It’s 8:31am, shitting it down with rain and I’m huddled beneath a shelter that only covers about a third of the typically crowded train platform. It’s a Monday. The Monday-iest Monday of them all.
A wave of tension cuts through the sodden silence as the service announcement shrieks through the wind: ‘the... oh, eight... 34, Southern Service to... London. Bridge, is delayed, by approximately... three... minutes’. The platform slumps. ‘Was it me, or did the pre-recorded voice in the PA system sound particularly pissed off today?’, I wonder, throwing a quick glance across the herd of commuters as their briefly diverted attention returns to their phones, travel mugs and too-damp-to-read free newspapers.
Stood at the exposed end of the platform shelter, where I stare longingly through the downpour at the stretch of passenger-free space while my personal space is preemptively violated by fellow umbrella-less comrades who are also desperate to stay dry, I notice some uncharacteristic shuffling in my periphery. The man to my left jolts as if suppressing the full-bodied toddler-type physical tantrum we know better than to unleash in public as adults. I understand. The train before this one was cancelled and we are all now running even later for a working day none of us particularly want to face. And what’s worse, of course, is that it’s raining.
Worse not only for the glam twenty-something who tirelessly curled big beautiful waves into her hair this morning. Not just for the just nineteen-year-old who thought he could get away with not wearing socks with his ankle scraping suit trousers today. Neither for the middle-aged man who never normally dares leave the house without the company branded golf umbrella in hand, or the sharp-suited woman who was counting on making an important call en route without risking water damage and a broken phone. The rain makes everything a million times worse for we, the commuting collective as a whole, who, due to adverse weather conditions, can’t take position at our dedicated areas of the platform.
The ambitious commuters always stand as far along the platform as possible, you see, playing an unwinnable guessing game of ‘where is the train driver is going to stop this morning’. They like to jump on the very front carriage so that when we pull into the terminal, they’re through the ticket barriers and racing for the tube before the fourth carriage stragglers have even set foot off the train. As for the determined seat seekers, you’ll find them at the very back of the train, unbothered by reaching the next leg of their journey before anybody else if it means sitting, rather than standing, for 27 minutes in the relatively quieter carriages of the train.
The late runners never learn, for they all end up crammed and fighting for space in the carriage who’s doors open closest to the stairs to and from the platform. When the conductor asks passengers to ‘please stand clear of the doors’, or to ‘use all available space on board’, they’re being poignantly passive aggressive to these people right here. Then there’s the coy class hoppers, who’ll perch in ‘first class’ (which is almost exactly the same as standard but for a different fabric pattern on the seats and couple of sticky labels on the windows) looking smug and full of themselves as they pull out their laptops, only to notice a rogue train manager climbing over already riled packs of passengers to do an untimely, power-hungry ticket check.
Thanks to the rain we’re instead all on a level playing field; trapped beneath an inadequate concrete roof wondering who thought it would be a good idea to leave the majority of the platform unprotected, and eagerly calculating how many seconds before the train’s delayed arrival we might get away with (needlessly) withstanding the heavy rain. All for the sake of taking back the one bit of control we have over or god awful journeys to work.
It’s been two weeks since I rejoined the rat race and became just another blurry figure in those chaotic images of people anarchically charging towards trains at overcrowded stations that they like to use on the news. It’s safe to say it’s a shit, awful process and I resent it deeply. I’m telling you, those long, grown up, multi-component commutes do something to people. And it’s as fascinating as it is absurd.
Courtesy ain’t that common
You’ve all heard the popular tail of the ‘baby on board’ badge, and how being visibly pregnant wearing one of these relatively small badges is the only way in hell you have a chance of getting a seat on TfL public transport, right? Let me tell you where this falls down - when one poor heavily pregnant woman at near bursting point who either hadn’t been bestowed one of these magical badges (WHERE DO THEY COME FROM) or left it on a different coat one day, was denied one of the priority seats when she asked a guy if she could please sit down.
He said ‘but you’re not wearing a badge’, to which one saviour of a human had to interject and say ‘er, mate, she’s definitely pregnant’ loud enough for everyone to hear before rude lad skulked out of his seat to the other end of the carriage in shame.
There’s comfort in silence
The common conversation among non-Londoners when they finally visit London is often revolved around how ‘odd’ it is that no one talks to each other on trains, tubes or busses and everyone just sits in silence. I’ll admit, I thought that too when I moved here from the chatty West Country, and returned after a stint in Wales for university. But after a few weeks of spending the best part of two and a half hours a day in intimate proximity to strangers who are also tired, don’t want to be on this train but really want to get home, the silence is comforting. The silence is the closest we get to switching off from an environment that really doesn’t want you to do so.
Cold coffee is fine, apparently
Sure, you might think that grabbing a quick coffee at the station to subsidise the fact that you only got three hours sleep last night is a good idea. But don’t forget that your mobility is extremely limited once your board your crowded train. And if you're standing (which you will be) do you really want to risk pouring your hot drink all over the equally fed up and pre-caffeinated commuter in front of you? No. The answer is no, my friends. So instead, you hold on to that coffee tightly, maybe risking a stealthy sip as you slow down to approach various stations. But ultimately you're left with a fairly full cup of cold, (not iced), coffee to get you through that walk from the station to work. And you have no choice but to learn to like it.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.