Trains of Thought
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XVII. 15/05-19/05/17; folding, in and out

A few people are waiting at the end of the platform for the 5:59. Perhaps it’s the first time they’re traveling this early and they’re used to the longer trains. When the short train arrives they all rush back from the end to get in.

The week’s first brief glimpse of a fold-out bicyclist: shorts, yellow water-proof jacket, a helmet mounted camera: he looked like an adventurer.

Opposite me, a man wearing a red Lycra top (Gore bike wear) probes his mouth with his thumb. He resembles Michael Gove. The sides of his face are covered by the orbs of headphones. He keeps probing his mouth, using the thumb for explorations on his left side and either his index finger or his little finger for forays into the right. It’s a repelling sight. He sticks one finger all the way in, his hand twisted so that the ring on his finger is by his nose. Then he chews on his fingers. He repeatedly indulges in an impressive whipping action: in one violent movement, he launches his right pinky into his mouth from the laptop, like a hook thrown into a void to snare some mysterious beast. Do his teeth hurt or is it a habit?

My neighbour has just finished a chapter titled “the reluctant Tuscan” and is on to “Il Sindaco.” At the top of a new page there is described: “A broad-shouldered man with an aerodynamically shaped head as bald as a lightbulb. Pelato, the Italians call such a skull, peeled.”

A question about copyright: suppose you sit next to a reader as an observer and copy out what he is reading and publish the excerpt as part of your observations. How much reasonable effort are you required to undertake to find the name of the author of the extract? If you can’t find  the author, how would you reference the extract?

The train halts in the tunnel and the engine idles, which causes the side of the carriage to vibrate. The vibration conjures up an imagined smell of diesel and uncomfortable metal seating arrangements on boats or in old vans or bajajs.

A man in a dark suit, second button unclosed and debris on his lap: dead skin?

Fold-out cyclist with outdoor clothing, green khakis pinned to socks with silver clips, standard issue black old Brompton. Young tall man with consistent yellow Lycra uniform and a shiny brand new pale blue model. A brand I have not seen before: Airnimal (“Our unique folding features and performance ensure that your best bike can be your only bike – from the daily commute to conquering the Himalayas.”) Orange hard hat and high saddle with a fur cushion. Trousers tucked into Socks, same colour as the helmet.


From Finsbury Park: suited man, top button undone, elegant slovenliness, gold signet ring on the ring finger of his right hand, intently grasping a scratched iPhone 5 and scrolling, patchy hair, the top almost bald, a tuft at the front, a purple birth-marked right ear. His fold-out bike is a Raleigh from a time before fold-out biking became fashionable.


A young woman leaves from the same carriage: worn shoes, fibres coming off her woven plastic bag, black tights, she adjusts chestnut hair from the reflection of the carriage windows. Self conscious up the stairs, she picks at and adjusts her dress. She goes left, I turn right.

Another folded bike next to a woman wearing a standard high visibility vest, the kind you see on schoolchildren. She’s still wearing her NHS work ID on a light blue ribbon. A shiny new-looking helmet is fastened to a clip-on bag. The Brompton bike is fire-hose red.

There are fewer fold-out bikes on the 559. Perhaps people with fold-out bikes are able to take the later train because they are faster on the ground. Montesquieu is sleeping, wearing a vest and red tie. The earlier train feels more familiar. It is less crowded, the train is shorter, more people are recognisable: the man whose face has the same shade as the FT he reads regularly stands with his thin briefcase and his indifferently crumpled shirt under a pin stripe suit. The shoes are worn and creased but polished and well kept.

Now the cyclists emerge. A bright green Brompton and a white Dahon are unpacked. A couple of cyclists shelter from the flow of exiting passengers in the eddies formed by the pillars and assemble. Saffron robed monks walk by with knitted brown round hats and grey coats over their robes.


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