By Nicholas Stanley
The 17:00 from Fishbourne to Portsmouth
The 17:00 from Fishbourne to Portsmouth. A 44 minute journey on the car ferry back from the Isle of Wight. Enthralling stuff.
I stood and watched the early rush in the café as the large majority of the ferry’s 70 odd passengers got themselves something for the short crossing. Coffee beat tea by about 50 to 3, despite it being a little late in the day.
While the Great British Hot Drink of Choice may have shifted from the traditional to the continental, no such change has occurred in our snacking preferences on this evidence. Sandwiches, shortbreads, biscuits and not a single piece of fruit. Reassuring.
There are a couple of patterns I noticed during the journey.
The first is associated with attire. Those dressed in suits, smart jumpers or Barbour jackets seemed, without exception, angry and fed up. Perhaps the journey was getting in the way of the exceptionally important business of getting on with their exceptionally important lives. When sat, they were always slumped. Their posture an indication to others that they were grumpy at having to do something as menial as travelling. They had other, exceptionally important things to be doing, don’t you know.
Those dressed in baggy old clothes tended to wander aimlessly with glazed over stares. They would turn slowly with their tray of confectionary and trudge over to the milk and sugar station. Like directionless bubbles they almost bumped into the other baggily attired passengers. Directionless and with no conviction in their movement, they were clearly happy to pass the next 40 minutes in their own world with nothing pressing on their mind.
The staff seemed the happiest on the boat. They walked around looking purposeful, sharing little jokes and gently chiding one another as they passed in the corridor. They always shared a smile when their paths crossed, irrespective of the rank their uniform suggested.
The other big distinction between those onboard was mobile phone use.
Bar a few card-playing families the only people not on their phones were those at the younger and older ends. Perhaps the ferry was still a novelty for the under 13s as they sat, staring, taking it all in. Not a phone in sight. That, or they were observing the ferry’s micro community in order to write a blog about it later. Who knows? The elderly were almost exclusively absorbed in in crossword puzzles.
Only when people did put their phones down did they seem to enjoy themselves. They are such miserable objects, phones, and the faces of their users reflect that fact. No one smiled while on her or his phone. Lay them aside, however, and a smile was never far away (human interaction being far more entertaining than a screen). The card playing family were in hysterics, by the way. Just an observation.
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