A Train, A Crush, A Cinematic Memory

I’m fortunate these days that I rarely have to travel in London during the busiest times.  In fact, even when I was working regular hours I chose to travel earlier than the main rush so I didn’t have to endure the unpleasantness of the crush of people on the Tube, preferring to leave home earlier than the herd and have a leisurely cup of coffee, with my notebook, in a café around the corner from my office.

There are, however, days when I have to travel at the edges of the rush, a little later than people who have to be their offices by nine, but with those who don’t start until ten.  It can be tolerable, but, if there’s been earlier disruption, it can be quite the opposite.

Last week, during the exceptionally cold weather, I had to use the local overland train,which lumbers along under the lumpen name of First Capital Connect, in a turquoise and fuchsia livery with the tendency to look grubby under the slightest touch.  Although my journey was on the latter fringes of peak hours, there must have been a glitch earlier, as the train, when it arrived, was already packed.

There was little option but to join the throng. and at each successive stop, the doors opened and more people squeezed in.  Where before there was no space, we each found a little extra gap into which to insinuate ourselves, finding enough space for our feet, feeling the corner of someone else’s briefcase pushing into the back of our legs, stretching up for a handhold, braced against the rocking of the train.

It soon grew oppressively stuffy as well as crowded, but all the windows were closed against the unseasonal extreme cold.  As I turned my head to try to catch some fresher air when the doors opened briefly, I was struck by the similarities to iconic images  from the David Lean version of ‘Doctor Zhivago’.

When Zhivago and his family are on the train heading out of Moscow, lying on wooden bunks, crammed in with other refugees,  after they’ve been travelling for several days, they slide  the door open to clear away the soiled straw from the floor, but they have to break the cocoon of ice that has built up along the side of the train before the rubbish can swept outside.  As the ice wall crashes away the cold air swirls in around them.

There was a definite echo of the squalid conditions in the Russian train whispering through the 8:57 to Moorgate.

I could hear Klaus Kinski rattling the chains that bound him to the train shouting ‘I am the only free man here.’

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