Monday, September 11, 2006

First week of term

Good grief! I had forgotten how evil the first week of the autumn term could be. I remember getting a similarly rude awakening a few years back when I fled London for a job in Bushey, Hertfordshire, a 16 mile drive from my home. I started in the first week of October - half term. The roads were brilliant - I was at the office in 30 minutes flat. I was ecstatic - this was the start of a new, hassle-free commuting life. Then the kids, and their parents, returned from whatever sun-kissed break they'd been having, and suddenly everything, everywhere, was traffic jams. I ended up spending longer queueing to get on the M1 than I had previously sat on a reasonably comfy train getting into London. I lasted 6 weeks, before heading back into the city.

I was reminded very much of the sense of shock, not to mention indignation, that gripped me the first time I got stuck in that queue, last Monday when I rounded the bend from Argyll Street and found myself in the midst of bedlam. The entrance to Oxford Circus was obscured by one long, stationary line of people. From where I was stood, it was hard to tell whether the station was actually closed, or whether "sheer volume of traffic" had caused commuter gridlock. It was, of course, hard to tell anything at all from where I was stood, because of the tide of people coming the other way.

This is what happens every weeknight (and most probably on weekends too) outside Oxford Cirus. I call it the Bottleneck, although that doesn't seem to have caught on with anyone else yet. What happens is that as people come round the bend from Regent Street on to New Oxford Street, they collide (and I do mean collide) with with crowds of commuters heading for the tube. Many of them want to head up towards Tottenham Court Road, so it becomes a matter of navigating your way through a mass of bodies moving in the opposite direction. Most people are actually very polite and there is little of the grim-faced scrimmage one gets on the trains, but like all commuters they carry bags, which can do untold damage in their wake. Complicating things stil further, quite a number of people will try to cross the pavement to reach the main road and get over to the other side and the imposing monolith that is Niketown. And this confuses people from the first category, who follow this group in pushing their way past the tube station queue (are you still with me?) in the mistaken belief that it is an easier route to get on past Argyll Street and up towards Tottenham Court Road.

So what you have is four groups of people all trying to move in different directions, none of them with a clue as to what is going on outside of about a four metre radius of themselves. It does add a certain potency to all the talk of Judgement Day from the preachers who station themselves by the entrance to the Tube.

To get back to my original point, all this, though familar enough, came as something of a shock to the system after the relative calm of the late-Summer. I reckon I was not the only one, because everywhere I looked I saw my own bewildered expression reflected on dozens of faces. Now, of course, we are all getting adjusted to the rules of termtime commuting again - travel a bit later, or even a bit earlier, or if you're feeling fit and have a few minutes to spare, just walk. It's amazing how small London becomes if you put the Tue map away.


At 10:34 AM GMT+1 , Blogger Rish said...

Been there, done that. When I lived in London, I deliberately chose to not commute by tube. Firstly, I lived close enough to walk to work, then I took the bus (which was handy as it went against the flow of human and automotive traffic).

But I have experienced the Oxford Circus situation, most notably when trying to get to a soundcheck for a gig at 5pm. I have no idea how many people I maimed as I tried to walk down Oxford Street to get to Dean Street, armed with a heavy shoulder bag, a guitar in a soft case and a guitar in a hard case with pointy corners. I have to say, as I am only small had a heavy cargo stretching my arms to breaking point, I had little sympathy for anyone who had damage inflicted upon them - it was a bit like being in the supermarket behind an old person, pushing their trolley ponderously down the middle of the aisle, before stopping with no warning to inspect the cheese. But with a hard guitar case with pointy corners. Sorry.

P.S. You might get more comments if you allow non-bloggers to leave their opinions - check your settings if you want to do this.

At 8:33 AM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

Thanks for the tip Rish. I'll check it out. I have a few questions from people woh haven't been able to leave comments.


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