Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Commuting in packs

Last Friday was my company's Christmas bash in, of all places, Warrington. Well, Lymm, actually. To be fair (as I always am) my colleagues tried their darndest to find us a venue near to our Head Office in Yorkshire (I'm based down in London, but dragging the whole company to the capital makes little financial sense, so we generally head up North). After half a day's work in the office, we packed up (minus one colleague who had a prior engagement and couldn't come, meaning she had to stay in the office on her own for Friday afternoon - it was probably quite a relief) and headed to Euston to catch a train to Warrington. It gave me a chance to observe the behaviour of my fellow colleagues in their natural habitat (the commute being the most natural habitat for any Londoner) and see how they interacted with each other on a group commute. It was fascinating, because they all seemed to treat it as some kind of jolly jaunt, a grand day out and an excuse to take things slow, whereas for me, the whole experience of commuting on an unfamiliar line was profoundly distressing.

My discomfort started before we had even left the office - myself and CE, the office manager, stood impatiently by the door waiting for colleagues to finish mucking about on YouTube, or possibly working. Minute after anxious minute ticked by, the Chairman went and hailed himself a taxi to take him to the station (to be fair, it wasn't out of any reluctance to mix with the hoi polloi, but because he had a hefty overnight bag and didn't fancy the lunchtime tube rush so encumbered), and eventually they pronounced themselves ready, and off we set. I took the lead, my laptop, concealed in my rucksack, a potentially decisive weapon in any territorial tube disputes, and the rest of the party trailed behind me in ill-disciplined formation. At Tottenham Court Road we got stuck behind a bunch of ambling tourists, and again my sense of urgency, ducking, diving and generally trying to move people out of my way without actually pushing, was in stark contrast to the laissez-faire attitude of the rest of my party. We then went down the platform via different escalators and I suffered the immense frustration of seeing them already there when I arrived. On to the train we clambered, and the journey passed without incident or delay, to my great relief.

When we got to Euston, we all piled out and began the long journey towards the outside world. This is something that has always mystified me about Euston: it's a bit like the Tardis, outwardly no bigger than most other London stations, and smaller than a fair few, yet for some reason getting around the underground bit is like hiking the Appelation Trail. Every single platform seems to be divided by a complex series of tunnels every bit as intricate as those that the trains themselves pass through. It is very odd. Again I struck out in front, twisting and swaying to get past the crowds, one particularly sweet piece of overtaking even drawing praise from one of my colleagues.

What seemed like an age later we emerged into daylight and went off to grab ourselves something to eat on the journey Northwards. According to ancient rules that state we must all act like teenagers on a school trip in such situations regardless of age, we split into groups of boys and girls before coming together once again to board the severely overcrowded train (no offence of Warrington, but is it really that much of a draw?). I ended up sat with CE down the far end of the carriage from everybody else, but we get on very well and the Chairman sent us down a bottle of wine, so it was all quite enjoyable. After the traumas of negotiating the Underground in a group, I needed a drink. I don't know how teachers cope.