I’m a pretty stressed-out person pretty much all of the time. Between stressing out about normal stuff – studying, and money, and whether any of my five pairs of heels go with that dress I bought on impulse for that party next week – I find time to stress out about everyone I know dying in horrible accidents, all my teeth falling out in the night, and whether I have cancer, or AIDS, or both. But the thing I stress out most about, even more than AIDS, is using public transport. Living in a town as small as St Andrews, with enough friends who have cars, and parents who begrudgingly pick me up for the holidays, the use of public transport has rarely been an issue in my short life.
Last summer however, having more disposable income than usual, owing to generous relatives and a recent milestone birthday, I embarked upon an odyssey across the UK, visiting friends and their families, in search of sun, culture, and hoping to find inspiration for an impending dissertation. It’s not all that exciting, I know, if you are the kind of person who jets off to Marrakesh at a moment’s notice, or takes your girlfriend to Milan for Valentine’s Day (you know who you are, actual real-world friends of mine in St Andrews). But for me, travelling anywhere alone is kind of a big deal. I’m not a small-town sort of person really – I have quite happily haggled over the price of a carpet in broken Turkish, in a market in İzmir – but being faced with the task of catching the bus to Leuchars has reduced me to a weepy, snotty mess on more than one occasion.
Trains and buses are the K-Fed to my Britney. They unhinge me (and apparently lead me to make rather outdated references to pop culture). That’s because trains and buses have brought into the open a pretty unpleasant character trait of mine – I hate people. Don’t get me wrong, I love people on an individual basis. I’m quite sure my heart has hurt because of how much I love my obnoxious little brother, for example. But I hate the public. The public is the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters; simultaneously horrifying and ridiculous. And on trains and buses, the public is stepping on your toes, eating annoying foods like pickled-onion-flavoured crisps, and talking several decibels above the level that makes your brain come dripping out of your nostrils.
The only thing worse than having to stand on a train that feels like it’s full of crying babies and smelly feet, when you’re trying to read a map and you no longer smell of apple-blossom shampoo but of anxiety and sweat instead, is having to do all of that whilst standing amongst a group of Brummies, who are discussing the finer details of an Elton John concert they all recently attended.
Swearing off those metal-and-glass misery-containers, I spent August on foot, working at the Edinburgh Fringe. How foolish I was to hope that this would provide some kind of respite. I had planned for a level of culture that would bring me to a state of Zen, but it was more like being trapped in a slow-moving pile of sweaty bodies for a month, with occasional breaks for theatre. It did little for my rage, as you could imagine. Aside from being subjected to the company of several hundreds of bamboozled tourists every day of August (which I’m sure was the method of torture that got Guy Fawkes to confess in 1605), 12-hour days in the capital meant spending a large portion of the month changing in the bathrooms of bars on the Cowgate. Mostly in that bathroom that’s entirely wallpapered with sheet music. Punters have still managed to scratch on witty phrases and the names of their conquests, somehow. Imagine someone loving you enough to write your name in a loo. To my knowledge, nobody has written my name yet.
But, I am now equipped with a most valuable skill; I can apply eyeliner in the back of a City Cab, on a hill, in traffic, whilst holding a conversation with a slightly racist taxi driver. That’s going straight on my CV. And despite not reaching a truly Zen state, I did achieve levels of restraint practically worthy of Mahatma Gandhi on more than one occasion last summer:
1. I did not scream at that Spanish tourist, who was shouting at his friends through a megaphone fashioned from a rolled-up flyer at Cambridge railway station that “You, sir, are a wanker”.
2. I did not calmly inform a mother, whose family was walking four-abreast on the pavement at Edgware Road and preventing me from catching a crucial connecting train in my journey back North, that ‘Madam, I am about two seconds away from kicking your kid into the road’. I just said it very loudly in my head instead.
I think I must be growing up.