Spending time travelling on public transport invariably requires spending a fair bit more time waiting for whatever conveyance to actually arrive. Sometimes that can be pleasant, other times really not. More often than not, trains or buses running late simply delays getting home. I’ve had to kill time all across our land and I have almost become an expert at it. There are some places where you just know you’ll be there for a while, like Preston. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day trip to the north west of England that hasn’t involved spending longer than expected in Preston, invariably on a cold, dark night when I just want to go home. The last time I walked around the station at least twice. Another time I sat in the coffee shop reading a copy of the New York Times I had picked up earlier in the day in Manchester.
I have nothing against Preston or indeed Virgin Trains whose trains are often delayed passing through it. I don’t particularly mind sitting watching the world go by.
I’ve had long years of practice, at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. I often sat for ages at Waverley waiting for the train home to Dunbar, then a bit more limited than they are now. (Not by much, mind.) I used to love listening to the train announcements, feeling much calmer as I listened to the rhythm of the PA system billow forth with the announcement of the latest train to Perth or Glasgow Queen Street. And I watched the people, wondering just where the people were going, imagining back stories for folk as they passed. Sometimes I didn’t have to as people were sometimes drunk or just spraffing as they passed and I got a very full picture of how they found themselves there.
Today I spend ever increasing amounts of time sitting on public transport or on stations. My new job leads me to spend time at Paisley Gilmour Street Station, on Platform 1 waiting for my train home at night. Gilmour Street is a Victorian station, all glass, red brick and tradition, and though I am often there on the way home, it gives me a slight tinge of excitement every time I’m there. Even at after 8 at night, the announcements of trains to Largs, Ardrossan, Gourock, Ayr and Wemyss Bay make me want to step aboard one of them, when I really should be going home. There are less workers that time of night, students occasionally, parents and kids going home, older couples out late, possibly after a jolly decent meal out.
The other night, I had just missed the train home from Central Station. I didn’t have so long to wait, only half an hour. I took a turn around WH Smith then walked slowly across to the far end of the station, looking slowly around me as I walked, taking the odd photograph and generally taking my time. I sat on the wall near the ticket barriers and watched folk pass by, people looking for their platform, others killing time, like I was. Some were out for the night while I was on my way home, my day over.
There are times when I don’t like to be invisible. For times like these, though, it’s essential and I am just another person in the crowd. That’s fine. It means I can look better at what’s happening around me, at the variety of people and things going on, at architecture and arched expressions. It’s the bit of me that’s a writer that comes out, looking subtly around and capturing little vignettes that might come out a few weeks, months or years later in some bit of prose. Stopping, especially when you’re compelled to, is when you see best and it becomes less like killing time but making the best of it.