Example poetry

ScotRail: ‘found poetry’ of train announcements now available to enjoy at home – Laura Waddell


Rail announcements can have an evocative and poetic quality (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Do you have the desire to listen to train audio in the comfort of your own home, and I’m sure some do, rejoice because it’s now possible. A gift for sound artists, satirists, everyday life scholars, found poetry fans and transportation fanatics, the creative potential is abundant.

Going through the files, easily cut into individual segments by Twitter user Matt Eason, a few things surprised me.

Who knew what an alarming amount of information was hidden to explain failures, cancellations and delays? Fortunately, I never checked my bingo card for “there’s a fire on this train”.

I’m transfixed by the variations, which play out like a plot from Thomas the Tank Engine: “A boat hitting a bridge.” “A bus collided with a bridge earlier today.” “A bridge that has collapsed.”

I skip the segments announcing longer and longer delays, because no one needs to drive that stress home: “delayed about 15 minutes… 20 minutes… 25 minutes…” until an hour. shudder.

But there’s no need to be too dispirited – here’s the catharsis of “A breakdown on this train…that’s now fixed.” Ahh.

What intrigues me most is the grit of the more mundane stuff – the daily announcements that things are moving – or not. The more I listen, the more I seem to hear minute changes in tone.

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I think of those who live in snow-covered landscapes for months on end (Arctic researchers, for example) who report becoming very attentive to minor variations in what they see, their eye picking up tiny details, like sticks and stones, of the vast white landscape.

I once had a terrible, long commute that was regularly plagued with transportation issues. I noticed among the monotony of doing the same trip day after day variations among the usual delays and cancellations – new sights, sounds or sensations. Any sense of meaning, warmth, humanity in the pre-7am gloom begins to creep into an industrial environment.

Is it a touch of world-weariness I hear in the announcement of a train to Dunfermline Queen Margaret? A bright and joyful note, hoping the sun will rise upon arrival at Loch Awe?

There is nothing but admiration here for the voice-over artist, who has done a remarkable job. I have the slightest insight into the process.

Once, in a previous professional life, I was required to help narrate an online dictionary that required a range of regional pronunciations for the benefit of English language learners.

I really enjoyed the process. I sat on a stool in a dusty room one sleepy afternoon, under a warm light.

As each word slid up the autocue, I repeated it twice, as loudly and clearly as possible. Deviant. peak. Mortality rate. Champagne.

No matter how clear the reading, some words can’t help but come out with subtle inflections of meaning, striking a chord with their speaker.

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