Trains are a strange place. You see all kinds of people, going different places; people so different in their essence they would never meet in any other place but the train. Probably this is the reason you see so many big rituals happen there – boredom, showing off or even your own two hours of privacy – it does things to people.
The following events took place on the 1843 express from London Paddington to Swansea.
When I look back it seemed obvious but my fellow travellers would agree the person you’d first notice was that guy. You know the one – huffing and puffing, slightly older, slightly obese, very bald with expensive suit to match all of this. People observed him as he put his tiny Nero cup to the side, open his black leather briefcase and took out a copy of the Financial Times (my guess was he bought it this morning, paraded it through the office and then put it away for the train journey, because you know – there were more people to show it to).
He sat down, got rid of his jacket and slammed it on the seat next to him – surprisingly those people do not enjoy someone seating next to them. He then proceeded to open the newspaper and sip his now cold coffee. He was trying so hard to look important that if he had one of those “do not disturb” signs hanging off his nose the picture would have been complete. Twenty minutes later he was fast asleep as his gentle snoring was like an elevator music to the creaking of the train.
Another interesting character was this lady, sitting not far from our train snoratto – way past her prime, with a stern look on her lip and a pink knitted cardigan. As she was buying coffee from the trolley she asked, no, instructed the attendant not to put the teabag in the water but to provide her with a cup of hot water, a tea bag and one of those small pots of “almost” milk. But that’s not interesting. The exciting part began after the trolley was out of sight.
She put the components on the table in front of her, ready for assembly. She unpacked the tea bag and dipped it exactly 3 times in the water, removed it from the cup and placing it in it’s packaging. Then she proceeded to pour the milk in and stir it carefully. Here I would like you to notice that the expression on her face was one of such seriousness it would give the passerby the impression she just might be preforming a brain surgery on the tea bag. All the seriousness of the world was on this woman’s face.
How about the small rituals of the big people, you might ask. They are so small often times they are invisible to the people, yet they are so important. What makes you feel human? Waking up earlier to share a cup of coffee with your other half, or maybe the memory and the smile of that oh-so-familiar perfume; the unique scent of our loved ones or gathering in secrecy to play poker every second Thursday of the month.
Rituals are the salt to the physical function; the calm of the cigarette, the memory to the cup of Earl Grey (just like she used to make it). There are already 7 billion of us, same in the biological sense of the word, yet you eagerly search for your friend’s face in the crowd. Why do you anticipate meeting them when you can replace them with anyone else on this planet? Let me guess – you share a ritual, don’t you? That’s what I thought.
Yes, we use rituals to make who we are. Today this space is conquered on a daily basis by brands – how often do you say things like ‘let’s go to Starbucks’ or you ‘share a Coke with’. In the age of “I” brands are becoming the vehicle for who we want to be.
Are you reading this and smiling to yourself thinking of your rituals, quietly in the privacy of your own head? Maybe you are; maybe this is too deep for this early in the morning, or too shallow for the 3 a.m. drink. Who knows…