ‘Totes hilarious’. Her flowery friend nods, silent.
The conductor comes through checking tickets and asks them to move to a noisier coach after an old couple with a bag of mixed lettuce in front of them talk to him. The girls get up, smiling, the steampunk girl being careful not to knock the drying henna on her way past. There is a chill as they exit through the sliding door that threatens to close on them. I pull my jacket down from the hook and put it back on. It doesn’t help warm me. The only other option is a scarf but that is packed safely in the suitcase which is now rammed in with all the others.
The music changes (The Housemartins – Happy Hour) and I sneeze. No one has come to fill the seats around me so I have the table to myself. We speed through a tunnel and my ears pop. The train shuffles gently from side to side but the movement is starting to make me feel sick. A man with a fashionable haircut is making his way down the aisle, the train shifts suddenly as we head around a corner and he is thrown almost onto the lap of an older man. The younger apologises and moves on and the seated man straightens out his paper and readjusts the glasses on the end of his nose. I can’t work out if he is reading over them or through them.
Another tannoy announcement, another station approaching. I go back to my Sudoku.