Whilst on holiday in Weymouth, during a nose through the book section in a charity shop, the title of a hard-back book caught my eye. It was: Last Call for the Dining Car – The Telegraph Book of Great Railway Journeys by Michael Kerr & at £2.50, it was a bargain not to be missed.
After a day of fun & frolics on the beach, with the kids glued to some trash on the TV, I retrieved the book from my bag & started flicking through the pages. The book was a collection of stories, abbreviated articles & letters that Michael Kerr, the Deputy Editor to The Telegraph, had compiled into one, neat tome. And I loved it.
For a lazy reader like myself, these excerpts were an ideal size to keep my imagination suitably amused. As I read I could picture myself being served a cocktail on the Orient Express or rattling through the Urals on the Trans-Siberian. But it was at the very start of chapter 6, that a readers letter really struck a chord with me. Written in December 1960 by a Mr Kenneth M Boyd of Sheffield, it was titled: Delights of Rail Travel, Time for Reflection.
Sir – Your correspondent who complains of his fourteen-hour journey from London to Glasgow has, with all respect, missed the whole point of rail travel.
The purpose of rail travel is not to convey people as quickly as possible from A to B, but rather to recall modern man from his headlong rush to nowhere by providing him with a time opportunity to consider whether his journey from cradle to shroud is worthwhile. As T.S. Eliot has observed:
‘You are not the same people who left the station. Or who will arrive at any terminus.’
The railways are one of the few remaining English institutions that provide such an opportunity for reflection – and who begrudge an extra pound for such an invaluable service?
So, after 50 odd years, I would like to reply to Mr Boyd.
Dear Mr Boyd,
As one, who likewise views rail travel as an opportunity for reflection, I often ponder on mankind’s desire for ever-increasing ‘need for speed’. The journey you mentioned in your letter now takes approximately 5 hours to complete & with the advent of high-speed rail travel, I am in no doubt, that this time will be reduced even further.
It seems the ability for a person to let their brain simply ‘tick-over’ is now virtually, non-existent. Such is the need for constant mental stimulation during travel (& dare I say it, wider in life), that instead of gazing at the beauty of the world outside the window, most people, even on the shortest journey, seem content to gaze at a miniature portable computer – a handheld communication device that displays television-type images upon a screen no larger than a cigarette packet. And I do find it quite farcical, that whilst living in an age of ‘mobile connectivity’ & ‘social media’, where one person may chatter instantly ‘online’ with a friend on the opposite side of the world, that the thought of conversing with the person sat directly next to them on a train, fills them with dread & mistrust. In fact, with regard to the art of conversation, I do believe there are members of the generation below mine, who I gather have lost all use of the English language in the spoken form, communicating these days either by a series of Neanderthal ‘grunts’, or by a form of typewritten shorthand on their ‘mobile’ device. In light of what I witness, it begs the question – are we really speeding forward or slipping backwards?
D. Street, Reading, Berkshire.