I don’t commute to London as a rule, but occasionally I pretend. By which I mean it’s a few days back and forth when work is up in town, playing with the big knobs. (To a Welshman such as myself, that’s code “working with important people” only in a slightly disrespectful way. Please don’t read too much into it. Why, what did you think it meant?)
Our abode is in the middle of nowhere: equidistant Swindon and Hungerford railway stations. A quick squizz at pricing shows that Swindon is almost double the cost for a train ticket and three times the cost for parking. Needless to say, Hungerford is where I meet GWRs finest.
Random precision is in play here: arriving crisply for the 06.36 on days allocated to me apparently scattergun by customers. [Sigh] This has the side-effect of allowing a people watching experiment. As I am here occasionally, infrequently, it’s curious to see who I recognise. Sure enough there are the same folk stood on the same m² of platform for the same train. Poor bastards. Imagine having allowed your life to be ruled by this hamster-wheel. Grinding through this journey, day-in day-out.
(Assuming they live nearby and work in the city; that’s one-hour-ten on the train each way (give or take) plus a drive to/from the station and a twice-daily game of stinky-sardines on the tube. Let’s call it two hours door to door: four hours a day: sixteen hours commute a week. (Being generous here and allowing them to work from home on Friday and take holidays.) Over a year that’s 768(ish) hours of drudgery. Or, put another way, a month commuting. A month! I do hope their jobs are frickin’ awesome. How else could it possibly be worth it?)
Famously intolerant as I am, just a few commuting days here and there drives me crackers. Hence I start to look for tiny wins in order to make the days seem like I am not totally wasting my life. To whit, for London I have a grand total of two nuggets of winningness. One is the amazing Rebecca and her lifesaving flat-whites: Carpuccino: https://twitter.com/carpuccino?lang=en . She graces the station approach with a smile, everyone’s name/beverage and – as aforementioned – excellent coffee.
The other, headline win? The best parking space @ Hungerford.
You may not realise as a casual user of the station*, but there is a pecking order for parking. And one space in particular is a few country inches ahead.
The sweet, sweet feeling when the headlights pick up the vacant space… Back the car in – this is of crucial importance as we shall see – and take a moment to reflect on how you are winning at life. The daily commuters have their own particular spaces I note. [Does this make me sound stalker creepy?] It baffles me that they do not take the opportunity to make space #1 their own but I guess they have their reasons. (My musing is that the karma of their routine must not be messed with by crazy notions such as parking in a different place. The sky would fall in.)
Today can throw anything at me now because I have already won.
Dear reader, I can see you are bemused. [Frankly, well done for reading this far.] May I (semi*) reveal how this makes it a WIN?
The homeward bound sardine canister barrels westward from Paddington, carefully select your carriage (dependent upon the rolling stock configuration). As the train slows for Hungerford, gather bags, stand in pole position at the correctly judged door, digits poised over the button.
[Heart quickens, senses heighten, you’re alive, a hunter, a creature electric with wit and crackling with fleet instinct.]
The train stops, you press TWO buttons. One, the door opens, simultaneously two, the car unlocks. You take TWELVE strides. (If you’ve got it bob-on it’s TWELVE.) You grasp the handle, you open the door, sling laptop bag into the passenger seat and slide into the cockpit.
The engine fires, the seatbelt clicks, the ‘screen is wiped, engage first gear, nose gingerly forward – minus points for running down any fellow travelers, we’re not monsters – and ease out of the car park.
As quick to do as it is to describe.
Oh, the deep, indescribable, mystical joy of beating the train out of the station!
(On rare occasion I have even edged ahead of the train leaving the town centre. (This bonus win is too much to plan for and is best treated as a cherry on top. Breaking traffic to do so laws doesn’t count.) It can take at least 4 of the 15 minute drive home to stop smiling about how generally excellent things are.)
What a time to be alive.
Over a glass of something, do ask me about those heady days when I used to nip out a side door at Heathrow Terminal 1 when I commuted to Ireland on Aer Fungus saving 10 maybe fifteen seconds per trip… Cray-zee.
*foolish mortal! You are not a proper rail traveler. You are not a commuter. You do not bear the scars, you do not know of the delays, you know NOTHING. Nuh-THING.
**not a full reveal. Please don’t be offended, but you’ll have to carve out your own commuting win. Imagine after reading this I arrived at the station bleary eyed, full of pre-commute anxiety and your car is in space #1. Imagine.