Friday, 11 December 2009

Legendary tube announcer

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Late October

Question; what did I see on the tube today? Answer; a big pile of toxic red mist.

The London transport system is a huge, sprawling and complex. I live 14 miles from Charing Cross as the pigeon flies. It takes me about fifty minutes to get to work in Central London. I leave the house, taking the rubbish with me every Thursday, walk through a dark full-of-insect-shit alley, get on a bus, wait four minutes for a train, get on a train for 18 minutes, walk down some stairs, walk down more stairs and get on a tube for fifteen minutes. I then climb two escalators and more steps to reach daylight (March – October). Seven minutes later (fifteen if I fancy a bacon sandwich) and I’m at my desk ready to read the gossip column and drink coffee.

My return pleasure trip is of course not free. In fact it’s expensive. There are a few different payment options one can consider when committing to a London commute. Presently I go for an Oyster card (for the tube) and a weekly x to y card for the train.

Monday started well. The teacher is on mid-term which usually makes it a lot harder to get out of bed but after two or three weeks of dark mornings the bright dawn was a welcome sight and lifted my drowsy Monday morning mood. In these post-clock-going-back bright conditions the alley is just an alley.

My bus journey was as pleasant as ever. As I leave earlier than most, my morning bus’s motley crew have come to resemble dependable kindred spirits. There’s the German couple who may or may not be German (and are statistically English), the lady with the bike who’s husband has recently had some kind of fall at work and the three company owners who I assume are a husband and wife/father in-law team who run a small office equipment firm somewhere in London. I assume this because one man carries a copy of the FT and there are three of them. God knows what they think of me.

Monday, being the first day of the working week, is ticket buying day. I have four minutes from bus arriving to train departing in which to buy my ticket. This is usually plenty. However today the machine was broken leaving only the grumpy woman who lives behind a Perspex screen and also sells tickets, today a queue awaited her service.

I had no time. I could either buy a ticket and miss my train or get my train and get my ticket when I get off. Of course I caught the train.
Anyone familiar with Murphy’s Law will know what happened next. Between the first and second flights of stairs at Finsbury Park stood men in coats holding machines.

Walking down the first stairs I noticed one man immediately turn around and walk back up towards the platform. Ticket checkers were around the corner. This man clearly had no ticket. I too had no ticket but I had a very valid excuse. I surged towards the honest men in big coats who were only doing their jobs safe in the knowledge that in a few minutes I’d be buying a ticket from the nice men and on my merry way.

Fascist bastards.

I approached a young upstanding man. I explained the situation. Not good enough said the ball of grease. He pointed me to an older man who was lurking behind the chaos with a notepad in his hand. Looking back I think he might even have been nervous.

The machine was broken…there was a queue….always give yourself enough time to buy a valid ticket….you want me to miss my train…I have a meeting….I spend £2000 a year (I don’t)….

And so it continued for at least 70 seconds.

“There’s no problem in X Station” Greaseball shouted passive aggressively. I resigned myself. This man was taking £20 hard earned snots from me.
Why I didn’t leap on the ‘no problem’ comment I do not know. I should have screamed “Are you calling me a liar” type screams but I didn’t. Instead I scowled and stuck out my wrist. I put it down to the aforementioned resignation. It didn’t last for long, this resignation, and as the man played with his Stalin toy and entered my details I began to get a little

“It’s funny how on the day the machine is broken you arrive here”

“We just go where we are told”

“Is this to pay for your next strike?”

“We haven’t been on strike in years”

A grunt and steaming ears.

I entered my number and got slapped on the wrist for twenty turned away in disgust.

A few days later I realised that the station has two machines, not one. One, the one I use everyday, is broken, the other works like Boxer the

I feel bad for being so rude to the man. In retrospect he seemed nice. Sports fan I reckon. A few kids, likes a few pints, possibly enjoys camping or hiking. A decent shit.

Unlike me; sullen, moody and in a hurry. A commuter.

Illustration by Gemma Luker

Friday, 23 October 2009

October 22nd

After a day where everything went wrong in the last ten minutes I ended up running for a tube to connect me to the last possible train that would get me home in time to watch another drab Manchester United Champions League game.

