It’s been a weird winter in London. The highest rainfall since records began has added yet another reason why public transport hasn’t been running on time. Any day now, London commuters will be revolting. Well, perhaps even more so than they are right now.
A tube strike earlier last month threw London into chaos for 48 hours. Commuting commotion aside, the sight of the city’s mayor’s bad haircut and the union boss’ embarrassing sunburn, along with their public spat, were enough to send Londoners scuttling up North. Lengthy talks averted a second planned strike, which I fear will happen sometime soon anyway.
I commute by train into central London every week day. My journey, which should take 25 minutes from the edge of Greater London, usually takes at least 40 minutes. I have now heard – I think – every reason under the chilly British sun why the trains run late. My trainline announcer is always polite and apologetic that the ‘Oh. Eight. Oh. Seven. Service. To. London.’ is running late, and offers an excuse which can range from signal failure to overhead line problems, late running engineering works, planned engineering works, the train behind us has broken down, lightning strikes, tube strikes, trees on the tracks, snow, flooding, a person taken ill, no staff available at the station, the doors won’t close, the train ahead has broken down, the train ahead has been delayed, a person was taken ill, trains are being regulated, the wrong kind of snow has fallen, leaves on the tracks, it’s too hot so the trains have to run slowly, an animal on the track, a trespasser on the track, and, my personal favourite ‘an earlier disruptive passenger’. To that last excuse, I always wonder ‘earlier than whom’?
So, while the train runs slowly into or out of my working day, I’ll often while away the time eavesdropping. Sometimes I’ll read my book but it’s often far more entertaining to listen to what’s going on around me. The other evening I sat near two loud young guys in suits who had had one fizzy drink too many before boarding the train. Not only had the alcohol loosened their tongues and their ties, but it also caused their gelled hair to droop ever so slightly. They seemed not to hear each other so yelled their conversation. After some screamed banter, they decided to compare the quality of sound of their respective earphones and that meant they had to yell even louder.
“Try these noise cancellation earphones!”
“These are ****in’ amazin’, bruv. They block out all the noise!”
“Wha’? I can’t hear you cos a’ these noise cancellation earphones.”
Listening to ‘awesome choons’, they then ran through the specs of each set of earphones – seemingly for the benefit of commuters on all eight coaches chugging eastwards. They left the train a few stations before mine, still shouting “Wha’?” at each other after every sentence.
The other evening I got on the train and sat near a tattooed and multiply-pierced young man who was engaged in conversation with anyone who would listen. A young guy and his girlfriend sat opposite him, and he noted the guy’s footwear.
“Nice trainers, bruv. You just been for a run, yeah? No? You look like you just been for a run, wearing them clothes and then them trainers, yeah?”
“I haven’t been for a run, mate. I work in a trainers store.”
“Wha’? You work in a trainers store. I bet them ones was expensive. You there with your daughter, ‘n all.”
“She’s not my daughter, she’s my girlfriend.”
“So where do you and your daughter come from, bruv?”
“Wha’ – Windsor on Thames?”
“Yeah? Or as we like to call it these days, Windsor in Thames. Yeah?”
He then proceeded to talk about all the places across London that could conceivably have drowned under the current rainfall and give them the suffix ‘in Thames’. He then looked at the guy to his left and asked, “So where do you live, ‘n all?”
“Chadwell Heath,” he said.
“Chadwell Heath, yeah?”
After thinking for a bit, he said, “Well, you can’t really make no joke about Chadwell Heath, now canya?”
He then looked to me and nodded, “Y’all right, young lady? Yeah?”
I nodded, and passed the baton on to my neighbour who said, “Yeah, I’m all right. And I don’t have no name.”
Mr Chatty-man moved on to the subject of supper.
“Yeah, gonna get me some chicken nuggets with chips and curry sauce. Me, I like me chips like I like me women: spi-cy. I bet you like spicy food, till you can’t feel your lips no more, yeah?” he asked the Asian guy opposite him, who politely begged to differ.
This was a good time to change tack.
“Heard about the guy who bought twelve tubs of Tippex? Big mistake.”
He delved further into his repertoire of jokes before asking his giggling neighbour what the time was, as he realised, “I should’ve taken me antibiotics hours ago.”
When the train pulled into his station, he stood up to leave and said fond goodbyes to anyone who would offer him eye contact. Most of us were cringeing and squirming in our seats, some of us were giggling and all of us were just plain looking elsewhere.
“Heard about the earlier disruptive passenger, bruv?”
Sunshine signing off for today!