Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's eating me?

Food on trains, that’s what’s eating me. Well, not food on trains per se, but rather some of the people who eat it. Casting my mind back a few months, I remember a post in which I got uncharacteristically hot under the collar about a discarded plastic pot which had presumably once contained some form of dip to accompany some of those curiously tasteless carrot sticks one can get from concourse retailers, but was now stuck to the inside of the seat-back tray, rendering it inoperable. This kind of thoughtlessness does grate on me. This evening, I took a seat next to a gentleman eating sushi, immediately regretting my decision, only to find that the guy was indeed a proper gentleman, who finished his fishy snack, wrapped it in a plastic bag to conceal the smell, and tucked it inside the tray in front of him, rather than hiding it under the seat for its next occupant to discover. But all around me were less considerate commuters rustling, crackling and crunching their way through bags of sweeties, crisps and various other types of pick-me-up.

Now I’m not one to moan without due cause, as I hope you all know, but if there is anything more annoying than listening to someone else fiddling with food packaging when you’re trying to concentrate on crafting some kind of literary masterpiece, I have yet to encounter it in a commuting context. It’s worse than mobile phones or music players because it’s so intermittent. One moment there can be rustling assailing you from all sides, accompanied by the inevitable strong whiff of artificial ingredients, and then suddenly it’s all peace and quiet. Just when you start to relax and your senses lower their defences to enjoy the serenity of a packed yet silent carriage, it starts again, setting off a nerve-shredding chain reaction of tremors inside your head which resonate to the very core of your brain. I’m not exaggerating.

So, in many ways, the people who eat food on trains are the bane of any right-thinking commuter’s life on the rails. On the other hand, and this just adds to the frustration because it’s such blatant hypocrisy, there can be few things more amusing than the sight of somebody actually trying to eat the food once they’ve retrieved it from the packaging. There’s a stall at Kings Cross that sells pasties, one item which always smells better than it tastes but even to those in the know is well-nigh irresistible. On those evenings when I’m home late, there is invariably at least one person tucking into, or attempting to tuck into, one of these messy, stodgy, utterly intractable pastry monstrosities. And what a complex operation it is. First of all, you watch the remarkable solemnity with which the poor sod opens the packaging, treating the oversized paper bag with tender, almost loving care lest the ludicrously delicate product inside get squashed or in any way disfigured. Then, having extracted the thing, in the process getting flakes of pastry absolutely everywhere in spite of such assiduous delicacy, the first bite, so mouthwatering in prospect, sends a shower of crumbs to the far end of the carriage, and invariably much of the filling down the person's front. If he (it is always a he - females are just too intelligent to fall for this one) does manage to get a proper mouthful, the sense of achievement is palpable, almost radiating from him, Which is strangely apt, because the next thing that happens is that he belatedly realises how scaldingly, impossibly hot the filling is, and his face turns purple.

The single most remarkable thing about people eating on trains, however, is how energetic they are. The simple process of easting a sandwich, baguette or pasty seems to take so much phyical effort that one feels any calories must be burned off in the process of consumption. It's as if they feel that, having paid for the food, they really have to enjoy it, and be seen to enjoy it. They don't just eat it, they devour it. It's faintly grotesque, really. And it only seems to apply to food that is bought at the station. People that bring sandwiches with them are far more delicate about it. But you can't help feeling they are missing out on something.


At 6:56 AM GMT+1 , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

Hi JD. I felt a bit uncomfortable reading this post! You write so well, so vividly and it made me feel as if I was back on a train to london experiencing all this again. I am one of the 'train eaters', usualy Burger King in one hand while reading a book held in the other. Thank you for your last comment on mine, I thought it was brilliant and have turned it into a review and posted it at the top of the post.

At 8:55 PM GMT+1 , Blogger Rish said...

It's funny 'cause it's true! It is ill-advised to eat any form of pastry-based product if you need to look smart for the rest of the day - scraping away the remnants is like trying to remove iron filings from a magnet...

At 9:09 PM GMT+1 , Anonymous Grumpy said...

Seems you are happy and I am grumpy. I have put you down as my first link - can you return the favour? It might even cheer me up.

At 6:25 PM GMT+1 , Blogger Chopski said...

I tend to eat the lumps of gum I find stuck onder the tables when hiding from the guard to avoid payment!


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