Silver machine

On the train from Norwich to London, the guy sitting opposite me rummaged in his rucsack and pulled out a black, heavy, nylon bag with straps and buckles and zips. He unstrapped, unbuckled and unzipped it and removed a small silver machine.

“S’more entertainment, mate”, he said, having spotted me watching him.

The machine’s shape was oblong and fat, like that of the 1000-page novel on the table in front of me. The guy opened it’s front cover which, from the angle at which it stayed open, seemed to contain a screen. The whole thing could have been a very small laptop except that laptops these days, like supermodels, are fashonably slim, beyond the call of function. This machien was chubby.

“DVD player”, said my co-passenger* fumbling with the headphones from his MP3-Player/Phone/Handsfree and the headset attached to the DVD player. “S’two hours”, he continued, “I can’t do that wivout sumfink to watch”.

It had a bloody remote control! I picked it up and mimed channel hopping**.

“It’s got no controls on it”, said the man, “only play, you can’t rewind it [sic] or anyfink”.

He inserted a disk into the machine, sent a text message, and settled into his seat.

“I’ll prob’ly be asleep in fifteen minutes”, he added, then sent another text message. The keys on his mobile phone made an irritatingly loud beep which he was, no doubt, untroubled by as he had his ears full of Sony gadgetry.

I think people use MP3 players these days not because they want to listen to music as they walk, run, Tube or drive about, but simply because it is trendy to do so. This saeason’s earphones are white, in-the-ear style ones. Woe betide anyone seen wearing black ones, or the ones with a small remote control at the bifurcation, or, God forbid, proper headphones (unless they have Sennheiser written on them). Another possible reason is to avoid having to listen to mindless customer-service announcements*** on aeroplanes and tube trains:

‘Ladies and gentlemen, customer service information will follow’

‘There is currently a good service on the Picadily line’

‘Please don’t leave your personal belongings on the train’

And they wonder why we don’t seem to be paying attention when they tell us where the emergency exits are. Another reason to wear headphones would be to avoid having to listen to the key-beeps and ring-tones of your neighbour’s mobile phone as he sends and receives text messages.

After a few more SMS interactions, my co-client on the train fell asleep, as he predicted. I picked up my 1000-page paperback and tried to read, but was distracted. The girl on my left was jabbing ruthlessly with a jackplug at an iPod in a pink rubber sheath. The guy over the aisle was playing Snake on his top-of-the-range Nokia. And, from overhead, an unenthusiastic female monotone announced various aspects of the rail service that we clients didn’t want to hear, the girl didn’t want to read but which exculpated the railway company in the event of lost baggage, missed connections or spilt hot drinks, etc.


* The word passenger is, of course, now obsolete having been replaced first by customer and, more recently, client, in the context of modern railway travel.

** Two words; sounds like ‘flannel mopping’

*** Soon to be renamed client-service announcements.

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