Happiness snapshot

I’m going to come out and say it: I love commuting. There, you weren’t expecting that, were you? And no more was I. Last November and December, when I knew that in the new year I’d be working in Norwich and living in Cambridge, trickles of apprehension would regularly visit my spine at the thought of spending three hours a day on a train.

And now I struggle to remember why I was afraid. The sense of public exposure? Fellow-commuters’ pinstriped elbows and noisy music? Eating my season ticket in a moment of stress? In fact I suspect it was chiefly timetable fear: the anxiety of being bound by public transport, of living under the rule of Greater Anglia. The soggy dread of missing the school bus.

Yet here I am: sitting with my feet up (shoes off, of course) in a moving picture of fenland greys and greens. I have a table and a double seat all to myself. I can read, doze, watch for wildlife. Some mornings there are attention-seeking, tiger-striped sunrises; on other days the black groundrow of the trees has a gentler, dove-coloured backcloth. Branches are ornamented with cutouts of sleeping birds. Occasionally I astonish myself and do some work, in my special train notebook – but that’s a bonus, not a base-line.

Working to a timetable, bowing to someone else’s routine, is surprisingly pleasant: it relieves you of having to make timekeeping decisions yourself. It reminds me of the time I got stuck in the Tower lift at the UL. Lifts have always scared me, and being caught in a broken-down one was a favourite nightmare – so the first few minutes were spent warding off a panic attack and wondering when the emergency system would stop talking at me in a repetitive metallic voice and finally connect me with a human. After that, though, I felt a totally unexpected sensation of peace. I sat cross-legged on the lift floor, trying to remember all the verses of The Lady of Shalott, and occasionally being cheered by colleagues shouting reassurance and updates down the lift shaft. I felt vacant, relieved of all responsibilities. Nobody could blame me for not doing something, because there was literally nothing I could do: I was outside time, poised between floors, all agency suspended. And it felt wonderful.

Commuting, for me, brings the same sensations: a feeling of being still while the world outside moves; the space regained in the joints that comes when you stand up after a yoga session. Nothing is expected; it’s the fallow season. Which is precisely what’s needed in order to be productive.

***

Things I have learned from my commute:

Getting up at 6 a.m. is nothing that espresso can’t fix.

Every Fen dawn is beautiful, even the misty ones. (Maybe especially the misty ones.).

And no-one ever gets on or off at Spooner Row.

Fen Sunrise by meg_nicol

Image: 'Fen sunrise' by meg_nicol, flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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6 comments so far

  1. Christopher Pipe on

    A*

  2. Margaret Jones on

    Loved the post. Wish my commute (by car) was as peaceful, although I agree with you about the early morning Fenland landscape – I have raced a barn owl across the Sixteen Foot at dawn on a winter’s day. So pleased to hear that everything’s going well in Norwich xx

  3. Kirsten on

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! That’s why I still walk rather than cycling to work, I think – my brain doesn’t have to spend nearly so much computational energy on how not to end up under a Vauxhall Corsa at Mitcham’s Corner, so instead it wanders around, having no pressing need to be anywhere other than in my skull.

  4. Sally Lander on

    Thank you so much Emma. Wonderful. I’ve been to London 3 times to my yoga class this term, and the journey is a joy.

  5. Nathalie on

    Thank you for sharing! Commuting can offer you space to think and/ or chat if you commute, like me, with spouse. It can become precious time.

  6. […] neither time- nor length-based. It’s … erm … spatial. Because I have a long train journey every morning, I figured that would be the best time to work: an hour and a half of time already […]


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