How to cope in the age of commuter rage

When I left London to go travelling in 2007 I was at the end of my tether with the rudeness of people on my daily commute. I genuinely feared one day I’d snap and scream in someone’s face, and it was the day I finally felt that fear about to become a reality that I knew I had to get away for my sanity’s sake.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this city dearly but it never ceases to amaze me how normally civilised people can become ruthless savages the second they step onto the northern line in morning rush hour. Though I’ve never seen a fight I have heard tales of suited businessmen coming to blows over perceived acts of rudeness, and the sighs and grimaces of people who refuse to move down the carriage to let you on when there is patently room because they’d frankly rather have the space to read is an experience I’m certain we’ve all shared at one time or another.

Similarly, there are the people who push and shove and rant and rave when there clearly is no space, and their getting on the train will most likely mean at least one person suffocating to death in their sweaty armpit. But why should they care? They’ve got to get to work, because being so much as five minutes late would obviously be completely unacceptable.

I have seen occasional acts of kindness on the tube-indeed once a man who was well over six feet tall fainted on top of me on the Piccadilly line on a particularly hot day and I myself became a Good Samaritan, shouting for water and asking people to step back and give him air-but on the whole the daily commute is an ‘each to their own’ affair that is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Take yesterday’s tube journey home as an example. Me and another girl were standing equidistant from a seat when the occupant stood up to disembark at the next station. I felt her body go rigid, and my own do the same in response. This was all out war, and there could be only one victor. But just as I braced myself for the pushing, the shoving and the glaring that would ensue when I beat her to the seat (as I surely would) I stopped and asked myself why it was so important to me to win the seat. After all, I was only going a few stops. If she wanted it so badly-as her reddening cheeks proclaimed she did-couldn’t I just let her have it? And so I did. And I got more satisfaction from that gesture than I ever would have in winning the seat.

So what’s the moral of my story? Perhaps that every now and then it’s good to take a step back from the madness of the morning or evening commute and make a conscious effort to be nice to a fellow commuter instead of automatically scowling at them. Give it a try-you might just like it.

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Papayas, middle class problems and Biffa

Earlier today on Facebook my friends and I had an amusing conversation about middle class problems. It started with one friend-who shall remain nameless-complaining there were “so many bloody pop up things [meaning restaurants] at the mo, I can’t keep up!!” Another friend then volunteered her dilemma (I suspect somewhat sarcastically): “If I put the spice rack there, then there’s no room for the tea caddy. What to do?” And finally a third friend added his: “There aren’t enough plugs for my coffee grinder, kettle and espresso machine. So I have to grind my beans then plug the kettle back in afterwards.”

These comments, along with my favourite middle class line from the Waitrose Twitter debacle some months ago, “Put the papaya down, Orlando!” (if you didn’t see it look it up-too funny), are obviously tongue in cheek, but nonetheless they highlight the huge disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society.

Several people who would fall firmly into the “have not” category were featured in last night’s episode of Undercover Boss, which really touched a nerve with me. The programme focused on employees of Biffa, the waste disposal organisation, and two men in particular had such sad stories. One had spent five years working ten hour shifts, six days a week sorting rubbish on a conveyor belt in a disgusting, airless factory. When the belt broke down, as it often did, he and his fellow agency workers would not get paid until it was fixed – which sometimes took up to three days.

A second Biffa employee in the programme had been denied time off to grieve over the death of his baby girl, and a third had been made redundant and forced to take another, less well paid job with the company which had led to him losing his house and becoming depressed.

Watching the struggles these men went through every day to survive and put food on the table for their families was a humbling experience, and one that, upon reflection in the wake of today’s “middle class problems” conversation, made me put my own “problems” very much into perspective. I may have recently taken a pay cut myself but I did so voluntarily to make room for my writing, and whilst I have had to cut back on frivolous things like daily Starbucks coffees and new clothes I’m certainly not suffering-far from it, I’m thriving on my new routine.

So whilst Orlando and his papaya will forever make me chuckle, the stories of those Biffa employees will stay with me in a different and more sobering way-and will act as a reminder to be grateful for my many blessings.

Down by the river

Down by the river all was quiet, save for the occasional beating of runners’ feet against the stony ground some feet away, or the call of dog walkers whose pets had strayed out of sight. One such pet – a cocker spaniel with a pronounced limp – was here now. His wet nose pressed into the leaves he inhaled deeply in an attempt to track a scent that was too faint for his old nose to detect. With a snort the old dog gave up and limped off.

But it would not be long before another, younger canine would be successful in its quest to track the scent. It would sniff at the damp soil beneath its feet, dislodge it with a paw, slowly at first but with increasing fervour once the scent became stronger. The surface soil brushed aside, it would inspect the object protruding from the earth with something close to reverence, if dogs were capable of such an emotion. And once the finger was licked clean the dog would bark, it’s owner would come, and her screams would shatter the early evening peace into a million irretrievable pieces.

But for now, at least, down by the river all was quiet.

