I hurried down the grey Euston ramp towards the 10.46 Midland train to Birmingham. I had just spent an entertaining three days in London with a friend, I felt slightly down at the prospect of returning home.
The train sat at the platform like a giant worm next to a garden path, I would need size 10 league boots to stop it carrying me away, I surveyed the segmented carriages and decided on the rear one, which at Euston is the first you come to. This wasn’t just out of laziness but contained some guile; as it turned out the front of the train was due to separate at Northampton and head up to Crewe.
On the right of the aisle the seats were arranged three abreast facing each other. Normally I like to sit in a double seat with a table, but I was not addicted to such details and as my gloomy feeling was lifting I decided I could cope with a more expansive layout. A young woman sat in the aisle seat with a large suitcase in front of her knees, it seemed to form a barrier to any other passengers and said sit by me at your peril. Never one to refuse a challenge I clambered past and claimed the window seat diagonally opposite her. She was bent over a mobile phone, an unopened book lay beside her, I glanced at the title........ “Perceptive Philosophy”.
“Perceptive Philosophy, is that like experience?” I ventured. She looked up surprised to be interrupted, “yeah I guess so, sort of common sense yeah” She immediately resumed her texting and ignored me.
As we sped towards Watford I attempted to engage her in conversation three or four times. Each time she gave short staccato answers and resumed her work, having by this time begun an essay on her laptop. Her reluctance to talk may have had something to do with the fact that I was at least 40 years her senior, or she may have been dazzled by my charm. I suspected the former but secretly gave a little credence to the latter. I did manage to elicit the following details, she was a first year undergraduate at a prestigious London University and she was studying philosophy because it was “fun’. This struck me as a curious answer as my own youthful experience of philosophy had been anything but fun, although it hadn’t got much past Venn diagrams, and come to think of they had been hilarious, combining as they did cows in fields with four legs. I glanced out of the window and a field full of Venn diagrams flashed past.
As my attempts at a diverting conversation seemed to be receding, I decided to attempt a crossword. I borrowed a biro from Miss Wittgenstein and began. The crossword went well. It was a concise one, no cryptic clues or anagrams, but I got stuck on 6 across ‘habit’ in 9 letters. I had D as the second letter and E as the ninth. The only thing that sounded right was addiction, but that last letter E was pretty solid from 8 down. I gave up, and put the pen down next to Bertrand Russell.
My mind wandered to thoughts of my friend. He excelled in selling things, especially himself. He made people feel relaxed, listened to them with laser intensity, reflected their goals, heightened their anxieties and then persuaded them to part with their money. I liked him, but was wary as he reminded me of myself. I, however, tended to be persuaded of things, miss the vital details, argue ad nauseam, try to console others out of guilt and then give away my money. Which of us was the bigger fool I had yet to fathom. This singular piece of observation struck me as pithy and could be useful in a short story I was planning. I asked Socrates for her pen again.
“just go for it “ she smiled. I scribbled away furiously; it became a veritable list of observations.
“what are you writing?” Wow a breakthrough she had noticed me. I explained about the crossword but something held me back about the list.
Now the ice had been broken my station approached. As I rose to leave she looked up smiling
“ Philosophy is fun!…….. you’ll definitely go far”
“ don’t forget your list” she said, as she looked back at her laptop.