I made the tube. I made the tube because I am a fast walker. I made the tube because over the past years I have developed a passive aggressive look on my face and voice in my head that kicks into action when anyone or thing has the gall to stand in front of me when I’m on my commute. Murmurs and grunts of “Fat bastards”, “ugly bitches” and even the odd “old wagon” all mutter through my head as my Italian heeled boots clip clop their way to platform number 2, Northbound. This deranged state lasts for only a few minutes and is very effective, and slightly worrying. Is this what I’ll be like when the war comes?

Anyway, I made the tube. Barring any bullshit delays, anyone living in London will tell you there are many of these, and I should make my train and be in the living room by half past five, supping a beer, munching Hoola Hoops (57p for a family bag in Tesco) and watching Anderson once again prove that he’s not of an Old Trafford standard.

Speaking of standards, because I had been marching quickly and had no seat my free edition (loving these) remained furled in my fist allowing me some time to slyly inspect my fellow unfortunates.

Gawking at commuters is an odd art and sometimes there is simply nobody to look at, which is when we’re forced to read insurance ads and bad poetry*. Mostly though a lovely lady, a tattooed man or a loud talker will grab your attention and make your journey slightly less excruciating.

On this particular day I didn’t even have to browse the carriage as the pair next to me immediately grabbed my attention. What hooked me first was a response. I caught the end of a sentence, “Halls” the man had said. A torn and mishandled nearly empty packet of Halls (other brands are available) was produced with a grunt. The pair was a he and a she.

Colleagues I figured. Colleagues who have had the bad luck to end up travelling home together. Colleagues furiously thinking of sober small talk suitable for rush hour (there is none).
But wait. Suddenly I noticed a flash of intimacy. Is this pair of dullards involved in some sort of lurid interoffice tryst? I wondered, piqued. No they’re not my brain shouts, upon further evidence of tenderness – it’s more than that! They’re a bonafide couple, dating, seeing each other, in a relationship, partners. He mutters like a wimp. He asks about dinner and she, possibly because of her ailment and possibly because she’s a complete tool, responds, IN BABY TALK, “Fried calves liver with gravy” or something to that affect she chirps like an infant otter.
All doubt is now gone. They are a couple. They co-habit.

So what I hear you ask? Surely the tube isn’t only used by nosey degenerates and asshole bankers? Of course some of these sweating commuters must be happy people, happy people who share their lives with other happy people. Yes. Happy people do take the tube. Commuters do consummate with other commuters. I am one of them in fact. But I did it properly. I consider myself a high six or low seven in the looks department – hair, weight and general upkeep dependent, the teacher (my other half) I reckon to be an eight and a half. It is because I am a good man and stump for dinner and wine that I have bagged an eight point fiver – this is not unheard of, quite common in fact.

What is uncommon is a differential above five. And this is what I concerned myself with while the tube chugged onwards. The couple were young. Between 23 and 25 was my guess. He was sallow skinned, with brown hair cut without style. He wore a dark coat and nice jeans. His shoes were a little shit. He probably smelled nicely. He was a six all over. (If he doesn’t watch his tummy though he’ll soon be a four) Perhaps he’s aware of the rules and is trying to reduce the differential because she’s a one all over.

I don’t want to sound like an uglyist because I’m not. Some of my best friends are ugly. In the past I have been hideous and am quite sure I will be again at some point. But this girl would win awards. She looked like a girl Timothy Spall with red wine thrown over her face. She had no neck. Her hair had clots of dandruff that for a period resembled lice. As with most of the ugly she was also quite fat.

It’s nice really but I still don’t understand what that guy sees in her – I’m guessing they met travelling when she was going through a thin and tanned phase. Those days are long gone now and yet there she was all happy and in love, even when she’s being sick and annoying.
It’s shallow but also reassuring, in a chick flick kind of way, and it’s what I saw on the tube today.

* London Underground provide free poetry on some advertising spaces as a gesture of cultural goodwill to those forced to suffer and wait miles beneath the soil everyday. I love the idea but is this the best they can find? Where have all the poets gone?