Monday, January 01, 2007

Ghosts of commuting past

Ah, New Year's Day. The dawn of another exciting 12 months - who knows what the coming year will bring, eh? Well, for one thing, it will bring my 30th birthday. Yikes. Still, enough about that. The point of today's post is to reflect fondly on some of the characters I've shared my daily commute with, but failed utterly to get to know, over the past six years. Partly this is brought on by my natural tendency to get all reflective and sentimental at times like this, but mainly by something someone said to me before Christmas (no idea who it was) about a guy she knew who had been out for a festive drink with the people he shares a carriage with on his way to work.

I actually feel quite jealous of this chap, because whenever I have tried to make friends with fellow commuters since I've been working in London, the response has been overwhelmingly negative. Actually, that's not quite true - there's one guy I've chatted to a few times, called Pete, who lives down the bottom of my road, but he's started getting a different train now (don't think it's anything to do with me). Once I actually get on the platform, however, my natural competitive streak takes over, and I put my head down, spread my elbows and focus on getting that seat. In such circumstances, it's difficult to make friends with people.

When I first started working in London, travelling in from Leicester every morning, there was a lady who I stood next to on the platform everyday for more than a year. We both worked out exactly where the doors of the front carraige were going to stop (right in front of a vending machine) and had regular positions to ensure we were right by the doors when they stopped. Each day we stood there. resolutely refusing to acknowledge one another's presence. Then when the train came along, whichever one of us ended up inthe best position to be first would sweep through the door and grab the only double seat available. This was, of course, pointless, because someone else always comes and sits in the other seat - but, once again, it was all about tiny victories. More than any other fellow passenger, I wish I had got that lady's name, or at least exchanged a smile with her. I often find myself wondering what has become of her now, whether she still turns up at half six every morning to stand on that platform by that vending machine. Only fleeting thoughts, of course - I don't lose any sleep over it - but it's a bit like those laments you hear whenever someone from a big office leaves or passes away or whatever: "I saw him everyday on the stairs but never knw his name" etc. I was going to say hello on my last day in Leicester, actually, as I took that long journey for the final time, but I had a messy altercation with the woman behind the till at WH Smith who wouldn't change a fiver for me after I had bought a newspaper, and by the time I got the platform I was feeling thoroughly pissed off, so I didn't.

There was a group of guys who used to travel on that train with me and every morning they would somehow get themselves a four seater to sit in (must have had reserved seats). They never seemed to sit in the evenings, but would always hang out in the buffet car drinking lager. What a life, I used to think - up at six, home at nine, every single day. Don't they have families? All the same, I did envy them a bit - to them, commuting was a scosial occasion, a night out with the lads, something I very rarely had time for during that year.

When I moved to Hertfordshire, I encountered an odd couple who read the Daily Mail, and each day I would jostle with them, without actual physical contact, or indeed eye contact, for the prime spot on the platform. I used to refer to the guy as "that little weasel-faced man" (not being gratuitously offensive - he really did put me in mind of a rodent), and his wife looked a bit like a Tory politician. One weekend I ran into them at the shops, and it was awful - we were like rabbits caught in headlights. Daft, really - in what other walk of life would you stand alongside someone for the best part of two years and then not even make eye contact when you ran into them in a social setting?

After I moved house last year, I attempted to strike up a friendship with a guy who I saw on the train a few times, after I realised he lives down the end of the road from me. He also travels in with his partner each morning, but she used to get off at Finsbury Park, and one day after she had left I went and introduced myself to him. We chatted for a bit, mainly about commuting, then went our seperate ways at Kings Cross. I thought we might get to know each other socially and then myself and The Wife could do coupley things with them. Unfortunately, I discovered that he and his girlfriend are quite exclusive when it comes to their morning commute - probably the only quality time they get together or something - and my overtures have not been returned, beyond the odd nod of acknowledgement.

Maybe I just haven't met the right kind of people yet. They're out there somewhere, though, and one day, I too will have commuting buddies. I'm sure they make it all more fun.


At 4:33 AM GMT , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha! This post has once again confirmed my belief that commuting is universal, across borders, even here in Australia. I'm the 'avoid eye contact at all costs' kind of person. And I also, worked out exactly where to stand so that I'm smack in front of the doors when the train arrives.

-Agnes, Elmwood Melbourne

At 1:31 PM GMT , Blogger JD said...

I know! Forget football - if you want an international language, look no further than commuting.

Sorry if this post came across a bit glum - I'm normally much more chirpy, but it was the end of the holidays and I was feeling introspective.

I thought you guys all surfed to work anyway.


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