Thursday, January 15, 2009

Off-peak - the Wilderness

For reasons too boring to go into (watch the news) the Happy Commuter hasn't been doing much commuting recently. When I have taken to the rails, nothing much of interest has happened. This is because I have been tending to travel off-peak. My Goodness what a strange experience. As someone who has become accustomed to the bustle, noise and general commotion of Rush Hour commuting, the off-peak rail travel experience is a surreal and somewhat disturbing one.

Firstly, you arrive at the station and there's only one window open at the ticket office. Now this is understandable, because there are fewer passengers needing tickets, so there should be no need for multiple staff members to serve the few customers there are. The problem with this theory is that those people that do venture to the ticket office during the off-peak hours are invariably "forward-planners" - and they invariably want to have some in-depth discussion with the ticket operative concerning the feasability of getting to Reading via Blackpool and whether it would be cheaper/faster to get a Super-dooper Smashing Bullseye Advance ticket to Aberdeen and then pick up a connection from there. This discussion lasts about a week, at the end of which they decide not to buy any tickets at all.

By the time the lone off-peak traveller does make it to the front of the queue, at least three trains will have come and gone, and generally there will be a twenty-minute wait for the next one, which just happens to be a stopper.

After this intensely frustrating interlude, the off-peak commuter staggers on to the platform and takes a seat on one of the freezing and uncomfortable metal benches and shivers, no matter what the ambient temperature. There is a rule in the UK, you see, that all station platforms must be kept just above freezing. Just when the total silence becomes utterly unbearable (there are no announcements during off-peak periods - the tannoy guys are away practising their one-liners and perfecting their sneers for the Rush Hour performance), a train rumbles into the platform, and the off-peak commuter gets on and takes a seat amongst the crisp packets and chocolate wrappers. The train chugs out of the station in a lacklustre, can't-really-be-bothered kind of way, and the driver makes his usual series of announcements in a manner which suggests that he, too, is saving his best for later.

It's more like After the Lord Mayor's Show than Before The Storm, and enough to make one pine for the cut-and-thrust of peak-time.


At 10:54 AM GMT , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

Don't understand why you arent communtimg much...guess I am not watching the news enough but this post did make me giggle!

At 7:26 PM GMT , Blogger JD said...

Thanks DJ. The reason I haven't been commuting is because I haven't been working in London but I've got some exciting news . . . stay tuned!


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