So this is it. The last time to gather up my bike keys and my staff pass, the last time to leave the house and forget my phone, and miss the sweet spot at the Vauxhall Cross lights. The last time to buy a ticket and wonder how SWT can take less than a week to install three new ticket machines and then more than a month to make them do anything useful, like sell a ticket. The last spot of banter with the newspaper stand guys and the last time to try and exit the waiting room behind a woman who stops dead, blocking the door, waiting to see when the next train is. The last time to stand well back from the platform edge as the approaching train is not stopping at this station. The last last minute platform alteration. The last time spent pointedly wondering if my fellow passenger might move his bag, or his feet, or his elbow from my space. The last time wondering why the young man at Barnes feels the need to commute in surgical gloves (and the first, actually – is there some dreadful new contagious disease I’m not aware of?) The last sprint up the Kew Bridge stairs.
The last time rounding the corner into the Vauxhall underpass and greeting my still-intact bike with a sigh of relief. The last ‘no thanks’ to the freebie paper-monger, still ridiculously cheerful after freebie paper-monging for more than a year now. The last ride home. The last dodged pigeon. The last lock up.
Three months after I officially quit my job, I have finally stopped work. well sort of. And to reinforce my resolve, next week I’m moving to Scotland. You can follow my adventures here…
Disgruntled Commuter has left the building
In the environs of Vauxhall yesterday evening, I noticed two of the local gentlemen of the road, settling down for a picnic on a random street corner near Tescos. And why not enjoy these lengthening evenings, I thought, even if it is still a bit chilly for me to contemplate an al-fresco affair. They had a Tesco bag with them and as I passed I noticed among the usual cans some little round tubs. They weren’t, were they? They were…
Yep, one of them had brought dips. Tesco value, mind you, rather than Tesco’s Finest, but dips all the same. It’s good to know they’re not spending all of it on booze. I’ve always thought that Vauxhall’s tramp population had a certain style…
I am standing in East Acton tube station (I know, I really know how to live, me). I am waiting to get a printout of my last few oyster trips, to remind me where I’ve been. There is me, the ticket office guy, and a woman, standing silently, staring up at the clock.
9:29:30 … 9:29:35 …9:29:40 … 9:29:45 … 9:29:50 … 9:29:55 … 9:30:00
And suddenly she springs into life, puts her oyster card on the reader and bustles off to catch her off-peak train, and the ticket office guy and I, who have been waiting, mesmerised, too, get on with our transaction.
I just hope the gates are synchronised with the station clock…
I don’t quite know what was going on with my head this morning. I think I woke up too early, and then started to go back to sleep just as 6:15 came around and the part of my brain that both always knows what time it is and cares about whether I should get up or not* rudely jerked me awake. Although, and I don’t know about you lot, but when I’ve had to get up in these circumstances, ‘awake’ is too strong a word. ‘Upright’ probably puts it better. Should any clever scientists manage to look inside my brain, they’d probably see nothing but a blue screen and the instruction ‘press ctrl-alt-delete to continue’. One shower later, I had booted up into the mental equivalent of ‘safe mode’ and was able to manage one simple thought at a time (sock. on foot. Other sock. on other foot.). Dazedly, having dressed and gathered my stuff, I set off on my bike.
So here’s the thing. Normally even the short ride to Vauxhall is something I need to be fully alert for. Pedestrians, cars, other cyclists, plumber’s vans, pigeons – every single one of them is apparently out to get the lone cyclist and can be relied upon to do anything at any time. Generally, despite maintaining a heightened state of zen alertness, I still manage to be surprised and occasionally endangered every single trip. Yet this morning, when the only coherent thought I could manage to muster was ‘I wonder what it is I’ve forgotten?’**, for the first time ever, every other road user INCLUDING the plumber’s vans, gave me plenty of space, even overtaking at a respectful distance. Perhaps it’s true that the cars really do leave more room for wobbly looking cyclists. If you really want to be safe on your bike, never mind wearing a helmet, don’t even bother to wear your brain…
*No, I have no idea, and I’m not sure I want it either. I’d happily swap it for a sense of direction, or maybe the ability to think about what I’m going to say before I open my mouth. Any offers?
**My bike lock, as it happens.
Ah, spring has re-sprung it seems and even though I was going to the Elephant this morning, it was still a lovely day – bright, crisp, breezy and most importantly sunny. Not only that but as I went through the barrier at the station the lift arrived and I could hop straight on and head down to the platform to catch the next train.
Or so you would think.
But no, because this is an underground lift and the rule with underground lifts is that every time the door starts to close, someone else will come through the barrier and try and nip through the door, and the door will open again and the lift will say in its specially pre-programmed annoyed voice ‘Please do not obstruct the door*’, and then the door will try and close again and someone else will come through the barrier and there’s technically no reason why this should ever stop. The first time it happens, it’s understandable – it might even have been you nipping through the closing door. The second time it happens its irritating and the third time downright annoying and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh times you start to wonder if you will ever get out of the lift or whether you are condemned to stand there forever, you, the annoyed lift voice and a growing number of more and more compressed commuters until you have formed a mass dense enough to create an artificial black hole and the world ends in a gravitational collapse. This morning we got up to nine before someone at the front shouted ‘oh just stop trying to get on the fucking lift’ and someone at the back rejoined, ‘well maybe you could all fucking move up so we can get on’ and the doors finally shut and we all descended into the darkness, the sunshine and spring forgotten.
