Tranquillity in the midst of chaos?

Tube strikes are a perennial hazard of London life. They’ve blighted my commute sporadically ever since I began travelling into town age 11 and coincided with some very important events – like my graduation. As with many aspects of London life, you develop ways of dealing with the frustration and overcoming the obstacles. (Though it would help if someone formalised my theory on bus queue ethics.)

Today’s strike barely bothered me at all.
Partly thanks to a pre-arranged ‘out of the office’ day on the South Bank (meaning I didn’t have to mission it to Baker Street) and great luck with the weather, I ‘endured’ just over an hour’s walk along the Thames Path to my office-for-the-day at the National Theatre (excellent source of free wi-fi and sockets). I love walking along the river, the sun was shining, Radio 1 was amusing, it was excellent exercise and I didn’t have to cram myself into a sardine can – what’s not to enjoy?

Coming home was similarly peaceful – a little bit of shopping in Covent Garden before catching the lovely RV1 that originates there [the key to catching buses on strike days is to get as close to the start of the route as possible] and travelling back along the river before getting off at Tower Bridge and walking the rest of the way home. All in all, I walked 6 miles today (4 this morning, 2 this afternoon) – I almost wish I had the time to do that every day!

I didn’t observe a huge amount of transport chaos. In South London stocks of Boris Bikes seemed to be plentiful (including a full rack behind Tate Modern) and buses didn’t appear to be inordinately full. [Although, much of the southern part of the city relies upon trains rather than the tube usually anyway, so that might explain it.] The media has the usual stories, but actually, if you read the comments on the Guardian, most people seem to have taken in in their stride.

Which also seemed to be the case 38 years ago – when London Transport was brought to a standstill by an unofficial strike. The wonderful Pathé film below shows commuters using a whole range of transport options (personal favourites are the roller skates and bowler hat wearing jogger) as well as illustrating the wonderful gender divide of the early 60’s – two women are filmed climbing out of a car boot and are described as “second class passengers”. Thank goodness times have moved on.

If the strikes scheduled for October and November materialise, I reckon I’ll give up the idea of working from home (or from my South Bank ‘office’) and invest in a horse…

Heart warming fuzziness on the Jubilee Line

It’s rare that you experience heart-warming moments on the commute to work, or actually, on the London Underground full stop. But yesterday morning, my entire 20mins on the Jubilee Line was an emotionally restorative journey.

For one thing, I got a seat straight away. (Friday morning is usually quieter than any other day, plus I was running a little late so had missed the school crowd.) This would have made me pretty happy, but then I realised that my seat was next to someone holding a super-cute baby.
Unusually, it was the father, rather than the mother taking their child into town. The presence of the baby transformed our section of the carriage. A large man in a grimy anorak sat opposite, engaged in a game of “peepo” with his copy of the Metro, which had her in stitches until he got off a couple of stops later. (I was almost as sad as she that he missed her wave goodbye!)
Then a very odd thing happened – the father struck up a conversation with me. This NEVER happens. People do NOT talk on the underground, you just don’t. But all the way to Baker Street we chatted about nurseries, the obstacles for buggies on London Transport and whether I had children (I was unreasonably surprised by this question, I keep forgetting that I could feasibly be a mother of several offspring!).
Abbie, the small child in question, kept me entertained with wide-eyed looks and smiles, I complimented her on the pink shoes that she seemed very proud of (she pointed at them repeatedly, saying “shoes, shoes”) and did my usual things that endear me to small children – making faces and generally being an idiot.
We all got off at my station, and my last sight of her was as I looked down the escalator behind me – she was still waving goodbye.
The power of a small child…it was Friday morning, I was exhausted, yet I felt warm and fuzzy and overall pleased with life. Hopefully one day I’ll bump into them again.

A challenge:

Photo credit: The wonderful Katie G whose photos I love dearly.
One interesting idea came out of the team away-day I went on today. (I mean that very literally.)

We were challenged to spend some time thinking about what the world might be like if, overnight, the miracle of the church being as God intended occurred. [To non-spiritual readers, this will swiftly move into non theistic language, stick with me!] We were encouraged to think about how that first morning might seem different, what we might hear/see/taste/smell…
One of my thoughts was that the tube would be different. People would be talking to each other, trusting each other. The air of suspicion with which every commuter regards one another would be lost. Barriers would be broken.
Later, I shared this thought with the team and our facilitator issued the following challenge:
Spend the next two weeks trusting your fellow commuters and watching for all the good things that happen around you, rather than making note of all the bad things.
I began on the way home and was pleased to notice a man sat opposite me give his neighbour his paper when he saw him glancing at it – he was getting off and didn’t need it anymore. Simple but nice.
So I’m extending the challenge to you. I’m sure the ‘eyes down; don’t talk’ attitude isn’t unique to the London underground, whatever your form of transport, look around for the good that’s going on. Trust people. Be less suspiscious.
I have no illusion that the tube will suddenly be transformed into a chattering hubub of humanity, but if it people became a little less grumpy, that would be no bad thing.