Not everyone gets to experience this in life. There are many people out there who dream of doing or becoming something as a child but don’t have the opportunity, or on rarer occasions, choose not to take up some chances. That is something that makes the fact I have fulfilled this extra special.
When I was six years old my Father took me on a British Racing Green British Railways train to London, kinda like the one above. He took me to the Natural History Museum. We went all the way from the south Kent coast to central London, just the two of us, and spent the day in the museum together. To this day, I’m still not entirely sure whether it was the museum or the train that excited me more.
What I can tell you is that some 21 or so years later I am still addicted to trains. I live a mere 50 metres away from a railway line, and I go to the window when I hear a train coming by.
So, at the age of six, I decided that my lifetime dream would be…to get a job in London and commute by train every day. That I would become the hallowed Commuter.
I thought that this was a mystical land of people all going off to amazing jobs at wonderful companies who cared about their employees. Still basking in the slight haze of the 80s yuppie period (It was 1991), being a commuter and working in London was the epitome of career choice. You didn’t get better than working for a big company with a London postcode and having a season ticket.
I maintained that this was my dream, my yearning and that my life would not be complete until I had become the hallowed commuter. Until I owned a season ticket I was not a whole or worthwhile member of the public.
In 2012 this dream came true.
I have kept each of the monthly seasons tickets I’ve purchased since then. When I first started I sat on the train with a silly little grin on my face so damn happy and pleased that I had achieved my lifelong dream.
Then the winter came. Standing in the pissing rain, wind and cold waiting for the train which was questioning whether it would bother to come started to make the whole commuting thing grow tiresome. Walking to and from stations over patches of ice and through a few inches of snow before unceremoniously falling over onto my arse starts to take the shine off things. Getting on services at different times and virtually becoming a cannibal to get to the last seat in the corner.
In the winter, you get on the train in the dark. You come home on another train in the dark. You do this five days in a row for pretty much six months. It sucks the life out of you. There is no ‘you’ left by the end of it. Even by Christmas you just want spring to come. You want to get on a train only wearing two layers of clothing and not fifteen. You want the old you back. The one that was happy to be woken by the sun in the window in the morning.
It can be a tough existence, especially for the newcomer to such a career choice. Wake up in the dark. Shower in the dark. Get on the train in the dark. Get to your office when it’s getting light. Spend all day in your office because it’s too damn cold to go out. Leave work when it’s dark. Get on the train in the dark. Walk home in the dark. Have dinner in the dark. Go to bed in the dark. Effectively you trade your daylight for a career. You sacrifice a whole load of vitamin D for your company.
What was I thinking?
I obviously believed for all of those years that there would be a thrill to it. That there would be an element of excitement. I guess there is an element of excitement about wondering who will fight to the death for the last seat. Hell, even on some days about wondering whether the bloody train will turn up at all.
I’ve had some corking journeys too and I haven’t even been doing this for a year. I’ve ended up in the wrong zone because there was no point getting off the train as other commuters weren’t going anywhere – in other words, no-one would move out of the way to let people off.
I’ve had to go to the other side of London and weave a way back to work without a valid ticket due to a fire alarm going off in a signalling centre during the middle of night.
I’ve waited half an hour for a train to have enough space on it for me to get on…I was at its first calling point after leaving the main terminus.
I’ve spent three hours trying to get home while it was dumping with snow, falling over multiple times in the process. All because there was a broken down train blocking a line and no-one would put on replacement buses or taxis.
I’ve travelled inwards a zone, doubling the cost of my fare to get on the train where I know there will be space. Only to run to the front of the train and pretty much have to chisel myself on.
I’ve almost been pushed down between the train and the platform at Clapham Junction by other commuters simply because they’re bastards.
Us non-bastard commuters learn to adapt. I have three different shift start times. My middle start time required me to get a train that was rammed. Not only that, but the people on it were beyond bastards. One particular woman who is somewhat too large to fit on one seat comfortably looks at everyone and tuts while shaking her head. I guess she didn’t like my coat. Upon sitting next to her, she proceeds to deliberately lean over your shoulder and read whatever it is you are looking at on your phone, despite having her own Kindle. She also refuses to make the slighest effort to aid your exit from the train. Because, mainly, of her, I now take the earlier train into work and sit around at work being bored for up to an hour because I get in far too early.
Since starting this commuting lark, I’ve grown very strong shoulders. So many uber-bastards think that because I’m small, I’m an easy target and have no issue with pushing me out of the way and shoving me around with their bags. Well these three miles of running that I do almost daily along with other exercises helps here. I get to the trains before them and have adapted quite a good method of ‘standing my ground’ so that I won’t be pushed about.
Some of the commuters’ nightmares are dipshits with wheelie suitcases. People that dawdle. People who walk the wrong side up the stairs despite massive “KEEP LEFT” signs. People who stop at the top of the stairs/in front of doors after getting off. People who put their bags on the seats next to them. People who bring bikes on trains – yeah, you know that repeated announcement over the tannoy and the scrolling one on the information screens that say “BIKES ARE NOT ALLOWED ON PEAK TIME SERVICES TO AND FROM THIS STATION”? That applies to all of you cycling bastards, like red lights apply to all of you as well. I can’t wait until you start getting fined.
Then there’s a whole other type of uber-bastard on the trains. The judgemental ones I can deal with. The simply rude bastards I can deal with. It’s the creepy ones that I find hardest. The ones that deliberately rub themselves against you. The ones that see you through the window when you’re minding your own business, who stop, turn around, come back to the nearest set of doors and sit right next to you, then try to start a conversation. No. There’s even one guy who, every morning hides behind his Metro and when he thinks I’m not looking stares at me until he realises I’ve clocked him. He also stares at me the entire time that I’m entering and leaving the train.
Despite all of the bad things about commuting. Despite the fact that I take random days off during the week because I just cannot face seeing the uber-bastard commuters, I am still proud that I have achieved this. That I have become the hallowed Commuter with the season ticket into Zone 1 that I so desperately wanted 21 years ago. Shame that the previous generation to me fucked the economy up so badly though.
To all the other non-bastard commuters out there with whom I have engaged on Twitter…keep on commuting on the way you do. You make my journeys so much more bearable. In the near future, I will be starting a Rogues Gallery of bastard commuters. I would accept submissions from all of you other non-bastards.