Wednesday 17 April 2013

The Next Train on Platform 2... is Not for You

I've never felt more free than early Tuesday morning, as I was sitting inside the dimly-lit railway station at Woodend, in country Victoria.

I've been spending five days away from work in the town, deliberately avoiding the Internet. I've completely shunned social media so far (strangely easy to do), and have only occasionally looked at my email to forestall any catastrophes in the making.

The apartment I've hired, Bella Loft, is a pleasant modern space, purpose-built behind the main street shops. It's just my cup of tea - contemporary furnishings, lots of natural light, and none of the finicky cottagey decor that so often infests weekend-away places.

Narrelle stayed overnight on Monday, usually one of her writing days, but had to return to the metropolis for her "day job" as an editor on Tuesday morning. I saw her onto the 6.55am train to Melbourne, which was near-full of commuters, then bought a coffee from the cart which is parked near the city-bound platform in the mornings.

Crossing the old wooden footbridge which connects the two platforms, I paused to watch the mysterious 7.02 pull in. For some reason this service was sidelined on the printed timetable, listed after all the other peak-period trains, and it took longer than the others to reach the city.

I could see from the bridge that rather than being the usual one-piece sleek commuter train, this was a long-distance locomotive pulling just three carriages. As it arrived only minutes after the swifter 6.55, hardly anyone was aboard.

I thought, "That's the train I'd commute on if I lived here"; more spacious seats, no crowding, and more travel time in which to read.

Then I crossed to the main station building, to hang about in its heated interior until the Village Larder cafe opened at 8am and I could feast upon its excellent shakshouka (you can't half tell that Woodend is a gentrified commuter town from this cafe's menu).

While I was sitting on a row of plastic chairs in one corner, reading Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania, a queue was forming at the ticket office. By the time I looked up, it had stretched past me to the back wall. These were office workers aiming to reach their city offices via the 7.21.

I watched them for a moment, noting the suits and other neat, office-friendly attire, and the air of slight tension that came with being in a queue for tickets for a train that would be with us shortly.

Soon they were gone, whisked away to their 9 to 5 routines. I rested my head against the wall behind me, and remembered I had no plans at all that day.

After a long leisurely cafe breakfast, I intended to buy a few groceries, then spend the remainder of the day in bed or on the sofa, reminding myself what it was to read a book or watch a film without the constant nagging interruptions of Twitter and its cousins.

The relief that comes from the realisation of unstructured time was profound. Such an unscheduled stretch was rare for anyone, even rarer for people who worked for themselves and often found themselves answering work emails out of office hours.

There's been a lot written about the freedom that travel brings; but to truly feel that freedom I think you need to visit a place where you can sit drinking coffee while watching people all around you dash off to work.

Then, once the rush is over, contemplate your ideal day for a moment, rise, and pursue it. The contrast will make it all the sweeter.

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