Tuesday, 17 November 2009
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.
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