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