Friday, May 11, 2007

When a plan comes together

Every now and again, in the life of a commuter, there comes a moment when a split-second decision is called for, the kind of judgement call that will mean the difference between getting home on time and being stupidly, pointlessly late, marooned at a bus stop or station in the cold, in that strange mental no man's land between work and home. Now, as many of the posts on this blog will testify, I invariably get these decisions wrong, but very occasionally, one of them comes off, and I am able to bask in the warm glow of a job well done. The jorney home on Friday was one such occasion. I feel like General Hannibal after his elephants had trampled all over the Roman legions, or Agamenmon, after that trick with the wooden horse.

It puts me in mind of the could-have-been-great film Sliding Doors, in which alternate realities are shown in parallel, having diverged at the crucial moment when Gwnynneth's character does/does not get on the train. Incidentally, what was that ending all about, eh? Slightly disappointing films notwithstanding, I feel, as I have already pointed out, a tremendous sense of ahievement. In the words of another Hannibal, "I love it when a plan comes together."

What happened was this. I left work shortly before 6pm yesterday, and for some reason decided that as I had 5 minutes to spare I would walk down to Oxford Circus and get on the Tube, rather than taking my chances on the recently-unreliable buses. I knew I was taking a chance, but it didn't seem overly busy in London and I progressed down to Argyll Street pretty quickly and without having to dance my way past too many dawdlers. I skipped past the freesheet-hawkers, crossed the road to avoid the crowds forming outside The Palladium (all of them perhaps wondering "How do you solve a problem like coming to see the winner of a reality TV show and finding that the understudy is on in her place?") and rounded the corner on to Oxford Street where I hit The Bottleneck at its very worst. There were people coming from all directions, as I have described before. It wasn't so much a series of queues in different directions as, well, a gathering.

It is at times like these that I do wish I was just a little bit taller. I had no idea what was going on because I couldn't see over the shoulders of the people around me. Some girls from the London Beautician's College, or whatever it's called, were my only guide to what was happening above the canopy, conducting a noisy debate over whether the station was closed or not (inconclusive), whether they should get on the bus (too slow), and whether they should split up to try to move faster (they didn't). Like them, I decided to stay put.

After a few long minutes, we did start moving again. Unfortunely, the people coming the other way started moving at the same time, so there was a bit of a stand-off, resolved when we somehow managed to form ourselves into two orderly lines running side by side. I eventually reached the top of the stairs and headed down into the station, headed down the escalators and on to a crowded platform.

Now this was the key moment.

A glance at my watch confirmed my worst fears - it was nudging ten past six, and I knew that by the time I had made it up and out of the underground station at Kings Cross and then hotfooted over to The Sticks to get my train, I would be just in time to see it pulling away out of Platform 9. If I went all the way to the rather more compact Finsbury Park, however, I suspected that I might make it up to the platform in time to catch the same train as it arrived from Kings Cross. But only if I could avoid getting caught up in a queue on the stairs.

This is where it gets really clever. I knew that, if I went down to the rear of the platform, I would be prefectly positioned to get out quickly at Kings Cross, where I would have easy access to the escalators. However, at Finsbury, the exit is halfway along the platform, not at one end, so if I wanted to make a quick getway there I would need to be somewhere in the middle section of the train. With the rumble of an approaching train and people piling on to the platform behind me, I had no time to think. My instincts told me that Finsbury was the better option, so I opted for the middle carriage.

We reached Kings Cross with surprising speed, and momentarily I doubted my decision, but anothre glance at the watch reassured me - I would have had just three minutes to get from one train to the other, a forlorn hope during rush hour. Then when we got ot Finsbury Park I was right by the staircase, bounded up and had enough time to pick my spot on the platform. Howzat!

I even got a seat. What a feeling.


At 10:50 AM GMT+1 , Blogger paddy said...

Nice move. I like the world you make with the way you write.
"I knew this African called Hannibal
Rock it, roll it, send it down the avenue
Went out to see the Roman Empire fall
Uh huh? uh huh?
Two thousand elephants in gold chain-mail
Take it, shake it, make it what you wanna be
Them Roman legionnaires they hit the trail
Uh huh? I'm telling you.

The world is what you make it"
Y;-) Paddy
PS: you're on my link list just in case any one gets lost:-)

At 1:12 PM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

Cheers Paddy. I'll put you on mine - for anyone who needs a break from the mundanity of everyday life. Or something.

Actually I read a cracking book on Hannibal last year - think it was called "Hannibal", which would make sense. Look out for it.

I also once met a ticket inspector who had read Lord of the Rings in Finnish. Wonder how it translates.

At 4:18 PM GMT+1 , Blogger paddy said...

Well let me tell you something -if you didn't already know- I read a little about J. R. R. Tolkin and I remember him saying: Finish was one of his favourite languages; close or related to the ancient tongue - his words - the first collective speak I guess.
Thanks!! Y;-) Paddy
PS: really like your easy flow of writng.

At 5:27 PM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

Have to say (sniff) your piece about your first day at Nursery was indeed a thing of rare beauty. Very readable.

That was one wierd train journey - I was hungover, my colleague was still drunk, and the ticket collector was a Tolkein geek (not that there's anything wrong with that - just not what you expect from a ticket inspector).

By the way I don't think my links are working at the moment but I'll sort them out tonight.

At 12:19 PM GMT+1 , Blogger Rish said...

Hi JD, I was in London last weekend and braved the tube. Tried to get from Tufnell Park to London Bridge - easy enough on the Northern Line (Bank branch), or so you would have thought. Unfortunately they closed Bank branch and didn't tell me. I agree that sometimes you just have to trust your instincts - assuming that LU haven't shifted the goalposts!

Reminds me of what I have not been missing since I left London...

At 12:35 PM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

Weekend travel on any form of public transport is treacherous - I went on a course in Crouch End a few weeks back and discovered at about 10pm the night before that the trains/tubes,buses weren't running due to engineering works at Stevenage (always at Stevenage!). So I drove, which was probably quicker but didn't do much for my stress levels - my sense of direction is rubbish. Still, it was nice to visit the Emirates Stadium, unintentional or not.

At 3:39 PM GMT+1 , Blogger Rish said...

Well I blame it on the fact that some of my friends live and work in places where you can only park for 80p per minute (or something like that). Otherwise I would have driven - London traffic doesn't scare me, in fact it is worse driving in Birmingham (could write a whole blog post on that!).

At 4:46 PM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

Good old congestion charge - maybe it has had some effect after all.

Agree with you about Birmingham, having had some experience on it. Leicester is pretty awful for driving too and Leeds deserves a (dis)honourable mention.

At 5:18 PM GMT+1 , Blogger paddy said...

You've no comments box on: Lightening strikes twice.
You have my heart in my mouth; my cholesterol up-to-ninety. I wonder if you had a time clocked for a previous run would you get the massive attack effect. Ha!
Y;-) Paddy
I tried to e-mail you about no comments box but I cant find your add. on the blog.


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