The Fun of the Commute

(This is a re-post of the second post that I wrote, and one of the main reasons I started blogging!)

If all the world’s a stage, then London public transport is scriptwriter’s paradise. And absolute bliss for a new blogger like me.

From overhearing an animated conversation among a group of priests – yes, as you guessed, they were talking at length and with passion about “Alice in Wonderland in 3D” – to watching a group of overweight, under-talented and slightly less than sober commuters pole dance on the Jubilee line, I’ve observed enough dramas, soap operas, musicals and scary movies on the tubes, trains and buses, to write a library-full of books. And I’m still watching.

A while back I was sat on the tube, waiting to go home at the end of a busy work day (yes, I did have a job then!), when the crowded carriage of Friday commuters was interrupted by the arrival of a young, fresh-faced woman, who ran on the tube in a fashion reminiscent of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.

She literally ran into the tube, her face filled with awe and wonder and amazement; she ran this way, she ran that way, she looked up, she looked down, and then, when all foreign eyes were upon her (local commuters generally don’t look up), she slinked over to the end of the carriage and stood at the window, facing the next compartment.

She opened the window, put her iPod earphones in place, and began to sing at full volume. I thought she was serenading a friend in the next door carriage, but it seemed she was singing for whoever would listen. Occasionally she sounded like someone singing through headphones, at other times like someone auditioning for a reality TV show, but mostly she was singing for the amusement of the commuters in both carriages.

The tube stopped at the next station, and who should walk into our carriage but a busker! Complete with guitar, and skirt made from a Union Jack flag … which wouldn’t be so bad if the busker were female. However, he introduced himself and said he wanted to entertain the evening commuters, asking for 10p per song, and promising he wouldn’t use the money for drink or drugs,
“Although,” he added, “it is Friday, so who knows?”

As he began to sing “Satisfaction”, a song he told us he wrote with Mick Jagger, the giggles of my fellow commuters could no longer be stifled. One person asked where the cameras were, and if the guitarist and “Julie Andrews” were taking the mick. Our in-carriage drama queen said,
“Oh, no. He’s a professional singer. I’m just annoying.”
No kidding?

The busker sang a few songs, walked down the carriage and, while he attracted very little funding to feed his habit, he did attract much mobile phone video attention. He walked down the carriage, singing enthusiastically and occasionally in tune. Miss Sound of Music watched in melodramatic anticipation of his next song, as he jumped off the tube at the next stop.

As the tube moved on, Miss Musical discovered, to her hair-grabbing horror, that she was travelling in the “wrong direction”. Thinking and agonizing out loud, she walked this way and that as she decided what to do about this increasingly tragic situation. After many dramatic utterances of  “OMG!” she alighted at the next tube station, amid flutters of giggles and chatter on the tube, and cynical echoes of her words. It was the first time I saw unity among commuters, albeit at the expense of a would-be dramatic actress and a drug-fuelled singer/songwriter.

And then there was the time I was waiting for my tube at my local station, when I noticed a fairly mousy, innocuous-looking middle-aged woman a little way down the platform from me. When the crammed tube arrived, the doors opened in front of her, and there was not one centimetre to spare; there was literally no way she could possibly consider climbing into that tube. Not even a hardened London commuter would have braved it.

But she was different. She launched herself headfirst on to the tube, only – after some jostling by the heaving mass of in-train commuters – to be spat out on to the platform like a mango pip. Undeterred, she gathered herself on the platform, turned around and forced her way backwards into the tube. She leant back at an acute angle to ensure the doors wouldn’t close on her, and off she went, leaving commuters on the platform open-mouthed, amazed and perplexed at her dogged and surprising determination.

Another time, I noticed on my crowded tube that one of the commuters was travelling on a different tube from everyone else. His tube was much bouncier than the one the rest of us were travelling on, and every so often his went over a particularly bumpy patch. No-one around him noticed, especially not the city suit next to him, who was moving and swaying to the rhythm of his personal entertainment centre, nor the chap nearby launching battle in a deadly game of snooker on his mobile phone.

It’s all there, folks – and I’ll keep telling you about it!

Sunshine signing off for today!

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London In Perspective

I adore this city that I currently call home.  It is huge, terrifying, impersonal, beastly, cold, heaving and aloof. And I do battle with it for all the same reasons. But heck, London does historical and iconical (is there such a word?) in ways that take my breath away. Walk with me.

Feeling the way I did over the weekend, we decided to continue our “exploring London” adventure: St James’ Park was next on our list.  A ten minute tube ride took us into Westminster, and as we emerged from the tube station, we stared into the face of London. We see this face often, usually from the other (south) side of the Thames, but it was so exciting to feel so close to the beating heart of this compelling city.

This is what we saw first:

The London Eye on the South Bank of the River Thames

The London Eye, now known as the EDF Energy London Eye (can you cope?), opened in March 2000 as a “metaphor for the end of the 20th century and time turning into the new millennium”.  It was designed by husband and wife architect team, David Marks and Julia Barfield, and took seven years to build. About 3.5 million visitors pay (around £18 per adult, £10 per child) to go up in the Eye each year, and it is said that from the 135 metre height of its revolution, you can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions. We went up it in July 2000, and it was pretty awesome, even from the safety of the bench in the middle of the pod (I have a thing about heights!).

