The morning commute….
This weekend we were blessed with a visit from the mother-in-law who was staying with us as we were celebrating the first birthday of our niece on Saturday. So, it was a welcome relief that C taxied me to the train station nice and early this morning, leaving the mother-in-law snoring in the spare room, in the knowledge that she would be long gone by the time I return on Wednesday.
Unusually, my trip to Paris this week started with a commute into London as I had a business meeting there before heading over to Heathrow in the afternoon.
Thankfully my way into London starts at the sleepy idyll which is Clandon station and a South West train complete with empty seats, a guard and, unlike Southern Rail, a semi-reliable service. I was joined on the platform by a small group of rather sullen and weary looking commuters – perhaps their in-laws were staying for the whole week….
The Guildford to Waterloo train is a very middle-class service, full of a professional clientele sporting briefcases, Mulberry, and expensive hairstyles, traveling into the City from the Surrey Hills and the leafy suburbs of Cobham Stoke D’Abernon and Surbiton of the the Good Life fame (sigh Felicity)
After a few stops the train began to fill up. Those seated sat knee to knee or shoulder to shoulder. Those stood were rucksack to laptop bag or briefcase to handbag.
The modern commuter has seemingly mastered the art of standing while holding safety bars with one hand or leaning against them and operating smart phone with the other hand. Most of the carriage was head down, ear pieces or headphones in place, swiping their phones left to right while rocking gently with the motion of the train and studiously avoiding eye contact with their fellow passengers.
There were the occasional muffled conversations – parents talking to their children having left home before get-up time; some early-morning business telcos. But most were head down on iPhone or Android exploring the overnight updates on Facebook and Instagram, planning their evenings on Tinder, assessing the latest banal Tweet from Trump, or, playing Candy Crush. And, the carriage resonated with a dawn chorus of text message pings and the whooshes of tweets being sent.
Those not engrossed with their smartphones sipped coffee from various chains with a history of tax avoidance. Some ladies applied their makeup. Some, mostly older male, follically-challenged and pin-striped passengers, pretended to do the cryptic crossword of their favourite broadsheet. Others simply closed their eyes and put their heads back to catch a five minute snooze or simply to block out the world.
The rather mild morning had obviously confused many. The on-board dress code was varied with some in shirtsleeves and others sporting full overcoat (mostly those pretending to do the crossword).
Some, like myself, were simply people watching or looking out of dirty windows and watching the transformation of the landscape from fields and forests to suburbia, looking into passing gardens or fleeting back bedroom windows, until they gave way to graffiti-strewn hoardings and office blocks interspersed with cemeteries and abandoned, ghost like stations – due to ongoing engineering works the train did not stop between Surbiton and Waterloo.
Finally we were free of the building works around Vauxhall and Battersea and emerged into a skyline punctuated by glass and chrome steeples and cranes before being disgorged onto the platforms of Waterloo station where we shuffled our way to the underground or though the barriers into the main station accompanied by the click and rattle of a thousand trolley bags.
I pushed my way outside through the smokers and vapers to the relative quiet of the taxi queue and the inevitable conversation about Uber and Brexit. We stuttered through the bikes, the delivery vans, and the buses and I wondered what the traffic would be like if we didn’t have congestion charging, before awarding myself thirty minutes of tranquility ahead of my meeting, courtesy of the free wifi at Pret, an almond croissant and a vanilla latte…..