Friday, March 23, 2007

Confessions of a Grumpy Commuter

I have a confession to make. I am no better than the rest of them. I may pretend (to myself as much as to anyone else) that I am, in fact, fundamentally a nice person and well above all that nastiness and pettiness that commuting seems to bring out in people, but it is not true. This was brought home to me on Monday morning, as I boarded the 07:51 train to Kings Cross.

It was a Monday morning, and I was very tired, having not slept terribly well over the weekend. And I was provoked. At least, I felt provoked. The guy who was provoking me probably didn’t think he was being provocative, but that’s how I read it. All mitigating circumstances, to be sure, but not sufficient to hide behind: everyone could surely point to such mitigation every single day when they shove in front of someone, fold their newspaper the moment they suspect someone else may be reading it, or just scowl at someone on the train just because they happen to make eye contact.

What happened was this. I had got to the station quite early, having left the house five minutes or so ahead of schedule. Taking up a position just behind the yellow line, in between the two chaps who were there ahead of me, I suddenly realised that I was vulnerable to people piling in from the side, who often get in front of those in the centre of the doors. So I decided to be smart, and moved around to stand side by side with one of the other guys (the one on the left, to be prccise). Minutes passed, and as the clock reached ten to eight, there was a sudden influx – a group of about five passengers arrived and stood behind the other two. Young, tall, confident-looking – I took an instant dislike to them. To make matters worse, three of them seemed to know each other, and started laughing and joking together. Then one of them, a tall ginger bloke, caught my eye, and I swear it was a dirty look he gave me (in retrospect, it was just a look, and barely even that, but I was feeling insecure). I fumed.

Then the train turned up, and the carriage rumbled to a halt with the doors right in front of the other two guys, and by extension my tall ginger nemesis too. Steaming with rage, I turned, put my head down, and advanced. The ginger guy actually got on first, after the guy I’d stood next to., but I was damned if I was going to let his young lady get in front of me too – after all, I had been there fully five minutes before them. He caught me with the strap of his rucksack as I forged in behind him, and the jolted me back to reality. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I felt very foolish, and realised hoe childishly I had been behaving.

I’ve been feeling ashamed all week, salving my conscience by pointedly ignoring free seats on the bus and letting other people take them instead. I think I need a holiday.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Nothing noteworthy to report other than the fact that the train was very overcrowded on the way home. Coupled with this morning's similarly crowded carriage that means I haven't sat down on public transport all day, which is possibly a first - normally I manage to find a seat for at least a portion of one of my journeys.

But there is some exciting news for blog fans, as the sheer quality of writing available on the web finally receives overdue recognition. Shaggy Blog Stories, published through, features some of the very best writing from fellow bloggers including the only man to have got away with making a virtue of Northampton's essential dullness, Andrew Collins.

More details at:

Saturday, March 10, 2007

In the wee small hours of the morning

Well, not quite. But we were on one of the last trains home on Thursday night after an evening at the theatre in London (late deal from the Net). The final curtain came down at around half ten but due to another tiresome episode involving my disappearing train pass we were delayed getting to Kings Cross, and by the time we got ourselves on a train it was nearing the witching hour. Late-night commuting is always fascinating, to me at least, because of the characters you get. Actually it was fairly civilised this time (other than the young woman berating her husband for not keeping things safely in his pocket, the sight of which caused the weary travellers some amusement I'm sure). Perhaps we just picked the wrong carriage. There was, however, Chewing Gum Man, to keep this correspondent stocked with material.

I suspect it may just be me, but I have to admit to a horrible tendency to stare at gum chewers. Particularly on trains, where I find myself unable to tear my attention away from them. I suspect it is my commuting instincts, which put me in a heightened sense of awareness vis a vis everyone else around me, but it seems to me as if people chew more ostentatiously on the train than elsewhere (doesn't happen on buses - it really is a train-specific phenomenon). This particular chap on Thursday night was not, mercifully, one of the open-mouthed brigade (at least not until we reached Stevenage, when for some reason he decided we would all benefit from a good look at his tonsils - although if one were being cruel, one might say that at least it provided a welcome distraction from the town itself). But my word, did he give that gum a good going over. He seemed to be trying to grind it into submission. He chewed his gum like my dad rides an exercise bike at the gym - and anyone who has ever witnessed my father at the gym will know exactly what I mean. No quarter asked, none given - you could see the veins standing out on his forehead. By the time he embarked on what we might call the post-Stevenage sprint for the line (the aforementioned open-mouth bit) his jaw had been through the oral equivalent of a full-body workout. There are, by all account, serveral hundred muscles in the jaw, and I'm guessing he used every single one of them. I hope I didn't stare too much, although from the triumphant grimace he shot me as I exited the train, I suspect I may have done.

As for the train pass, well, I dragged The Wife back to the theatre to check if they had picked it up (they hadn't), then back to my office to see if we could find it on my desk (we couldn't), and then rang the restaurant we'd eaten in to see if they had it (they didn't). I bought a ticket home, then a full-fare Travelcard on Friday. I was just leaving the office for the weekend, via the photo booth to get some passport photos and replace the darn thing, when I chanced to move a book on my desk and there it was. Oh, how we all laughed.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Moving to my own beat

One of my most notable Christmas presents was a Samsung MP3 player. I mention the brand not out of an loyalty to Samsung, or just because I work for a branding agency and want to show off how “brand-literate” I am, but because I work in an office, and indeed an industry, full of Apple geeks, for whom possession of any other type of music device than one of those Ipod thingies would be tantamount to treason. It’s my rather understated, middle class way of railing against the establishment. Actually that’s bollocks – the Ipod was just more expensive. But I digress.

The thing is, or was, that I had reached the stage that my daily commute would be immeasurably improved by being able to listen to music. Like so many others, I realised that shutting oneself off from the rest of the world is much easier when set to the soundtrack of my choice. So since the end of January (when I finally got round to putting some tunes on the thing) I have been able to count “MP3 player” amongst the portfolio of things that I must verbally namecheck before I leave the house every morning (more complicated than it sounds – like the global temperature, the slightest adjustment to the norm has had a profound effect – I’ve frequently been missing my train). And my fellow travellers have been treated to the sight of a much happier, more serene me, jacked into a pair of those little white headphones, lost in a world of my own, barely even bothering to notice when my personal space gets invaded, or someone pushes in front of me on the platform.

Which brings me to the point of this post – you don’t need to have the music at full blast. I’ve always been struck by just how loud some people have their personal music systems, and have long fantasised about removing an earphone from a neighbouring ear and saying something incredibly witty like “Would you mind turning it up a bit? I think there may be some people in the next carriage who can’t quite hear.” Of course, I’ve never had the balls, but then when you’ve been building up to saying something like that for so long, it never comes out right, does it? I had come to the conclusion, having observed, and indeed examined the eclectic musical tastes of, many of these people in the last couple of years, that earphones just aren’t very good at containing sound. But then I actually got a pair of my own. And do you know what? They aren’t bad at all. I frequently remove my earphones and hold them a decent distance from my ears to check that I am not playing anything noisy enough to disturb other people, and find that I can’t hear a thing, even when I think I’ve got it on quite loud. So I can only wonder what it must sound like inside the head, so to speak, of someone whose thumping bassline is audible from the other end of the coach.

It all puts me in mind of an incident, years ago, when I was driving a friend to a club, and she stuck the radio on so loud that the car shook – it was like being in a nightclub. It was a profoundly disturbing experience as I could not concentrate on my driving, and what’s more my ears were ringing for hours afterwards. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man (I have just turned 30, and a friend did buy me a book called, yes “Grumpy Old Men”) what is it with these kids? Eh?