Monday, 20 June 2016

I Think I Can, I Know I Can....

When I worked in London two years ago I was fortunate enough to a) also live in London, and b) work only evenings and weekends. Since then I have worked in Essex. As a result, I have made it to the ripe old age of twenty seven never having commuted to London for work.

This week though, the stars aligned in a way that they haven't before, allowing me the opportunity to commute from Chelmsford to London like a real, grown up commuter. 

For those of you that have been lucky enough to live this commute, I'm really hoping that you will relate to this and not just think I've become grumpy in  my old age. For those of you who have never experienced it, sit back, relax, and have a read of what I learnt from my four days as a commuter...

a) The rumours about the weather affecting the trains beyond the reasonable? 

All true. 

All three of my trains in the morning of day four were delayed due to inclement weather. (It was raining. No snow, no hail, no monsoon, no hurricane. British June Drizzle- that's all.) All three of my trains in the evening of the same day were also delayed, despite the fact that the rain had stopped around midday and it had been 21 degrees for most of the afternoon. 

b) The reason the weather affects the trains so much is this...

We're British, right? We love nothing more than to moan about the weather. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's muggy, it's rainy, I'm burnt, there's hot and there's hot and this is too hot. So when something goes wrong with the trains- give the punters what they want, they say. Tell them it's the weather's fault. 

Now I know this because on the way home, once it had stopped raining and the sun had a little sombrero on and his maracas out- they found themselves having to be honest. 

And I am not kidding or even exaggerating when I tell you this is the announcement that came over the tannoy. 

(Please imagine your best over-the-top London accent. Bert in Mary Poppins, if you will.) 

Ladies and Gents, just to let you know I'm meanta be goin' 'ome now, only the new driver ain't turnt up to take over. So er...well you'll be delayed. Sorry 'bout that.

Oh that's okay, not to worry. This is a free train service after all, what can we really expe- oh wait. Most of us have had to remortgage our houses to afford a weekly ticket. 

c) You will see the same people every single day...

1) The One With The Phone....

Seriously, this guy has been on every train I've ever caught. Nobody seems to have told him yet that that dodgy Nokia ringtone that everyone abandoned in 2003...well, was abandoned in 2003. And that it's embarrassing to have it going off every two minutes for the entirety of a forty minute journey. 

When this guy is around (and he always is), the soundtrack to your journey is this: 

*dodgy ringtone*

"Hello? Hello mate, listen, I'm on the train so I might cut out a bi-hello? Hello?" 

*dodgy ringtone*

"Hello? Sorry mate, cut out cause I'm on the train. So this board meeti- mate? Are you still there?" 

And repeat. 

You've said it a hundred times! You're on the train! You're not going to have a useful conversation and you';re driving everyone crazy. Put.The.Phone.Away. 

2) The Self Righteous One

This one only appears on a rush hour tube. 

You're squeezed on. Your nose is pressed up inside someone else's armpit (and it's never someone who had time for deodorant), a different person's hair is touching your face, you're not quite sure where your hands are, and out of the corner of your eye you can see that there are about five people with their noses actually squashed up against the glass, their breath leaving slobber on the windows.

And then there's one person. Always. 

"Excuse me, you're quite close to my bag. Could you please step back?" At this point they usually, like number one, get their phone out and say, loudly enough for the entire carriage to hear, "ugh yeah, I'm on the train and I've got some idiot standing really close to me. Don't know what's wrong with people." 

As though the tiny student with her books squeezed against her and her head pressed against the side of the train has all the room in the world and has chosen to situate herself as close as possible for the laugh. 

I like to think that the person at the other end of the phone is picturing a blissfully empty train with a stranger hugging their friend because they just find them so charming and irresistible. 

3) The Tut Master

The one who is unimpressed by the behaviour of every other commuter- from anyone who has dared to bring luggage with them to anyone who squeezes past and accidentally brushes them- but, unlike the first two characters, is far too British to draw attention to themselves by being loud. Instead, they settle for a little tut and eye roll directed at all around them, and as a result attracting more attention than the loud ones. 

4) Superman

Most trains are filled with supermen and women, particularly during rush hour. 

These are people whose journeys are so much more important than everybody else's. They will step in front of you, push you out of the way, knock you down the escalator if they need to. These are also the people who sigh far more dramatically than necessary when the inevitable delays are announced, and immediately grab their phones, presumably to let the world know that they'll be a little bit late to save the day. 

5) The One That Everyone Bonds Over

These people are so ludicrous that all the other types of people come together in united amusement and/or disbelief at them. They're normally either shouting about their beliefs (not usually respectable religious beliefs, but the belief that their dog is reincarnated Elvis or something), singing out loud to their headphones, prancing about dressed in a gorilla costume (seriously), or dancing with the kind of enthusiasm that should be reserved for behind closed doors.

I love these people. They break up the tedium of 'I can't hear you, I'm on the train', and the tutting. 

6) The Overexcited One

We've left Shenfield, and the next stop is Stratford. It's still a long way away. Yes, it's the next stop, but we've still got a while to go. But they need you to get up from your seat to let them get to the front door, or worse, you're already standing as there were no seats free (because The Self-Righteous One is taking up a seat or two with her bags), and they insist on squeezing past you so that they can stand beside the door, ready to get off in twenty two minutes. (When you will also be departing.)

Now it's not like me to be negative, I believe my life's purpose is to make people happy. To Spread the Joy. 

But I did not enjoy my four days of commuting, and if I hadn't vowed, five minutes into the first journey, that I would be writing about this when it was over, I'm not sure I would have coped at all. So the main thing I have taken from the experience is thank goodness I don't have to do this every day. I have never been more grateful for my driving licence. 

However I will share with you my three highlights....

One of my favourite things that happened was when I was showing my ticket to a ticket inspector and just as I was walking away I heard him ask the lady behind: 'boy or girl?' I whipped my head around to see what on earth prompted that question, when I saw a hugely pregnant woman positively beam as she said: a boy and a girl. 

It made me happy, it obviously made her happy- that moment of interest in another person didn't cost much from the ticket inspector but it prompted a lot of smiles in a crowd of otherwise fairly grumpy people. 

Another was when I had just taken out a chewing gum and popped it in my mouth. "Excuse me?" the man sitting diagonally across from me said, throwing me completely by being polite and gracious, and none of the characters above. "Can I have a chewing gum please?" 

And then of course, there are the clever announcements. They bring more joy than I can explain. They give these moody, animal-like travellers an excuse to smile at one another without falling into category five. The man in Chelmsford is magical. He reminds everyone to stand clear of the doors, and then follows it up with "Outstanding as always, Chelmsford," or "Chelmsford, you never cease to amaze me." 

It's a small part of his day but this tiny bit of creativity and humour brings smiles to a lot of people. 

So, ladies and gents, I implore you. 

Next time you are on a train- please smile when you spot these people, rather than wanting to cry as I did this week. Please be kind to them. Be funny. Smile. Help people out. Be The Change. Spread the Joy.

I'm quite certain that when Cinderella said 'have courage, and be kind,' she was talking about surviving train journeys.

And as those of you who do these journeys regularly will know, courage and kindness are not common characters on the commute. 

So introduce them. Wiggle up and make room for them. Invite them on. Let them stand in front of you, move too close to you, bring their luggage and their kids on too. 

Have courage, and be kind. 

And for goodness sake, remember how wonderful you are to do that every day. 

If you can do that, you can do anything. 

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