Commuting is one of those things one cannot get away from. Unless you want to share a shoebox with 8 other people (and probably a fox) or have more money than the Sultan of Brunei, living in the city in London has been moved to my unrealistic dreams list, along with being able to fly.
Of course living in the city surrounds and getting around on public transport for 8 years has taught me some valuable lessons, including the wide variety of body odours available and how precious and fleeting personal space can be. These lessons have led me to seek out the most decongested routes where possible for the sake of my sanity and probably as a health and safety precaution for my fellow sardined companions.
This strategy has recently allowed me to avoid the tube altogether for six months when I changed jobs and there was a direct bus route between my flat and work. The journey took longer, but was usually far more pleasant than starting your day feeling like a mole. Having just moved further out of town a few weeks ago it’s now a case of ‘All Change Please’.
Leaving North London behind, lovely boyfriend and I are now co-habiting in Essex. We have found a shiny new flat which is warm, cosy and in the suburbs. It’s been fabulous setting up home, but the new journey into work has required some adjustment.
Being back on the trains was expected, having to get up a little earlier and travel longer was all part of the deal. Realising that everyone in Essex wanted to be on exactly the same trains at the same time didn’t quite occur to me. While I still maintain it would take a lot to knock the Central Line off the top spot of being consistently responsible for the worst travel experiences I’ve endured, TFL Rail and changing trains at Stratford station during rush hour are nipping at its heels in a very close second.
The volume of travellers remains a surprise to the transport network, but that’s almost expected. The over-crowded platforms, obliviousness and sometimes just general rudeness of my fellow commuters are what make this journey more unpleasant. Things I’ve had to deal with at Stratford include:
1. Being rammed in the ankles by a pram
1. Being rammed in the ankles by a pram
2. Being pushed into the side of the train by others trying to shove passed me to get on
3. Being pushed into the carriage to the point of almost falling over
4. Unwittingly being volunteered for contortion lessons by two middle aged men grabbing rails either side of my head and very slowly encroaching on the 5mm of air around me over the course of a journey
5. Feeing someone’s breath on my face from them yawning (eeuuww)
Those are the immediate examples that spring to mind and poor lovely boyfriend has to deal with me ranting and raving about the train idiots every day for about 15 minutes when I get home.
The most irritating example though, are the commuters who board the train, and seem to forget there are at least 30 other people trying to squeeze into the space behind them. Those who insist on congesting the door of the carriage, who seem incapable of moving down the aisle in between the seats to accommodate more of us also just trying to get home. I have missed trains because of this (insert expletive(s) of choice) breed of traveller. I have since devised my own strategy of naming and shaming (identifying offenders by their clothing and asking them personally to make way) which unfortunately I have yet had the opportunity to put into to practice. General calls to ‘move down’ are almost always ignored – Nigella putting avocado on toast and declaring it a recipe created more of a stir. Wearing an official vest and blaring a whistle makes no difference either. It’s only a matter of time before gloved employees start pushing people on like they do in Japan.
My thoughts then turn to modern etiquette. Personal space aside, we live in a society that is dependent on technology for everything, especially entertainment. Now, instead of just a potential newspaper in your face, there are commuters watching films or TV shows on phones and iPads in the carriage. Fair enough, we all need somewhere to look other than at each other while travelling (heaven forbid we acknowledge each other), but then it becomes a question of content.
For example, I am phobic about zombies. Phobic isn’t even an exaggeration; I could barely make it through the first series of The Walking Dead without panicking when the lights went out. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing, but there it is. So I’m reading my paper sitting next to a guy who is watching Ash vs The Evil Dead (a brand new series featuring Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi from the original Evil Dead films). I can’t help but notice the flickering images in my periphery and look down to have the wonderful image of a grey/green decaying woman swaying gently in a nightgown with a giant knife sticking out the top of her head. All at 7:15am. One wonders where the line is. The guy next to me was well within his rights to watch something on his phone, but shouldn’t we consider our fellow commuters when it comes to content – or just be more discreet with our screens.
This is a tricky one that I think requires consideration among commuters, which sadly, judging from my experiences so far, seems to be something that needs to be taught instead of being instinctive.
Until then – the struggle for standing room continues!