For a country bumpkin such as myself, deciding to undertake an internship in bustling London seemed, on paper, like a rather colossal shift away from working in an office with a view of the Himalayas. A leap out of my comfort zone. The internship is with human rights organisation, Free Tibet (website here), and I must say I am immensely enjoying the experience. While the work is still centred around Tibet, the type of work and the audience the organisations cater for is very different, and has allowed me to see a whole other aspect of Tibet support groups. But I digress, the actually topic of this blog is away from the office and about the rather objectionable experience of getting from my home in the Cotswolds to the office: the commute.
My commute tends to take around two hours, give or take a strike, cow on the tracks, break down or passengers constantly pressing the emergency stop button. As you can guess, it’s anything but mundane. From leaving my home in the morning to returning to it that night, commuting commotion seems to stalk me.
The first leg of the journey, a train from the Cotswolds to London, is relatively stress free, the calm before the highly populated storm. There was, however, a mystical force at work on the train. Every morning I would buy a coffee/ cup of human fuel as soon as I got on the train, yet during my time-honoured tradition of having a nap halfway through the journey my coffee would magically sprout legs and run for the hills. This would result in a de-caffeinated James, who is use to neither man nor beast. This continued until I had finally had enough and tied the cup around my hand so if anyone was to try and steal it I would catch them red-handed. Sure enough, just as the train pulled out of Oxford Station, the string pulled at my arm and my eyes opened to find one of my so-called friends attempting a coffee bean burglary. I will not name the culprit but let’s just say I haven’t had to buy a coffee for the past two weeks.
The first few times arriving in Paddington station used to leave me somewhat outraged and overwhelmed as power walking businessmen jostled me out of the way and I struggled to find my way. Nowadays, motivated by a playlist blaring in my ears, I have started to become a commuting power-walker, weaving and dodging through the slower commuters to leap aboard the Underground. The London Underground has a rather spectacular ability of instilling silence in anyone who enters inside its hallowed carriages. It doesn’t matter if you are accompanied by a best friend or long lost twin chattering away all day, but as soon as you get inside the tube, silence. If you begin to talk, your fellow commuters shot you scowling glances of disapproval and distaste. It’s as if the laws of the library apply to the London Underground, somehow.
After work is where the torment of commuting really comes into its own. Smokers line outside the station, holding their own candle-lit vigil to the end of another 9-5 day. The tubes burst to capacity, your face glued to a sweaty man’s armpit or a condensation window. The anticipation of getting home fills the heads of everyone onboard and a stamped quickly ensues as the doors open. As the tube pulls into Paddington, everyone waits nose pressed against the doors, like horses at a starting block they huff and stamp. The doors rattle open and they’re off, cantering forward, desperate to be up those stairs and into their trains. Swearing muttered under exhausted breath they jostle for position.
After all the struggle of the tube, if you’d be fooled into thinking the train home would be a well earned rest, you’d be wrong, oh so wrong. Businessmen shout at their phones, questioning why their intern isn’t still at work at 8pm. They crack open a can of beer as soon as the wheels start turning and speedily get loudly drunk while they play angry birds, full volume. Unlike the tube, people do not remain solemn and silent, businessmen try and outdo each other with their sales figures, and growing by each sentence like fishermen, they compare and endeavour to outshine one another.
Bizarre traits begin to infect me as a commuter, possession of the souls of commuters long since commuted on. If you have a spare seat beside you, happiness reigns supreme. However, if that seat is then filled, detestation seizes every fibre of your being, hatred focussed on that person next to you. Yes I mean you, 80-year-old lady sat next to me who just gave me a mint humbug, I hate you.
For all the abuse I hurl at London in this entry, it’s a place that I’m swiftly growing to love, a place of busy beauty. As the sunset pours red down on my face and my feet still buzz from their repeated meeting with the London pavements, I have to admit I’m rather enjoying all of the craziness.
One final bit of advice to anyone struggling to keep mental stability in London: there’s a game I play on the tube that constantly keeps me smiling. The aim of the game is to guess the correct place to stand so the tube doors open right in front of you. My winning results in manly giggles similar to those of a crazy person, which means I always get extra personal space in the tube as people attempt to avoid the weird, giggling, bearded man.