Standing in the terminal of Oxford railway station I’m familiarised by a classic mix of passenger. The cyclist awkwardly pushing her bike through the ticket barriers, a toddler being led by the impatient mother, the Asian tourist with overflowing bags in hand. Watching the tides of people pour in and out of the confined space it reminds me that at any given moment the order of society, including this station, sits on the brink of collapse and chaos. All it takes is one broken signal and everything will grind to a halt.
If you thought the term ‘diversity’ could only be applied to whole streets and towns then you may need to think again. For contained in these four walls of peeling white paint, tapped across the utilitarian stained floors there speaks a more fascinating image of a fast-paced melting pot. An environment where, for the most fleeting of seconds, East bumps into West, North connects with South, rich mingles with poor. At this train station everyone is unified in the same gripes and grumbles. A delayed train, an out of order toilet, another drunk passenger, they are all received with the same unimpressed reaction.
Waiting for an old friend to arrive from London I am left to wandering thoughts which flow as seamlessly as the passengers coming in and out of the terminal. In this sea of faces and voices which type of passenger am I? Someone awkwardly shuffles behind me to get to the ticket booth I inadvertently block. Does my insistence at lingering beyond my welcome make me the tourist? Men in suits glance my way for a short period before I realise they are staring at the LED light boards above my head. If they are London bound they will need to go to platform one. Does my in-depth knowledge of platform order make me more a commuter? Next to the screaming child and passive aggressive guards it’s hard to think much beyond the bigger question “why am I here still?” It is just at this very point that my friend greets me with a cheery welcome, snapping me out of trance.
Leaving behind the dim and crowded terminal and entering the light exterior my friend’s first thoughts mark a very different take on modern life. “What an awful building!” he says, gesturing to the bricks behind. All thoughts of passengers and trains disappear as I’m faced with a more pressing question from my companion, “now, where on Earth are we headed to Miss Bennett?”
If only life and cityscapes were as easy to interpret as the passengers at train terminals.