Weddings and Argos (a bad combination)

Yesterday’s wedding was absolutely lovely, though it rather unfortunately ended with me falling asleep in my room at the B&B – with the only key – before my friend got back. Needless to say she was less than impressed when half an hour of loud banging on the door failed to rouse me from my slumber, and she subsequently had to sleep in a vacant (but, by all accounts, pretty grotty) single room on another floor. The text I received from her at the moment of her giving up and going to the other room ended with the words “I may kill you in the morning if I see you,” which I think sums up her general state of mind fairly accurately. Fortunately she has since forgiven me, and is now finding the whole situation rather more humorous.

Needless to say after a somewhat boozy wedding and the accommodation drama (which saw me get less than four hours’ sleep in total) I wasn’t all that keen on spending my afternoon buying essential items for the new flat (which, aside from the bed, sofas and hoover was pretty much empty), but like the trooper I am I nonetheless trooped dutifully down to Argos in Brixton (via Brixton village for a slap up pulled pork bap lunch). An hour and £130 later I was back at the flat unpacking an assortment of cheap kitchenware, and I am now going to have a much earned rest. Until tomorrow…

Efficiency, a house move and a wedding

I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed efficiency on such a scale as I did this morning. The man with the van arrived at 8.45am (fifteen minutes early), our friend five minutes after that, and within half an hour my entire room was packed into the van and the boys were off to the new flat, leaving me to do a final spot check and tidy. By the time I arrived at the new place some twenty minutes later the only things remaining in the van were a couple of bags. Inside the flat things were strewn everywhere, granted, but it didn’t take long to make in-roads into the chaos, and I’ve left it in a reasonable state to pick up from tomorrow when I get back from my friend’s wedding in Cambridge. It really is all go!

As for the wedding, it’s the third one of my best friends from school, and all the more significant for me as I missed the first two because I was travelling. Today will also be the first time the five of us will have all been in the same place at the same time for years. In fact, since  we were last together there have been two weddings and one baby-I can hardly believe how fast the time has gone. So I’ll certainly make the most of catching up and celebrating-after the move I think I deserve it!

The next chapter

Moving day is nearly upon me, and whilst I’m almost beyond exhaustion I also couldn’t be more excited. There’s something quite thrilling about moving house. Perhaps it’s because it offers a clean slate, a chance to reset and start again. In other words, a new beginning; a bit like January 1st when the new year lies before you like a pristine and untouched canvas, ready for you to stamp your mark on it as you see fit.

And whilst I’m no Kelly Hoppen I’m very much looking forward to having a bash at making the new flat into a home that reflects both of our personal tastes. I also want to create a corner for my writing, where I can sit and feel inspired each Monday (and in the evenings and weekends too-for it’s finally beginning to dawn on me one day a week is not sufficient time to become truly proficient in the craft of writing; better late than never).

For me, this particular move holds the further dual significance of a) moving in with my boyfriend and b) having more space to myself, since the aforementioned boyfriend is likely to be travelling fairly frequently with work. Whilst I’ve always enjoyed living with other people, as the inexorable passage of time has worn on I have come to crave solitary time more often. Whereas a few years ago I loved the hustle and bustle of a four person tenancy arrangement, now me and one other is as much as I can cope with – and it’s becoming increasingly more vital that the “other” is someone with whom I get along like a house on fire rather than merely live and split bills with.

So there you have it. It is the eve of my next move, almost all of my belongings are packed into bags and boxes and my furniture is bubble wrapped. The only thing left to do is post this blog and pour myself a generous glass of red wine. It’s time for the next chapter. And I really cannot wait.

The planner

It’s at times like this – when I’m simultaneously juggling a house move (and all the stressful admin and hard physical labour that involves) with the organisation of two birthday parties (only one of which is mine, I might add-I’m not that much of an egotist. Though having said that my party does involve a 48 person entourage at a Bavarian beer festival..)- that I wonder why I have this strange compulsion to always over stretch myself.

I’ve always been a planner – often to the point of anally retentive amounts of attention to detail – and in the main I think that is a positive thing. The earlier you book a holiday, for example, the more choice you’ll have on where to go and the cheaper prices of flights and accommodation are likely to be. The same applies to parties; plan ahead and you will find that the world of entertainment venues is your oyster.

Another reason it’s vital to plan events early is because in this day and age people’s diaries get booked up months in advance. If you want to avoid standing alone at the bar on your birthday or sharing the entire wedding breakfast with your husband and in-laws, therefore, you have to get ahead of the game.

So, having established planning in advance is a good thing I’ll admit the bit I’m really struggling with: My inner control freak. Once an idea has been mooted -whether a concert, a mini break or a full blown holiday-I can’t help but take the reins and steer. It’s not because I want to make all the decisions (far from it, we Librans are rather averse to making decisions of any kind) it’s more because I hate when things are left to drift. The uncertainty of not knowing if a plan will come to fruition or not causes my stress levels to rise, so to combat that I go into planning overdrive, getting everyone to commit to the plan and therefore taking the stress out of the situation altogether (aside from the stress it takes me to organise said event, which is often not insignificant).

When all is said and done we are who we are, and we can either choose to embrace the slightly more kooky parts of our personalities and learn to work with them, or turn our backs on them only to find they keep on coming back to haunt us. And so on that note I acknowledge my inner planner, my inner control freak and my inner indecision, and I also acknowledge my not-so-inner exhaustion and take my leave to bed.