Nobody hates train journeys more than me. Having said that, I’m pretty sure I could start a club with the other 977,000 people that commute to London every day alone. The first rule of Train Club; don’t talk about Train Club. It can smell our fear and make our commute a sardine-packed hell. I’m well acquainted with many a manspread or sweaty shoulder by now that we’ve become firm travelling buddies, even if communication is no more than an awkward glance as we accidentally meet eyes and fight for the last seat.
Anyone who lives in or has visited the UK in a time of ‘extreme’ weather will know that, come excessive rain, sun or (more than an inch of) snow, the whole country - including the transportation system - loses its shit. The UK was recently hit, and subsequently overwhelmed, by a heatwave. The tracks were steaming red; they were cancelling more and more trains by the minute. One train is five minutes delayed, delaying the next by 15, and the next, and the next, and the next… Suddenly, summertime madness came face to face with London’s rush hour, and what I once knew as a fairly straightforward journey had truly turned into a trip to the fiery depths of hell.
Train anxiety is a real thing; an emotion which leaves me on the brink of massive panic attacks as my mind whizzes through hundreds of scenarios as to why the train is delayed and how I’ll get back to the comforts of my warm bed and my Netflix subscription. Alas, in the midst of all the delays and commuting carnage, glowing orange on the digital board: the announcement of my train coming. And breathe.
A somewhat premature breath, I think to myself as a second horror awaited me. Many people see a spare seat on the train and think they’re in luck, but when you’re a size 18 and nearly six foot tall, this is Satan playing silly buggers. It’s hot and I’m tired, and I cannot bare to stand for the entire hour of the journey. My own choice is to take the plunge, and take a seat.
I mutter the obligatory ‘scuse me several times as I walk past other passengers, and I can already see the people either side of my future seat eyeing me up. A face can speak a thousand words, and they did NOT want me to sit there. Sorry mate, that seat is mine whether you like it or not. I shake my bum into place and wiggle my shoulders to get comfortable. One guy repositioned his legs to face away from me and the other was now perching on only half of his seat, balancing into the aisle. I tucked my arms under my boobs not be a further inconvenience, but I could feel their clothes sticking to the rest of me. It didn’t really help that I was already a sweaty mess.
I’m dressed in professional clothing: smart black trousers, blouse, a pair of heels, and carrying a bag with a laptop sticking out of the top. A wave of women in each carriage are in identical attire. But do you think the ‘slimmer’ suits need to do a mental risk assessment to check that the chair is wide enough for them? Or that there will be enough space for them to physically sit or stand in a carriage? Or if they'll be able to jump on that packed tube without getting stuck in the doors? In her new book Hunger, Roxane Gay makes explicit references to her own risk assessments to navigate, stating that ‘the bigger you become, the smaller your world gets’. So true, and man, are these train carriages small…
I would like to think that my size had nothing to do with the fact that they didn’t want me to sit there, but this is the real world. If I was a more slender size 8 figure, they would have no problem with me choosing the seat between them. I constantly looked around uncomfortably, searching for other seats where I wouldn’t have my sweaty body stick to other people, or leave someone clinging on to the edge of their seat, but there were none. And with that, I stay put. I will not sacrifice my right to a seat because two people would prefer to have more space. We’d all love more space (I for one would love it on my 7am journey into work) but unfortunately, flying carpets are yet to become available as a mode of transport to anyone other than those who possess a magic lamp.
This is not uncommon. I witness other plus-size women regularly eyeing up the seats that they want to take, but fear overcomes them because it’s next to someone. Only a couple of weeks ago, model Natalie Hage confronted the passenger next to her on her flight to Los Angeles after he fat-shamed her by sending texts about her weight to his pals. It’s something that bigger bodies face every day, but shouldn’t have to. Women of size are worthy of taking up space, both figuratively and literally. Personally, I’m lucky that I work in a place that has policies for inclusivity and diversity, as most employers should have nowadays (we dare to dream). But what about day-to-day life outside the office, when these social stigmas follow us to and from work?
Maybe Satan didn’t invent commuting. Maybe he just invented train delays and small seats on public transport. These horrible aspects of commuting, including the judgemental idiots that we come across on a regular basis, are unfortunately along for the ride.