We are creatures of habit

The human behaviours that worry me include, but are not restricted to, our innate ability to deceive ourselves. I am sitting on a train at Horsham Station waiting for it to leave for London Victoria via Dorking. The train is mostly empty so I have chosen one of the single seats near the toilet. In this way I don’t have to sit next to anyone else. Being stuffed into small carriages with hundreds of other stressed people does not encourage philanthropy. In front of me there is a bicycle strapped to a rail and behind it sitting opposite me is the bicycle’s apparent owner. He is a little older than me, in his fifties. He has either dyed his hair its glossy deep brown colour or he has simply aged well. His skin is swarthy but he would be described as a white man. His white bicycle helmet is hung up next to him on the coat hook.

The train has set off now and the bespectacled cyclist has now proceeded to eat his breakfast. He has begun carefully spooning what looks like hot porridge into his mouth from a plastic green cup and at the same time keeping an earnest eye on the newspaper on his lap. On inspecting his bicycle it is clear that the contraption is quite old yet has been well maintained. It would most likely be described as a touring bike and indeed there are pannier bags attached to the rack on the rear. Although there is dried mud visible on the top of the mudguards, the bike is otherwise clean and orderly. The drop handlebars have their padding carefully wound and taped down. The front light looks to be an expensive one sporting a halogen bulb. It is fixed in the inch or so of padding-less silver space on the right side of the handlebars. Its counterpart on the other side is the obligatory bell. Both bell and light are black which fits in with the overall colour theme of the bike. The frame, padding and pannier-rack are predominantly black in colour.

At Holmwood a young couple boarded the train with a couple of grey pointers on leads. They made of point of saying good morning to us. At first I thought they were addressing the cyclist but then realised they were saying hello to whoever would listen. Their accents suggested money. Nice work walking your pedigree hound of a morning if you can get it. One of the dogs idly sniffed me as the party squeezed between me and the toilet that looks like a tardis leaving me and the cyclist alone again. We are now pulling away from Dorking Station. Usually by now the train would be much busier. I guess it is because its a Friday. Friday is a popular day to stay off work or work from home. My cyclist companion has finished with the paper, removed his glasses and has closed his eyes. Many train travellers seems to do indulge in sleep or perhaps it is some form of meditation before the real business of the day begin.

A few minutes later and the train is pulling into Leatherhead. The cyclist has unstrapped his bike, taken down his helmet and put it on and moved the bike into the aisle before the door. Now he is standing up I can see he is more likely in his early sixties but a slight man, not prone to overeating or indulging too much. The doors open and he walks his bike along the busy platform toward the exit. Now he’s gone I can talk more freely and he won’t overhear me. In the course of our short communion I have made many judgements about this man. In some ways he seems to be well-organised. On the other hand there was mud on his bicycle and one of the two pannier bags was red instead of the stock black of the rest of the bike. He was meticulous enough to bring warm porridge but maybe that is the perk of having a wife. I expect he starts its consumption at Holmwood because by then it has cooled sufficiently. Whether he is a mastermind of self-administration or not, he shows he is a creature of habit like us all. To confirm this I might need to take this same train and same carriage on Monday.

What particularly struck me about my silent companion was the studious way in which he vied the newspaper. I cannot be certain which paper it was. It was lying flat on his lap and was obstructed by the bicycle. His facial expressions exuded a scholarly, self-justified, almost pious look. It was as if his cheeks, mouth, forehead, eyes and lips were trying to say,

“We are reading and therefore are intelligent. We are reading and there can be no more holy activity than that.”

Do not misunderstand me. I value reading above almost all alternative distractions. If you can learn to read, you can learn almost anything. You can enter the mind of stranger and learn what makes them tick. The cyclist made me think of all the men and women sitting on trains, in their living rooms, work canteens and living rooms lazily paging through the headlines in their daily rag. How many of them are questioning the written words they see? How many are willing to believe that script is fallible yet its power is great.

“Well, if its good enough for Shakespeare, its good enough for me,” I can hear those sarcastic words coming from someone’s lips. We are creatures of habit. How many of them are sitting there and taking in with no dissent, no disagreement, everything they read. How many undoubting minds are being influenced by biased, spun opinions. Nothing is free from a political slant and the papers even more so. I read somewhere that if you are lied to often enough, then you begin to believe the lie. We are creatures of habit.