For die-hard readers of this blog who will expect tales of far away lands, I’m afraid this will be disappointing. Having snared you in with stories of Moscow and Mongolian ponies, this is nine-to-five monotony. It’s daily routine.
After gallivanting through Central Asia I had to get a job. I’ve once again thrown myself headlong into the dependent world of office-based-bad-backs and a mild case of SAD syndrome. My week now involves rugby mauls on the Northern Line, interspersed with slippery dashes through one of the busiest metro stations in the world: Bank. Aptly named, because you can never bank on escaping the sticky rush hour throngs to see daylight again. So far I’ve survived.
However, none of my previous escapades had prepared me for the cutthroat world of the London commute. I’ve had to dig deep to find my inner killer instinct just to make it to work alive, let alone before nine. I’ve learnt five key things from my new daily journey:
1. Many London commuters are lucky to be commuting at all.
Thousands of suited, high-heeled corporate types have duped unsuspecting companies into employing them. I state this with a degree of certainty, because most of my fellow commuters are incredibly stupid. When the wearied voice of a TfL employee repeatedly bellows for all passengers to move down the carriage and use up all the available space, nobody does. Save a small wince at the sheer volume of the announcement, the train inhabitants and their collective private school educations, bachelors, masters and business prowess, don’t stir. Instead, they maintain their unhealthy grip on the dirty pole in front of them, and remain catatonic in overflowing doorways.
Are they stupid? Or simply turned to stone at the thought of where the train will deliver them only a few minutes later? For the sake of staying positive, I prefer to settle on stupid.
2. I’m exactly the same height as your average bloke’s armpit
Summer will come, it’s inevitable; and with summer will come body odour. At five foot three and three quarter inches (the three quarters are important when you’re my height) I will spend my commute gaily sniffing the armpit of some guy, who, at best, will have applied deodorant and selected a clean shirt. At worst, he will be sweating out last night’s lagers and confidently sporting a week old gym vest.
Far from actively avoiding this monstrosity as I slide myself onto the ever-crammed Northern Line, it will appear to all onlookers that I in fact, can’t get enough of his manly stench.
Strange I admit, but as I said, inevitable.
3. I’m a morning person, others aren’t.
“After you” I chirp, as a disheveled suit passes me on the chugging escalators, only to be told to “F**k off” ninety seconds later when I audaciously attempt to board the same train. Having let this roach scuttle to the front of the queue, I now attempt to squeeze through a space the size of a slit in a Venetian blind and receive guttural abuse.
I take it. Not because I’m a pushover, but in fact the very opposite. This man’s daily struggle with his morning self isn’t going to stop me from getting to work on time. He may be a great mess before 11 am, but his swearing is water off a duck’s back. A smug smirk crosses my face once I’m safely wedged between him and the closing door. I never even have to press snooze.
4. Sport has prepared me well for life, and my commute
It’s survival of the fittest down there. Natural Selection will pick off the weak, trapping them in doors, throwing them feet first across slippery sets of tiles and catching their scarves in man-eating conveyor belt teeth.
You have to be alert, fast and nimble to negotiate through the masses (flat shoes also give you an advantage over the rest of the fairer sex) Split second decision making allows you to slip through closing doors at the final moment, perform an early dodge of someone paused because they’re reading an amusing anecdote on their iPhone, and choose your preferred side of the escalator at the pivotal second.
I embrace my competitive, sporting self for this hour of every day. It’s a game, and some people don’t play the game. The swearers, the mumblers, the tumblers and the stallers just don’t get it. The winner? The winner doesn’t get killed or fired.
5. This is the one adventure I’ve always tried to escape.
For many years I’ve viewed my global jaunts as a brief way of escaping the numbness of a nine-to-five existence. Now, after almost a month of my new lifestyle, I’ve had an epiphany: This is an adventure just like any other. With its distinct underground micro-culture, its trials and successes, my daily commute has everything I search for in a great trip. Actually achieving something once I get into the office is the icing on the cake. It’s the sunset over Angkor Wat, it’s arriving at Machu Picchu just before dawn.
In a short time I’ve integrated myself into this way of life. I feel part of the team. The angry, sweaty, catatonic team this is London’s commuters.
All that being said, if anyone has a spare plane ticket going to Bhutan, Budapest, Tbilisi or Timbuktu, I’ll happily oblige.