Tram tales

During the period from 2008 to 2014, I spent a great deal of time commuting into Sheffield on the Supertram. It was a reasonably long journey – around 40 minutes each way – which afforded plenty of time to think and observe, and after a while I got into the habit of writing tweets to pass the time. It was a bit like a game or a puzzle: I’d spot something interesting and attempt to distil what I saw into 140 characters. Tram travel is a fairly mundane affair, but I found that it holds its own unique and understated interest and I attempted to convey some of that in my tweets. At the time, people were kind enough to say that they enjoyed reading them and some people suggested that I compile them. For me they hold a certain sentimental value being as they are a record of my often dreary commutes through Sheffield: a city that for all its architectural mishaps has a special charm that is hard to describe. When Twitter released its export function, I therefore decided to put my tram tweets together and create a blog post so that I or anyone else could read them.

30 July 2010

I’ve watched helplessly from the tram as a bounce-starved spacehopper in an office window has faded from a blood orange to a pale sunset.

24 August 2010

Two young lads on the tram are asking their mum why I’m writing words and drawing arrows! Maybe one day they will be as confused as I am.

1 October 2010

Couple opposite on tram are doing lots of kissing, chewing of gum and blowing of bubbles. Their obvious bliss overrides potential annoyance.

22 October 2010

It’s amazing to think that if Def Leppard had been less successful, they might have been sitting on this tram right now. Ignoring me.

22 October 2010

One of the big, loud, bald-headed conductors is working the tram today. This one’s my favourite. Teenagers lose their powers around him.

25 October 2010

Woman opposite on tram has one leg either side of my legs (overlapping). Apparently she has no idea how legs are normally arranged on trams.

27 October 2010

Jealous of lady on tram who has: applied cream to legs, changed shoes and is now applying makeup. She lacks my crippling self-consciousness.

29 October 2010

A tram overlord is doing a full ticket inspection. I’m tickety-boo, but still fear him. He stares at my ticket, then straight into my soul.

29 October 2010

It’s a very quiet tram today. Apart from the girl eating Quavers. She’s not quiet and her phone looks greasy (and cheesy).

2 November 2010

A man just breached tram etiquette by not shuffling to a vacant window seat. We’ll remember him. Next time our silence will be deafening.

2 November 2010

A wild, smelly and noisy man opposite on the tram gradually becomes gentrified (or dilluted) by the addition of clean, civilised passengers.

3 November 2010

Darkness has the unfortunate effect of transforming the tram into a hall of mirrors. Every line of sight terminates on someone’s eyeballs.

3 November 2010

A man has recoiled in horror on realising he’s been soaking up the condensed breath of the morning’s tram passengers from the window gutter.

8 November 2010

On presentation of my colourful prepaid ticket, the tram conductor declares “you’ve got a fun one”. I give him one of my looks (a smile).

9 November 2010

The view from the tram is delightful. Rain has drawn out the autumn colours. Even the shell suits appear like giant crumply sweet wrappers.

9 November 2010

A man on the tram has been untangling his headphones for 5 minutes. He looks stressed, like he’s playing cat’s cradle for a million pounds.

10 November 2010

The man opposite on the tram rolls a cigarette and places it in readiness between his fingers. I find his deadly efficiency unnerving.

12 November 2010

A young dandy on the tram is wearing an expensive looking tweed hat and jacket. He’s like a rare bird among us. Everyone is drinking him in.

12 November 2010

A man on the tram is slowly prising an iPod from his jeans pocket. His rhythmic, one-fingered technique makes me feel nauseous.

16 November 2010

A man holds up a queue of people as we attempt to enter the tram. He’s fumbling a copy of the Metro out of the perspex holder. We hate him.

16 November 2010

I’ve done 5 sniffs since I sat down on the tram. I need to ration them from now on, the comfort of my fellow passengers demands it.

17 November 2010

I can see a ginger dog from the tram window. He looks cold. I’m no dog expert, but I think he could use one of those little tartan coats.

17 November 2010

The tram is slithering through this evening’s traffic. Its intermittent movements are like the peristaltic waves of a giant mechanical worm.

19 November 2010

A teenager on the tram is doing loud snorts and swallows. He has a grim look of appreciation, as if savouring the dislodged nasal material.

9 December 2010

A nearby bus is moving faster than the tram. I comfort myself that this is the Stagecoach Supertram. That’s just a bus, not a ‘super’ bus.

9 December 2010

The man opposite on the tram yawns widely and quietly. He sounds like the sea and reveals an amalgam treasure trove.

10 December 2010

I’m on the tram next to an infectiously cheerful little girl and her mum. Their pleasant bickering is like a barrel of free serotonin.

10 December 2010

A man on the tram encroaches into my knee area. He stands to rummage change from his jeans. My knees come forward. Your move Sir Kneesalot.

13 December 2010

The tram is persistently shadowing a lady on the pavement. Our carriage is a gallery of mediocrity and fatigue from which she can’t escape.

24 January 2011

A lady on the tram is telling a colleague about her cold. He is all concern and attentiveness, as if trying to charm the virus out of her.

