Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's official - Commuting is shit

It's not that often that commuting stories hit the headlines (with the thankfully-rare exceptions of fare hikes and train crashes) which made an article on the BBC web site entitled "Faecal Bacteria Join the Commute" even more intriguing than it already appeared.

It seems that all those horror stories about what you get if you touch the rail or even the upholstry on yer average public transport vehicle are true. Something like 50% of commuters tested (30% in London, 70% in Newcastle - proof that, in georgraphical terms, shit doesn't slide down) had poo on their hands and were busily smearing it all over the interior for the next passenger. Who says commuters don't believe in sharing?

I had a colleague in my previous job who said he never touched anything on public transport, propmting one to speculate as to how he kept his feet during spells of turbulence (he was an ex-dancer, so maybe he just had really good balance). Another colleague, on the other hand, always disagreed with him, on the basis that it's good for us to be exposed to germs because that's how we build up immunity. There was actually a similar fuss about licking stamps and envelopes a few years back, and I remember thinking then that the lack of statistics on envelope-related deaths and diseaeses did rather leave the argument lacking a little something - rigour, I suppose. All I can say for certain is that, after a lifetime of commuting during which time I have doubtless been exposed to all kinds of shit (literally) I remain a model of good health.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The 12:05 from Paddington . . . won't be going to Devizes

The other night I saw a bit of Ian Hislop's documentary on the Beeching reforms which closed down something like two thirds of the nation's rail network in the 60s. I didn't know it was on or I would obviously have watched the whole thing. Fascinating stuff. I've always lived in or around cities, or at least large towns - I grew up in commuter-belt Surrey, and then lived in Leicester for six years before moving to commuter-belt Herts - so I've never been far from a railway station, and I suppose I have always taken them for granted. I remember being profoundly shocked when planning a trip to Devizes in Wiltshire that the town didn't have a station - what a backward place, I thought - but it seems that I was the one with my head in the sand! It turns out that there are vast tracts of this land not served by the railways, where "public transport" means getting off your backside and walking.

I remember reading Thomas The Tank Engine stories in my youth (back in the days before he had a plastic face and a Scouse accent (he's from Leicester, you know), and being mildly bemused by references to "branch lines". Thinking about it, every station I can think of is connected to a major city. Even when I've been up in Yorkshire, marvelling at the fact that places like Guiseley and Yeadon are actually connected to civilisation, I've always been heading either into or out of central Leeds. It's always irritated me that to get from Hitchin to St Albans, two towns in the same county, you have to go all the way into London and back out again via a change of station. Now I know why that is.

It's all left me feeling rather glum, to be honest. After all, a town, village or even a hamlet without a railway station is like, oh I don't know, the human body with no arteries. If you see what I mean. I'm not sure I do myself, actually, but surely everyone should have access to the railways. That's the whole point.