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I recently spent an hour on a fast train to Germany tearing a stack of napkins into desert-island shapes for the four-year-old boy in the seat next to me. I once chatted for so long to the ticket inspector on the way back from Weymouth he gave me a fapjack. Wonderful things happen on trains when you’re not checking your emails. Brilliant people appear right beside you when you’re not scrolling through Facebook. So news that more British trains, including the new Crossrail, are to come replete with wi-f, is disheartening.

I don’t want trains to have wi-f. For centuries, trains have been a perfect little province of privacy, turning passengers into an encircled community, cut off from the sweat and dust of the outside world. They are an enclave rich with possibility, romance, adventure and intrigue. It’s little wonder that so many stories from the golden age of crime – from Sherlock Holmes to Hercules Poirot – centred on railway locomotion. It is no coincidence that some of our age’s greatest love stories – from Bollywood’s Dil Se to Brief Encounter – have taken place in a carriage. When you board a train you step off the map of your everyday life; you enter a small swaying world where anything could happen and almost nobody will know about it.

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Lonely Planet
May 2016

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