The Long and Winding Road (from Bethnal Green to Bloomsbury)

Actually it’s more of a straight line. I should know, it’s my route to work.  I don’t own a car and I refuse to get on a bike in Central London, so that narrows down the transport options – leaving just bus, tube or *cheap trainers (*but with memory foam insoles).

Every day I have to make an executive, if hasty, decision on how best to get to Bloomsbury. It generally boils down to one main factor – time.

When it’s not raining (and I’ve had a strong enough dose of caffeine), I can point my memory foams west and plod along secure in the knowledge that if I keep up a steady enough pace (I only have two gears these days – ‘shuffle’ and ‘trudge’), I can make it to the office in an hour. Obviously transport doesn’t come any cheaper than Primark memory foam trainers, as long as I don’t succumb to any sweet temptation to side-step and pick up a fare’s worth of croissant or doughnut for that added bit of extra fuel.

[Exception: If I ever see a CroDough en route, I‘m having it.]

If I’ve left myself  only 58-59 mins, I can still elect to hot-foot it in choice footwear from my ‘Primarni’ budget-footwear range. However, I will have to cross the road on a few red men to make up those valuable couple of minutes lost rooting for misplaced door-keys, or running back to the fridge to pick up forgotten lunch items. (I am not a morning person.) But with a bit of extra push, the accommodating memory foam should still get me to work on the dot.

In the event of only 50-50 minutes left, I could feasibly walk-jog (even if this requires a third gear – ‘plod’), and leaves me feeling slightly soiled before the day has even properly started. Or I could hop on the No. 55, which might well leave me feeling the same way. I’d be very lucky to even board it, because unless it happens to be school-holidays, the 55 is crammed full of uniformed pupils, who rather than walk the relatively short distance to school, unnecessarily make use of their free Zip Oyster for no better reason than to ensure that responsible working adults stay stranded on the pavement.

NostandingRoom

No standing room for adults

If I fail (yet again) to top up my grown-up’s Oyster, I’ll have to (re-)resort to Contactless (something I swore I would never do habitually on public transport). But if I don’t do it soon (top up, that is) I know I’m going to end up with another long bank-statement that will make for incredibly boring reading. Pages and pages of TFL – £1.50 is hardly testament to life of slightly reckless, if satisfyingly hedonistic, impulse buying. It merely shows you can’t quite get your act together.

LongBankstatement

Contactless again – and another long and boring bank-statement

With only 45 minutes (or slightly less) to play with, I have to weight up the (very likely) risk of getting stuck in west-bound traffic against (definitely) paying double the amount of a bus-fare to get to work quicker by tube. What do I do for the best? While the road-coast might look momentarily clear, the traffic-scape can change within seconds. Do I risk getting on that 55 bus or not?

The times I’ve had no choice but to phone in late, it’s been from deep within the bowels of the 55. The office is frustratingly near and clearly within sight, but the driver, (rightly) won’t let me off between stops.

“Hello. I’ve been stuck 2 minutes’ walk from the office for the last 10 minutes.” doesn’t sound that plausible.

And when I finally disembark at the bus-stop opposite work (hopefully with a good 90 seconds to spare), and all I have to do is cross that final bit of road, a swarm of cyclists will suddenly appear from nowhere, flitting by in tight formation like migrating Canada geese. They range in size and shape from ultra-light racers that swiftly transport wirily fit people to work, to clunky old Boris Bikes (or are they now Sadiq Cycles?) that reliably bear your Average Joe through the city centre.

I can’t even step off the kerb until the last one has passed.

More valuable seconds lost through no fault of mine….

In the worst-case scenario (if the alarm-clock doesn’t go off), I might leave home with only 30 minutes (or – panic – even less) to go – leaving no alternative but to head for the dreaded underground. The problem is that, in the run up to 9 a.m., practically no-one gets off the jam-packed Central Line at Bethnal Green. They’re all headed for bigger things in the City. But it’s the only line that runs through Bethnal Green. Ergo I have no choice but to somehow get myself on it.

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Every second counts

A few more souls might be able to prise one or more of their limbs on board, (in the vague hope that the rest of their body will somehow follow), if only those selfish individuals reading in the carriage-centre would edge together just a fraction, instead of burying their faces in their 600-page blockbusters or free magazines and pretending not to notice all the fraught despair of the platform.

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Would someone PLEASE get off?

Today it has to be a tube day. It’s already after half-past eight. I had a bit of trouble getting out of the house (well, bed actually), and am trying to redeem the situation by unceremoniously bulldozing my way onto the Central Line.

If this short journey passes without incident, I could quite conceivably make it to work by the skin of my teeth, go in (hopefully) looking all calm and collected, and no-one will be any the wiser.

But someone pulls the passenger alarm before we’ve even got to Liverpool Street and it all grinds to a halt.

So when I boarded, I relinquished freedom of personal movement to become a mere piece of carriage fodder. Now that we’ve collectively lost the power of forward motion, I feel like I’m stuck in the stifling intestines of a hot-and-bothered metal snake which is becoming increasingly anxious, but unable, to slide its way into Liverpool Street station and belch out the surplus passenger-mass it’s been steadily force-fed since it slithered out of its pit in Epping. I am now reduced to little more than a metallic reptile’s indigestion symptom.

I haven’t even had breakfast, which is possibly why I am having these near-hallucinatory thoughts. I’ll feel far more human after a double espresso. But if this massive subterranean prison-of-a-vehicle doesn’t shift soon, my blood-sugar levels will sink through the floor just as my blood-pressure shoots through the roof.

Sugar versus Pressure is not a happy situation.

The second I escape old Slippery Sid (The Central Line), I’ll be off like a shot, not in search of a bowl of bircher muesli and camomile tea, but in red hot pursuit of caffeine and sugar, ideally followed by fat and salt. (I can so feel a ‘quick and dirty’ visit to the staff canteen coming on…)

carriagefodder

Carriage-fodder

My lofty reveries are interrupted by a lady who asks me to move my arm from in front of her face. How dare she? I’ve got every right to hold onto this rail. I can’t help it if my elbow is level with her face, can I, when it’s her face that’s level with my elbow. There’s no real scope down here to rearrange your own limbs to anyone else’s liking, at least not before 9 a.m.

Then I catch a side-on glimpse of the woman’s face. She looks like she might be losing the will to live (aren’t we all?). For all I know she could be having a hot flush, fighting claustrophobia, or suppressing a panic attack. We’re all being slowly but surely ingested in this stuffy intestinal carriage. What does it cost me to at least try and move my arm a couple of inches. Why do I have to be ungracious just because that happens to be the prevalent culture down here?

So I very graciously squeeze my arm into a narrow chink of space – thankfully without upsetting anyone else. While she doesn’t openly thank me, the look of relief on the lady’s face makes me unexpectedly glad I acquiesced – this tiny compromise has perhaps made a world of difference to someone else’s day.

Once I have sufficiently got over my own magnanimity to be able to fully take stock of the situation, all I know is that it is far too close to 9 o’clock for any real comfort. I’m unavoidably going to be a tad late for work (though no real fault of my own, of course).

Instead of revelling in the relative freedom of my open-plan office-space in a timely fashion, and – with the aid of a huge fatty croissant and a frothy cappu – effortlessly slipping into my usual ‘pillar of industry’ role , I’ll still be here, suspended uncomfortably in both time and space, somewhere only slightly west of Bethnal Green.

And I can’t even phone in, can I, because I’m underground.

Why, oh why, did I take the tube this morning? Why didn’t I get the bus instead? Why didn’t I walk?

The answer is gloriously simple.

There wasn’t enough time.

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