there is one london marathon which i seem to involuntarily take part in on a regular basis – well, less of a marathon, more of a inpromtue sprint – and that is the ‘gotta get my seat on the train first’ run.
the starter’s blocks are the information boards at waterloo/euston/st.pancras* station, the 3..2..1.. countdown is the tense slow sideways wiping of information from one screen to the next, clinging on to your rucksack with white knuckles until the platform information for your train turns from two silent dashes, that tell you no more information than ‘waaaaaait for it’, and then BANG! the starters gun, platform 14.
There are invariably one or two who have the advantage of doing a journey on a regular basis, and know the odds of the the train being on the same platform every time, but for the most part, we all, as a crowd, not to dissimilar from the annual flora sponsored event, move off, a herd to begin with, a giant mosh pit of commuters swarming towards the train, and then some breakaway. Some, with the longer legs, naturally stride ahead, but so do those with not as long calf and thigh, waddling as fast as their suitcase and tesco bag will allow. A few even start running, knowing the prime seats are there for the taking – its survival of the fittest.
but wait, we arrive, the few who have energy to break into a sweat to secure that all important table – and the doors of the train are closed. We’re british, and this throws us as a nation, too polite to enquire whether the doors should be open, we nervously scan left and right, praying that a guard or platform staff will make the first move, and show us that the doors are unlocked. Glancing back towards the station concourse, and the evolutionary dregs are moving towards us with increasing speed – one of them might get on before us – which is unacceptable, i ran, i should have the first seat, i will have the first seat. the doors, still not open, i reach for the cynanide pills, as i would rather die than see my forward facing table window seat in the non-smoking section go to one of the ‘walkers’, but wait, i’m saved, a brash american has simply pushed the illuminated ‘Open Door’ button, and without a moments hesitation, i do the same and barrel roll into the comparment, my bag spilling “Fresh!” sandwiches and a bottle of Oasis over the floor – the supplies can wait – i need that table.
I catch another person’s eye, moving towards the table from the other end of the carriage. Time slows, a hawk in the distance calls, a sign creaks as it swings in the soft breeze. He glances at the table, I do the same. We know the score, we know the rules, we know the aims. Everything turns black and white, and for the first time in my life, i see with utter clarity. There is the table, there is my enemy – Matthew, do this. Do this for you, your country and your comfort on the 8.35 to Paignton.
I leap, a single bound, and it carries me down towards the table, my counterpart doing the same. I concentrate, and find a a source of energy deep within my soul. A burst of light scores through my body, and my feet take flight, the table, elevated to the physical embodiment of my nirvana, moves ever closer. Shadows of faces pass me, souls who have fallen by the wayside, attempting to reach their seat 36F, but failed and been cast to the limbo between comfort and hades, screaming at me trying to make me falter, but i press on, the energy from my within now coursing through every vein and nerve in my body. I reach out my hand, stretch with all my might, every last drop of effort put in to inching closer to the formica dream, and contact, my skin touches the cold mottled top of destiny, my body jolts with ectasy – the world shrinks away and it is just me and the table, alone in the dark universe, bonded for three hours.
I sit, breathing heavily. My ordeal over, and i am happy.
I don’t know what happened to my opposite, where he went, whether he made it, but i hope that his soul does not torture him for all eternity over losing that table – kismet just defines winners and losers, and he, well, fate and the heavens were not on his side.