25 January 2011

A lad in DMs, jeans and school tie stubs a cigarette then boards the tram through closing doors. Convention is about to get its ass kicked.

25 January 2011

Two women on the tram are discussing the food they need to buy and what their families like to eat. Women are much nicer than men.

31 January 2011

Some school kids have boarded the tram in a blur of Ben 10 and a chorus of non sequiturs. The teachers are smiling at their herd of cats.

31 January 2011

A ruffian outside bangs on the tram window, waking the man sitting on the other side of the glass. A lady is providing words of comfort.

7 February 2011

I caught an early tram this morning. It’s a bit more formal than than the later trams. The dress code is: shirt, trousers and frown.

14 February 2011

A lady on the tram is reading from a Kindle. Everyone is trying to pretend this is normal, but she might as well be wrestling a leprechaun.

14 February 2011

A man on the tram is eating a banana that looks like it fell down some stairs. I’m jealous of his dispassionate, blokish attitude to food.

16 February 2011

It speaks volumes about tram demographics that the sound of a Scottish man is giving the carriage an exotic atmosphere.

18 February 2011

There’s a preacher on the tram! Lot’s of good advice, a big smile and plenty of crazy thrown in for good measure. Everyone is smiling.

21 February 2011

A lady on the tram attends to a denim covered itch using a car key. Light rubbing turns to firm gouging, but one senses the jeans have won.

23 February 2011

A rough young man on the tram is talking loudly on the phone. He keeps craning his neck round as if to make sure he is irritating everybody.

2 March 2011

The woman opposite on the tram, encases our legs in her extravagant baggage. She heaves out a book like a vet delivering a stillborn calf.

4 March 2011

There’s laughter on the tram. Paranoia insists that I am the source of amusement: perhaps a stain of dubious origin or the stupid way I sit.

11 March 2011

An enormous man opens three windows before taking his seat on the tram. All passengers must now participate in his effort to dissipate heat.

11 March 2011

A man on the tram breathes through his nose, unconcerned by the whistling sound this makes. I can only hope the snot rearranges itself.

18 March 2011

Two teenagers on the tram are discussing music genres I’ve never heard of. I’m out of touch. They might as well be conversing in whale song.

18 March 2011

The two male conductors on this evening’s tram refer to each other as “love”. The Sheffield vernacular lashes out at gender stereotyping.

21 March 2011

A woman on the tram drops her handbag and an apple rolls out. The apple is symbolic of her desire to eat an apple later today.

21 March 2011

I found a tram on the other side of the blockage. The preacher is on it. She dispenses her advice, cackling with mad joy. We all listen.

23 March 2011

A man on the tram is reading a crumpled copy of the Metro which has footprints from people stepping on it. He has excessively low standards.

24 March 2011

An aggressive looking man at the tram stop is having a good stare at me and my fellow passengers. He wants eye contact so he can get angry.

25 March 2011

Everything feels weird on the tram this evening. The carriage is packed with large, silent mammals all sitting and thinking thoughts.

29 March 2011

A lady runs for the tram only for the doors to shut in front of her. I watch her expressionlessly as if ‘outside’ was a TV programme.

30 March 2011

Tonight’s muscular tram conductor perspires as he bustles down a packed gangway, his heavy ticket machine tenderising the wider passengers.

8 April 2011

A man in a tracksuit is arguing with the tram conductor about why he hasn’t got a ticket. Nobody believes the man in the tracksuit.

11 April 2011

The tram is almost empty this morning. The conductors chat idly, having nothing to dispense; the seats are reduced to newspaper pedestals.

11 April 2011

A lady on the tram cowers as a wasp persistently buzzes around her head. She is both a useful decoy and a source of idle amusement.

12 April 2011

An intimidating woman on the tram is sitting so close to me that I can feel the warmth of her Greggs sausage roll.

13 April 2011

A lady on the tram with long fingernails creates a relaxing click sound as she types rapidly on her iPhone. She is a sensorimotor miracle.

19 April 2011

The tram makes a long stop, causing passengers to fidget anxiously. As it starts again, notions of tent-making and cannibalism fade away.

26 April 2011

A filthy looking man on the tram, jabbers incessantly at an old lady who embraces her bag protectively. She softens a little and they chat.

26 April 2011

A lady in high heels and a short skirt trots down the aisle of the tram, as if tipped through a marble maze.

27 April 2011

Four young men on the tram are teasing one another and laughing raucously. They are very happy and that is a beautiful thing.

3 May 2011

A lady drops some coins on the bendy bit of the tram. She times recovery attempts strategically, stooping only on straight bits of track.

3 May 2011

Two drunk girls on the tram laugh as they prod a man with a toy sword. The man is unable to give them the playful response they desire.

4 May 2011

The tram driver makes a friendly toot as we slide past another tram. The credibility of future warning toots has been slightly compromised.

4 May 2011

Space is at a premium on this evening’s tram. I’m standing in a decent spot on the bendy bit. In Monopoly, it would be Leicester Square.

5 May 2011

The lady opposite on the tram has a shiny black handbag. I can see my face in it.

5 May 2011

There are lots of regulars on this evening’s tram, but no conversation. It’s like dinner time in a loveless marriage.

