Unassuagable Little Frailties

There is this curiously durable myth that European trains are wonderfully swift and smooth and a dream to travel on. The trains in Europe are in fact often tediously slow, and for the most part the railways persist in the antiquated system of dividing the carriages into compartments. I used to think this was rather jolly and friendly, but you soon discover that it is like spending seven hours in a waiting room waiting for a doctor who never arrives. You are forced into an awkward intimacy with strangers, which I always find unsettling. If you do anything at all — take something from your pocket, stifle a yawn, rummage in your rucksack — everyone looks to see what you’re up to. There is no scope for privacy and of course there is nothing like being trapped in a train compartment on a long journey to bring all those unassuagable little frailties of the human body crowding to the front of your mind — the withheld fart, the three and a half square yards of boxer shorts that have somehow become concertinaed between your buttocks, the Kellogg’s corn flake that is unaccountably lodged deep in your left nostril. It was the corn flake that I ached to get at. The itch was all-consuming. I longed to thrust a finger so far up my nose that it would look as if I were scratching the top of my head from the inside, but of course I was as powerless to deal with that as a man with no arms.

–Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe

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