The train slides under the bridge and reveals a crowd of people on the platform opposite. They’re just across the tracks, but we’re worlds apart. More than half are doing something with their phones: listening to music, reading, messaging, playing games, or just talking. Not really there at all.
I look beyond the people to the grey office building a few blocks behind, across a wet car park and the low metal roofs of an industrial estate. Tiers of windows are beginning to glow. It’s my place of work. I see that most of this is just a distraction. Once hunger is beaten and hardship reduced to the daily grind, once survival is a game for someone else, everything becomes a distraction.
In this sense, mobile phones are merely a step on from the evening newspaper – a way to pass time between one commitment and another. They take us away from where we might find ourselves. We are all dreamers – lost in another place, always yearning for some other reality. We may briefly live it – all too briefly – before dragging ourselves back to the grind.
My own head is in Malawi and Madrid, taking in thoughts posted in Bishopston, Morecambe and Jordan along the way. More and more we are spatially independent but, as our physical location becomes an encumbrance, the sense of longing grows. Distraction comes at a cost.
My mother bemoans the fact that her son and grandchildren, when they visit, are always somewhere else. She’s right, but the urge to be elsewhere has nothing to do with her company – it’s just the insatiable urge to be anywhere but where we are now.
More trains slide under the bridge – none of them mine. Slice after slice, the people on the opposite platform are being removed. Like the blades of a great bacon-slicer, trains pare them down until there’s nobody left. They’ve been swept away in their distracted state to their next pausing point. Maybe they’ll be content for a while, checking their phone from time to time to see what they’re missing before moving on.
Darkness has arrived and the chill is down to my bones. I hope the next train will be for Temple Meads. It is. I slip the phone in my pocket – Malawi and Madrid on hold until we move off.