Squeezed into my seat on the crowded 5.15pm train home the other night, I surreptitiously glanced around to see what my fellow commuters were doing. I saw people playing with iPods, iPhones and ipads. More old fashioned types had their heads buried in novels or were valiantly trying to find enough arm room to read MX.

I decided then to take a break from these rituals for a few days, and to just sit and listen. As I practised the forgotten art of being idle, I realised this was a cheap and easy form of entertainment.

Take the train drivers, who are starting to sound like pilots. “GOOOD morning passengers, and we’re off to a flyer this dreary morning, it looks like we’re going to arrive at our destination on time, which is unusual for a Friday. Usually it’s the busiest day of the week! I hope your journey home is as good and as smooth as this one,” announced one.

Many times I heard station assistants shouting out: “All aboard, ALL A-BOARD!” Like the recent Heineken TV ad, I thought I had stepped back in time.

At one particularly busy station an eternally chipper station assistant holds court. As well as greeting passengers arriving on his platform and wishing them a “good morning” or “good evening”, he likes to proffer extra advice.

Today he suggested if we passengers had “time to spare” we might like to wait for the train coming in four minutes. Yes, he knew there was one arriving in three minutes, but he suggested our ride would be more comfortable if we waited the extra minute.

As the lady next to me remarked: “Wow, give someone a microphone and look what happens. Next they’ll be singing to us.” Perhaps she has stumbled on an untapped job opportunity for all those ex-Idol contestants.

Apart from the transport employees, your fellow passengers can also be a source of entertainment. I overheard two ladies discussing the history of Hobart’s Cascade Female Factory. Apparently the prison factory was populated with many convicts who had spells working for settlers, but were returned to prison when they inevitably fell pregnant to the male landowners.

So tonight as you step onto the train, tram or bus, why don’t you choose a spot to perch where the punters look interesting. And just listen and observe.