At this point I should probably insert some sort of plea for more tolerance, understanding and courtesy from everyone, so that some of us can retain our fragile good moods on the rare mornings when we actually have them, but you know what? It’s never going to happen, so I’m going to save my breath.
And how was your day?
* They missed a trick not getting it to sound more and more annoyed, all the way from mildly irritated through to incandescent rage. I’m sure some jobbing actor would love to do that.
So, recently the men with diggers have been busy digging up and resurfacing the Kennington Road*. After a slight glitch when they had to dig it up all over again to fix all the water mains they’d broken the first time around, it is now all lovely and smooth and they can get on with the fun part: decorating it. They’ve done most of the lines, and the writing and zig-zags and arrows and now they’re getting out their pretty coloured tarmac and colouring it all in. We’ve got a tasteful subdued burgundy for the bus lane and a rather brighter red for the pedestrian crossing (so the blood doesn’t show?) and – a new one for me – a sort of stylish beige for the lane approaching the crossing. On closer inspection, this appears to be an extra layer of grit that has been glued onto the road so that drivers who were approaching the crossing at speed can slam on their brakes more effectively when the lights suddenly change against them. These road-mending chaps think of everything these days.
Of course it would be even better if drivers could just approach the pedestrian crossing actually prepared to stop, but I suppose if one clever man with a grit lorry can undo the work of several dozen idiots armed with a car apiece, it’s better than nothing. I just wonder if they couldn’t have chosen a nicer colour than beige.
* Actually, it would probably be quicker these days to tell you which roads around us are not being dug up. Do you think they’re looking for oil? Or maybe just buried treasure…
There seems to be some iron law of underground lift physics that states that, where there are two lifts, both lifts will be together, and in exactly the wrong place – i.e. at the top if you’re underground wanting to get out, and at the bottom if you’re in the lobby wanting to get down (where there are three lifts, of course, two of them will be together and in the wrong place, and the third will be out of order). I have no doubt that some clever mathematician somewhere has a model proving that wherever the lifts start out, by about five minutes into the rush hour, they will be locked in step*. The only variation is if you’re carrying a suitcase, in which case both lifts will just be departing as you arrive, but that’s merely sod’s law and perfectly explicable.
There’s a corollary of course, which states that the time taken for a reasonably fit passenger, i.e. me, to give up on the lift and climb the stairs is exactly the same amount of time it takes for the lift to come down, pick up the less impatient passengers and go back up again, so that they are always smugly emerging from its doors as I come panting up the stairs. This, of course, is irrespective of the amount of time I spent waiting for the lift at the bottom, before cutting my losses and walking up. It’s almost as though they lay in wait. Lift physics is all very well, but there are times when it starts to feel personal…
*See also: Buses, always come in threes.
More signs of spring. Not the clocks changing – although it was nice to cycle home in daylight today, even if it did mean getting up at I-don’t-care-what-the-clock-says-it’s-still-five-fifteen in the morning. No, it’s the foxes. In the streets around us, there’s always a faint whiff of fox, but come the spring the smell gets worse, and they particularly seem to like our front garden. Apparently the only way to deter them is to have a bloke pee there, but despite London’s army of al fresco urinators, none of them has graced our front step yet and the other half for some reason is reluctant to oblige. So this morning, as I stumbled blearily out of the door, I was blasted with the rank stink of fox pee that was all over the railings, all over my bike, all over my bike lock and consequently, as I discovered when I got to Vauxhall, all over my hands. And it’s tricky stuff to get off. When a dog fox marks something, it stays marked, which meant even after repeated handwashings I could still detect a faint scent of animal urine with top notes of randy fox (I believe Jade’s latest fragrance was something similar).
Of course, when I got to the station this evening, I found that someone had liberally applied some fox deterrent to the Vauxhall underpass so my bike smelled even worse. Whether it will, as advertised, stop the foxes, I’ll have to wait and see. But I’ve a feeling it will only encourage them…
…the guys in the news-stand are getting positively frisky.
(Note to self. I really must stock up on my reserves of traditional British hauteur)
Say you’re at a busy station – King’s Cross, to pluck an example at random from the air – and you are having trouble with your wheely suitcase. All around you, people are trying to catch their trains at the start of the long weekend. It’s a good idea NOT to try and simultaneously sort out your luggage and walk backwards into the flow of traffic. Just one of those little tips you learn in the big city, I suppose.
Of course, if you are walking along a narrow corridor in – say – King’s Cross, and you see someone walking backwards towards you fiddling with his suitcase, then it is also not a great idea to keep walking straight at him in the hope that he will magically disappear. As the other half pointed out, it wasn’t that close to platform 9 3/4. Barging straight into him and making rude comments is no way to get Easter off to a good start.
And neither, frankly, is travelling to Scotland. Since arriving we have had rain, sleet, snow, hail and a flying birdbath going past the kitchen window. Every time I look up – alerted by a banshee howl from the north wind – the weather is worse.
Still, have a happy Easter, everyone. I just hope that yours is somewhere warmer. Like Iceland, maybe, or the North Pole.