The WalkFast Philosophy: Commuting in London (Travels in 2012, Part 4 of 4)

Object 4: A 1960s Soviet Fed4 Camera. No I have no idea what all the knobs on the top are for either.

Object 4: A 1960s Soviet Fed4 Camera. No I have no idea what all the knobs on the top are for either.

What has a 1960s camera made in the USSR got to do with commuting in London? Absolutely nothing. Except for the fact that it actually made me take a closer look at my everyday travels. And take some really dodgy photos of London. Let’s call them vintage.*

Some would call it scraping the barrel, I would call it being innovative. Whatever your views on blogging about the daily commute, the journey to work is one we all have to make. (Unless you’re one of those people who make a living by writing witty and/or informed and/or misleading articles about the next best travel destination whilst sipping margaritas next to a beautiful white sand beach; if that sounds like you, then please stop reading now. This really isn’t for you). Even if you work at home, we all have some regular journey of drudgery. Perhaps yours is to the gym or the supermarket. Mine is the daily commute into Central London.

One of the Fed4 photos....

Sometimes I take do take the underground, but mostly I take the train. It’s like the underground, but better.

Picture the scene: it’s the 07:42 into London Waterloo. The carriage is full, but not uncomfortably so. People are standing in the aisle between the seats but people can still step onto the train without having to plant their face into someone’s armpit. People either read, fiddle with their smartphones or stare out the window. As ever, no one talks. The only permissible human interaction is to ask for a window to be opened. But it’s not silent, because a man is listening to his music at an unconscionably loud volume. He’s listening to Jay-Z. It’s offensively loud. I am standing right next to where he is sitting, pretending to read a magazine whilst internally raging against this stranger and his music. He writes a text to someone. I read it over his shoulder. This is what it says:

Don’t think that the stuck up fuckers on this train are enjoying me playing my Jay-Z at full volume. Oh well!

I am a cauldron of hatred and resentment. I stare blankly at my magazine, fantasising about how I might say something to the man and how the rest of the carriage would join in to support me, moved by my stirring words and my willingness to stand up against the tyranny and oppression of loud music. Twenty minutes pass like this; then we reach London Bridge, my nemesis gets off and I have said nothing. Instead I update my facebook status to share my frustration. Three people like it almost immediately. I still can’t help but feel that I lost.

Fed11

PERHAPS THREE weeks later I am standing on the 507 bus from Waterloo, also on my daily commute. A girl with ipod-white earbuds is standing in front of me, sharing her R&B music with the rest of the bus. I ignore her. A woman seated nearby taps Ipod-girl on her arm and, in an Aussie accent, asks her to turn down her music.

“Is it bothering you?” asks Ipod-girl.

“As a matter of fact it is,” replies the woman, “and it’s bothering everyone else on the bus as well, it’s just that they’re all British and so they’re too polite to say anything. But I’m Australian, and I am not too polite.”

Ipod girls turns her music down.

In my mind I am cheering for this Australian woman, this commuters’ champion. It’s victory for all that is good and just in the world. But I say nothing, give nothing away. Perhaps because I’m British, this is London and she’s a stranger.

Officially, the only time that you're permitted to speak to a stranger in London is when it snows. Usually in this instance, it's to share frustration about the disruption to transport.

Officially, the only time that you’re permitted to speak to a stranger in London is when it snows. Usually to share frustration about the disruption to transport.

something

I sometimes forget the thick skin that you develop in London. Recently, family from out of town came to visit. When we met them at our local station they looked shellshocked. “We’ve been up and down I don’t know how many escalators,” they said, “and there are so many people, everywhere, walking so fast and all going to different directions.” Yup, I thought, ThisIsLondon: I do this everyday.

But sometimes something happens to break down that barrier that Londoners put up against everyone else. Snow brings people together. After all, it's hard to ignore someone when they're throwing a snowball at you.

But sometimes something happens to break down that barrier that Londoners put up against everyone else. Snow brings people together. After all, it’s hard to ignore someone when they’re throwing a snowball at you.

The advantage of a sledge as a mode of transport is that there's not going to be someone listening to loud music behind you.

The advantage of a sledge as a mode of transport is that there’s not going to be someone listening to loud music behind you.

LONDON LIVING makes you rush everywhere. I don’t know why, it just does. Walk fast, weave through crowds, dodge tourists. Always ignore the world-class history and architecture around you – that’s for the tourists. And they walk SLOW. You don’t want to be like them, do you? You might miss your train.

There are two incidents that have made me question this WalkFast philosophy. The first cost me a suit. The second cost me my dignity.

I was late to a meeting. I can’t even remember what it was about, but it was terribly important. So I was running, running past the Houses of Parliament to my meeting.

BigBenByNight

Unlike in this photo, it was the middle of the day. There were tourists everywhere, gawking at Parliament and Big Ben. As I dodged inbetween them, I slipped – unsurprising considering that I was running in a pair of leather soled shoes with as much grip as an air hockey puck. Tourists flashed before my eyes as I fell headlong to the floor, skidding on the writing pad I was carrying and sending my papers flying. “Great dive dude!” someone shouted in an American accent. My suit was ripped in three places. I had lost some buttons. A crowd formed around me and a German man helped me up, telling me in impecable English how his 11 year old son did something similar last week whilst ice skating. There wasn’t any ice here, though, he added. I thanked him, collected my papers, and scurried off. I was the first person to arrive at the meeting.

London people are busy people. Stay out of their way, tourists! Unless they fall flat on their face. In which case, please help them up and don't comment on the quality of their dive or how stupid they look. Thank you.

London people are busy people. Stay out of their way, tourists! Unless they fall flat on their face. In which case, please help them up and don’t comment on the quality of their dive or how stupid they look. Thank you.

The second incident happened equally as quickly. I was at Waterloo station, on my way home, rushing for a train (are you detecting a theme here?). My train was at the platform, I was not. There was another one soon, but that was seven minutes away. I ran for the train; I was nearly there, then the doors started to beep to warn that they were closing, but I was going to get on that train; the doors started to close; I jumped on, got trapped in the doors as they were closing, and forced them apart again. I stepped into the carriage, out of breath but triumphant. Everyone was staring at me. The train doors tried to close again to allow it to depart but one of them got stuck because some idiot had forced them apart when they were trying to close. I felt the eyes of everyone in the carriage boring into me. I leaned over, gave the doors a shove, and they closed. And suddenly it hit me: I WAS THAT GUY. I was that guy who was too impatient to wait, so self-important that I delayed an entire trainload of people from departing and forced myself onto the carriage. I might as well have been listening to my music at full volume.

I got off at the next station. No one said anything to me, but I knew what they were thinking while they pretended to read their magazines. Because I’d thought it myself a million times about others.

So now on my commute I try and walk a little slower, look at my surroundings a little more and speak to strangers where I can without looking like a lunatic. All in all, I’m trying to be a bit more of a tourist. I find that a camera helps with that.

Red phonebox

*In case anyone’s interested: the Fed4 pictures featured on this post were developed in matt with a white border and then simply scanned in. For the most part I haven’t applied any filters or tweaked them in any way, as I normally do. I haven’t totally figured out how to use the camera yet. That’s why the images are so… 1980s family holiday.

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