And looking the other way, this is what we saw:

Big Ben, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster

Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world, with each dial being just less than 50 square metres.  There is a special light above the clock faces that, when illuminated, lets the public know that parliament is in session. The clock ticked for the first time in May 1859 and has rarely stopped. I was interested to hear in the media recently that Big Ben was losing time; it might conceivably have lost one second. I wonder how many people used that fact for being late for a meeting?

We walked down Birdcage Walk, and found ourselves in St James’ Park. We saw a few glimpses of spring, with some cherry blossom trees showing a hint of bloom. The London wildlife enjoyed the attention of Park visitors, and many posed obligingly for the camera (animals, that is, not visitors):

Our first view of St James' Park
Pelicans enjoying the attention
A local celebrity: Black Swan had its London premiere recently
This guy is used to the paparazzi
This guy was a show-off. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Pffffft.

This was another reminder that we were in London:

Signs of the times

At the far end of the Park, we caught a glimpse of an amazing crib: Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace: the official London residence of the British monarch

When the Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies on the flagpole on top of the Palace, otherwise the Union Flag flies in its place. The raising and lowering of the correct flag is the job of a flag serjeant. I’m not sure you can see in the photo, but the Union Flag is flapping the breeze; I think that’s why we weren’t invited for tea.

So, back towards the River, passing this en route:

Got to love London

We bought ourselves some sandwiches and sat on a bench next to the River, with this view, to have some lunch:

The view from our bench

We had fun after lunch taking photos of each other with the London Eye in the background. If we got the angle and the zoom just right, the London Eye looked like a perfect halo around our saintly heads. We giggled like children as we took the photos, and kept grabbing the camera from each other to try something new.

We walked back across the River, and had one last glimpse of this before we caught a bus home from Waterloo:

View from the Golden Jubilee Bridge over the River Thames

Ah, this day was good for my soul. It reminded me of why we chose to come here, and the awesome and scary adventure that is London. Perspective is a fine thing.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Into the Mist

London, and close to the whole of the UK, has been covered in mist for the past few days. We travelled by train to Kent, south east of London, for a short stay with friends and it felt like our train was launching us deep into the world of Dickens.

The view that greeted us out of our train window was a world of swirling white, punctuated with the odd black stick of a tree peering out of the mist. I was waiting for Magwitch to jump out from behind a gravestone and snarl something at us through rotten teeth.

Thankfully the train knew its destination and we got safely to Tonbridge where we had a lovely time with some friends, and yesterday went for a long, muddy walk through Knole Park.

Knole Park is one of the few deer-parks in England to have survived the past 500 years (there were 700 in the 16th century) and the only one in Kent. The park was first enclosed by a fence in 1456 by Thomas Bourchier to indulge a passion for hunting, which was popular among the nobility of the time.

In some ways the Tudor deer-park marked a transition between the medieval game forest and the more ornamental parks of the 17th and 18th centuries. Elements of the medieval landscape survive in the hawthorn, oak, yew, hornbeam, silver birch, bird maple and ash trees that once dominated the woodlands of the Weald. And it is these that contribute to the timelessness of the park: to the fact that it has changed little since Thomas Sackville’s death in 1608.

www.nationaltrust.org

This is what we saw:

This is similar to the view from our train window

 

A deer little meeting in Knole Park
Knole House in the light mist
The mist thickened as we walked back. Magwitch could have been here too

Travelling back into London, we clashed headlong into severe delays on our underground line. When we left London on Wednesday, we had the same experience as we ended up being squashed like sardines against fellow tube travellers. Yesterday, we stood and waited 20 minutes for the eight promised minutes to pass until the arrival of our tube. Tempers were clearly fraying …

The tube arrived and we began what resembled a process of squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. Commuters shoved and pushed their way on to the tube. We two included. The tube doors closed and we heard a commotion near the doors. Turned out a young chap had stood himself against the “leaning cushion” next to the door. Inevitably, every single commuter had pushed past him to get into the tube. The last person to do so bore the brunt of this young chap’s anger. We heard some yelling, and then a final,

“I don’t care if you don’t speak English, don’t push me. I’ve got an injured arm, so don’t push me.”

Awkward.

Thank goodness the young Frenchman, on the receiving end of the anger, was not travelling alone. After a slight pause:

“I can speak English,” his friend said.

“Good. Tell your friend not to push.”

“How could he not push you?”

And so ensued a pointless argument that clearly went nowhere except into escalated anger, raised eyebrows around the tube and a whole lot of sighing.

The best way to end the argument, according to the aggrieved young injured person, was to grab the best weapon from his arsenal of common sense.

“Shut up!”

His continental adversary retorted, in his wonderfully accented annoyance, “You shut up too!”

“WHAT did you just say?”

And, in future, young man, my advice would be to steer clear of arguing in this manner. You won’t win.

“I said. The same. As you.”

Touché, dear friend, touché.

Tension filled the air. The tube travellers nearly applauded when aggrieved young commuter alighted at what may, or may not, have been his chosen destination. We travelled in cleared air for a few refreshing minutes before arriving at our stop and emerging, once again, into London mist.

Happy New Year one and all.

Sunshine signing off for today and for 2010! See you in the New Year.