6 May 2011

A woman on the tram looks all at sea when an inspector asks for her ticket, as if Sam from Quantum Leap just leapt into her body.

6 May 2011

An empty water bottle rolls up and down the gangway of the tram, filling the quiet carriage with its cheerful percussion.

9 May 2011

A man on the tram fails to adopt the conventional soft focus gaze, forcing fellow passengers to seek the visual refuge of the window.

10 May 2011

A lady on the tram gives a big smile before sitting down opposite me. Smiles are like power-ups in computer games.

10 May 2011

An old woman on the tram describes the doings of her lazy, feckless husband. Her friend explains that her own husband is equally unlikeable.

11 May 2011

A man on the tram opens his briefcase to fetch a book. He reveals a packed lunch and sparse paperwork, as if he’s pretending to go to work.

11 May 2011

A woman on the tram plays Angry Birds with the sound on, apparently oblivious to what people might think of her.

12 May 2011

A lady on the tram tickles her pink toes on the loose strap of another lady’s rucksack. The self-indulgence of the act is quite mesmerising.

17 May 2011

A lad on the tram describes his brother as “hard as fuck”. A big glug of Tango ensures that his words achieve their full dramatic effect.

18 May 2011

An old man on the tram makes a disconcerting sound as he breathes, like a young child sucking the last dregs of a milkshake through a straw.

24 May 2011

A lady on the tram opens a bottle of Coke which fizzes then dribbles on to her fingers. Her bag exhibits its poor hand wiping properties.

8 June 2011

A man on the tram sits nervously with a ten pound note, as if anticipating having to slide the money into the conductor’s underwear.

29 June 2011

An old man on the tram keeps elbowing me as he wrestles something from his jacket pocket. It’s like sitting next to a preening pterodactyl.

6 July 2011

Water in a window gutter on the tram sloshes in search of a dry sleeve. A butch lady removes the threat with a strategically placed tissue.

11 July 2011

A man sits opposite a pretty lady on the tram but is fascinated with the floor. When she disembarks, he is all impatience to behold her.

11 July 2011

A man in the aisle of the tram grasps an overhead strap for support. To the conductor he is an obstacle, like a beef carcass in an abattoir.

15 July 2011

The tram conductor is slow today. As I wait, the coins warm and moisten in my hand like a recently vacated toilet seat.

18 October 2011

A lad on the tram sits with a newspaper draped over his thigh, his legs spilling into the gangway, perhaps to entice news hungry commuters.

19 October 2011

A lady on the tram plays with her hair, calmly stroking and plaiting every inch; a bewitching act of gentleness on a cold, busy morning.

20 October 2011

A ragged man has too little money to pay his tram fare. The conductor takes pity, graciously accepting a warm fistful of coppers and fluff.

21 October 2011

A man on the tram looks at me to check whether I was looking at him. I was (inadvertently). I look at him again (deliberately).

21 October 2011

I warn a lady on the tram that her coat is absorbing water from the window gutter. She thanks me, we chuckle, then ignore one another.

8 November 2011

The tram jolts, almost toppling the conductor. An old lady reassures him, explaining that, once, a jolt had almost knocked her over.

10 November 2011

A gang of school girls occupy the centre of the tram, thus allowing their paranoia-inducing laughter to reach its largest possible audience.

10 November 2011

The semi-reflective properties of this evening’s tram windows reveal a ghostly vision of me calmly floating through traffic at high speed.

14 November 2011

The couple opposite on the tram squeeze one another’s knees. They’ve been shopping: she has buns and a cucumber; he has bananas and eggs.

21 November 2011

The boy opposite on the tram has one of those trendy ‘hole in the ear’ earrings. I can see a woman’s face through the hole.

22 November 2011

Some lads on the tram discuss the modifications they hope to make to their cars. One describes his second gear as both ‘keen’ and ‘rapid’.

24 November 2011

An old man on the tram timidly asks if he might have one of the two free newspapers on the chair beside me. I wave my hand dismissively.

25 November 2011

A teen on the tram is forced to adjust his gaping legs and loud music by 3 wheezing pensioners. They hiss and blow like triumphant dinghies.

2 December 2011

A lady on the tram shows off a mechanical Father Christmas before placing it, still moving, in her bag. The bag throbs disconcertingly.

15 December 2011

Today’s tram driver is dressed as Santa and the conductor as an elf, thus they maintain a strict dominance hierarchy even in fancy dress.

13 January 2012

A little boy on the tram tells his mummy that he loves her; he’s sprinkled some fairy dust on the lives of his fellow passengers.

14 March 2014

A man on the tram yawns the biggest yawn imaginable. A creaking, gasping, eye watering, magnificent lion of a yawn. It’s pure contagion.

14 April 2014

A man on the tram is talking loudly on the phone. He has an important meeting in Leeds. The carriage is being brought up to speed.

16 April 2014

A giant of a man stands in the aisle of the tram carriage, miraculously steady, as if he were waist deep in treacle.

16 May 2014

I’m on the tram. The setting sun casts a golden light over Sheffield. Everything looks real and magnificent. For a moment I forget to worry.


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