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In The Train
by [?]

It is said that travelling by train is to be made still more uncomfortable. I doubt if there is a man of sufficient genius in the Government to accomplish this. Are not the trains already merely elongated buses without the racing instincts of the bus? Have they not already learned to crawl past mile after mile of backyard and back garden at such a snail’s pace that we have come to know like an old friend every disreputable garment hung out on the clothes-lines of a score of suburbs? Do they not stand still at the most unreasonable places with the obstinacy of an ass? Stations, the names of which used to be an indistinguishable blur as we swept past them as on a swallow’s wing, have now become a part of the known world, and have as much attention paid to them as though they were Paris or Vienna. Equality has not yet been established among men, but it has been established among stations. There never was such a democracy of frightfulness.

We seldom see a station which has about it the air of permanence. There are, I believe good historical reasons why there are no Tudor stations or Queen Anne stations to be found in the country. Still, I know of no reason why so many stations should look as though they had been built hurriedly to serve the needs of a month, like a travelling show in a piece of waste ground. Not that the railway station has any of the gaudy detail of the travelling show. It resembles it only in its dusty and haphazard setting. It is more like a builder’s or a tombstone-maker’s yard. The very letters in which the name of the station is printed are often of a deliberate ugliness. No newspaper would tolerate letters of such an ugliness in its headlines. They stare at one vacuously, joylessly. It is said that the village of Amberley is known to the natives as “Amberley, God help us!” How many stations look at us from their name-plates with that “God help us!” air! What I should like to see would be a name-plate that would seem to announce to us in passing: “Glasgow, thank God!” or whatever the name of the station may be. I have never yet discovered a merry station. Here and there a station-master has done his best to make the place attractive by planting geraniums in the form of letters to spell the name of the place on a neighbouring embankment. But these things remind one of the flowers on a grave. And the people who walk up and down the platform, their noses cold in the wind, are hardly more cheerful than undertakers’ men. Even the porters in their green trousers, who roll the milk-cans along the platform to the luggage-van with an energy and a clatter that would satisfy the ambition of any healthy child, do not look merry. There was one cheerful porter who used to welcome you like a host, and make a jest as he clipped your railway ticket–“Just to lighten your load, sir!”–but the Government had him removed and put to mind gates at a crossing where he would not be able to speak to the passengers. As a rule, however, nobody looks as if he liked being in a railway station or would stop there if he could go anywhere else. I trust the Ministry of Reconstruction will see to it that the railway stations of the country are rebuilt and vivified. One does not really wish to stop at any station at all except one’s own station. But if one has to do so, let the stations be made more amusing.

Unfortunately, it is not only the frequent stops that have made railway travelling almost ideally uncomfortable. The Government seems also to have hired a staff of workers to impregnate the seats of the carriages with dust and to scatter all the dust that can be spared in these exiguous days on the floors. They have also a gang of old and wheezy gentlemen who travel up and down the line all day shutting the windows. This work is sometimes deputed to women. They are forbidden to say “May I?” or “Do you mind?” or to make use of any civil expression that might mollify the traveller sitting by the window. It is part of their instructions to reach past him with an air of independence and to have the window shut and the book that he is reading knocked out of his hand before he has time to see what has happened. Some day someone will write a book about the alteration of English manners that took place during the Great War. I believe the alteration is largely due to these Government hirelings whose duty it is to make railway travel a burden and never to say “Please” or “Thank you.”