The human condition…

I travel from Oxford to Reading by train most days, since I live in the former, and work in the latter. Travelling by train is an excellent opportunity to observe interest human behaviours (trying to avoid sounding too David Attenborough here!).

Two particular favourites:

1. The etiquette related to taking seats. Usually I get a train which starts at Oxford, and there are always plenty of seats. Obviously the table seats tend to fill first, since if you want to work on a laptop these are the only seats with enough space to work comfortably. This isn’t particularly interesting. What interests me, as a scientist, is how people fill up the rest of the seats (which are usually in twos). A commuter train is full of people travelling alone, and unless one has to, very rarely do two people sit together – just like electrons in atoms (see my chemistry pages). As the train fills, however, and people need to join someone, there is very much a gender split – women sit with women, and men with men. Surely the average businessman is not so threatening that a woman travelling alone would need to avoid sharing a seat with one? Or has our current culture brought us to the stage where we tend to trust no-one? I hope not.

2. This is a much less serious point, but is a terrible reflection on the pressures of life. At busy times, there are fast trains from Reading to London Paddington every 3-5 minutes, so why, every day, do people come barging through those getting off the train, down to the platform, and then claw at the locked doors as the train is trying to pull out, when they could just walk to the next platform, and get the following train, which is often already arriving at the station. I see this everyday – what is there to gain? What’s the point. We all have busy lives, but surely 5 minutes delay in your journey won’t affect you too much, and besides, if it’s that important, get up five minutes earlier. Besides, it’s dangerous, moving train, lots of people, crowded platform – accident waiting to happen.

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