ON CATCHING THE TRAIN

Outline: Introduction – some people catch trains with ease – an example – I am nervous about catching trains – this train – fever is a symptom.

Thank heaven! I have caught it… I am in a corner seat, the compartment is not crowded, the train is about to start, and for an hour and half, while I travel towards my destination, I can read, or think or write, or sleep, or talk, as I choose.

There are some people who make nothing of catching trains. They can catch trains with miraculous ease. They are never too early and never too late. They leave home or office with a quite certainty of doing the thing that is simply stupefying. Whether they walk, or take a bus, or call a taxi, it is the same they do not hurry, they do not worry, and when then find they are in time and that there’s plenty of room they manifest no surprise.

I am reminded of a man who was enormously particular about trains and arrangement the day or the week before he needed them, and he was wonderfully efficient at the job. But as the time approached for catching a train he became exasperatingly calm and leisured. He began to take his time over everything and to concern himself with the arrangements of the next day or the next week, as though he had forgotten all about the train that was imminent, or was careless whether he caught it or not. And when at last he had got to the train, he began to remember things. He would stroll off to get a time – table or to buy a book, or to look at the engine. The nearer the minute for starting, the more absorbed he became in the mechanism of the engine. He was always given up at last, and yet always stepped in as the train was on the move, his manner perfectly unruffled.

Now I am different I have been catching trains all my life, and all my life I have been afraid I shouldn’t catch them. Familiarity with the habits of trains cannot rid me of a secret conviction that their aim is to give me the slip if it can be done. No faith in my own watch can affect my doubts as to the reliability of the watch of the guard or the station clock or whatever deceitful signal the engine-drive obeys. Moreover, I am oppressed with the possibilities of delay on the road to the station. There may be a block in the streets, the bus may break down, the taxi-driver may be drunk or not know the way, or think I don’t know the way, and take me round and round the squares, or in fact anything may happen, and it is never until I am safely inside (as I am now) that I feel really happy.


This train – fever is, of course, only a symptom. It proceeds from that imaginative fear that is so common and incurable an affliction. The complaint has been very well satirised by one who suffered from it. “I have had many severe troubles in my life,” he said, “but most of them never happened”. That is it. We people who worry about the trains and similar things live in a world of imaginative disaster. The heavens are always going to fall on us. We look ahead, like Christians during ancient Roman days and see the lions waiting to devour us, and when we find they are poor imitation lions, our timorous imagination is not set at rest, but invents other lions to scare us out of our wits.