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“Is this Liverpool?”
“No, this is Wigan: but it’s the Liverpool train.”

That cleared that up then; the passenger clearly mistaking a train at a platform for a nearby northern city is corrected by the train guard who later we found out has at least two extra jobs of ticket seller and driver. All is seemingly not as it seems in the world of the train company employee these days, it seems.

But the knowledge of the train driver-ticket seller-guard-drinks dispenser is paradoxically reassuringly settled and his pedantry in making sure we understand the phenomenological difference between a city and a train is one of the few things in life we can be grateful for, epistemologically speaking.

Just imagine if we couldn’t differentiate between a city and a train. How would we survive? What we do on a Friday night after work? Sit in railway sidings and wonder why life was passing us by? How would get from A to B on a bank holiday? We couldn’t just wander the streets of A and wonder why there was no sign of B.

Every now and then in life, we need wise people who can put us straight when it comes to trying to understand what we are surrounded by. The influence of the surrealists unfortunately left many of us completely bamboozled when it comes to understanding whether things are as they seem.

René Magritte’s Treachery of the Images has to bear a lot of responsibility for this bamboozlement.

He painted a pipe and then underneath it painted the text, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”, French for “This is not a pipe.” When it most definitely is a pipe. Anyone can see it is a pipe. He may as well have drawn a cityscape and written ‘Ceci est un train’, French for ‘This is a Train‘ for all the confusion he subsequently wreaked on future generations of art students.

What the train driver (ticket seller-guard-drinks dispenser-on board entertainer-chief bottle washer) ensures is that whilst life seems chaotic, complex and down right treacherous, in actual fact it is exactly as you see it: a train is a train is a train; a city is a city is a city and no amount of visual shenanigans by Belgian surrealists is going to tell us otherwise.

Unless of course you try reading the train timetable which is obviously written by a gang of Dadaistas on acid, given the incomprehensible nonsense those walls of information misrepresent.

The job for the Arts Based Researcher here? To ensure that the train driver’s knowledge is communicated clearly and unambiguously with no wriggle room for misunderstanding or cheeky irreverence. That may be difficult for some colleagues but a short spell on a Virgin Pendolino on a Friday afternoon stuck in the middle of nowhere should be enough to convince them of the power of the propositional knowledge that If I say ‘this is a train‘ then I mean exactly that: it is a train and not an aeroplane, cow or city masquerading as a train.