Commuters Survival Guide

Thursday 24 April 2014 by

Men and women in elegant business attire and bespoke three piece suits, casually reading the Financial Times. Long goodbyes from loved ones at the train station, waving a tissue and running alongside a slowly moving train. Dark wood finished carriages, carpet and beautifully upholstered chairs, individual reading lamps and the cheerful, familiar face of the conductor framed by his hat. Sounds great right? This was my old school, romanticised version of commuter travel. The reality or ‘Modern’ experience of being a commuter is far removed and if I can use all my writing talent to describe the experience; it sucks.

I always longed to be a commuter, the idea of travelling into the Big Smoke everyday felt very grown up and professional. When I tell people that I work in Central London the first response I’m usually given is “I could not do that journey every day.”

With this in mind, I have come up with my personal ‘Commuters Survival Guide’, half rant half expert opinion, on helping you step on the train as opposed to in front of it.

The best things in life are free

They are indeed. That’s why you pay for the train. The first step in surviving the commute is to be prepared to hand over 30-50% of your wages each month. Just like that. One moment you’re dreaming about buying that new designer bag or putting a deposit down on your dream holiday, the next you’re rummaging down the back of your sofa looking for spare change to pay for your lunch that day, all because of that journey into work. I’m sure when you break it down over the amount of time you actually spend on the train, you can, maybe, potentially justify about 40% of the cost. The rest of the money must go on, oh I don’t know, the new 50 foot HD screens they have just installed at Waterloo station for displaying train times. No, wait they don’t even display useful commuter information, just adverts. Adverts for designer bags or dream holiday destinations, no doubt. I’m not even paying for WiFi on the trains. I’m paying for a single seat, and sometimes not even that. The train is expensive but, think of it this way; you’re investing in your future. The money you put in now will one day be the reason you own your own house filled with designer bags whilst you fly private to your dream holiday destination.

Space Invaders

So, you’ve just paid a hideously expensive amount for your train ticket, you’ve finished crying and have just thrown your holiday brochure in the station bin. You’ve stepped on the train and you’re looking for a seat. This is the single most important decision you will ever make as a commuter as this space will become your go-to spot. Your unofficial assigned seat for the duration of your commuting life and there are many factors you must consider in making your choice, space being top of your list. You have the classic 6 and 4 seat formations; these are for those of you that have little to no personal space boundaries. You enjoy rubbing legs with strangers, folding a newspaper into 8 pieces to avoid everybody else’s knees/laps/shoulders (delete where applicable) and you enjoy staring directly into a stranger’s crotch. You can look into their eyes but, then, that’s just awkward.

Next you have the standard 2 seat ‘cubicles’. Extremely intimate and barely enough room to turn on your Kindle, may I suggest these seats be left for the more experienced commuters out there. Your third and final option, the aisle seating by the doors. My preferred choice, these seats face you into the aisle of the carriage allowing for unlimited leg room and minimum contact with your fellow commuters. Of course you can’t have everything and the best seats in the house are usually set around the toilets. I use the word ‘toilets’ generously. Unventilated chemical shelters would be a more realistic description. The occasional smell of human waste and the sound of strangers peeing is a small price to pay in my opinion. Grab one of these seats if you can, put your headphones in (we’ll get to those later) dab a little Vics vapour rub under your nose and your journey will fly by in relative comfort.

Now, your next factor in determining your seat: lighting. Don’t laugh, Kylie has made a whole career out of using the correct lighting. For me, personally I’m better appreciated at dusk and more importantly, back lit. There is nothing worse than having the early morning sun blinding you for the duration of your journey and trust me at 7am that light is no one’s friend. Facing away from the light will mean a much more pleasant journey for you and others looking at you. You’re welcome.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Let’s go back a few steps if we can, to the hour or so before you board the train. What do you do in this time? If your routine doesn’t include any of the following: showering, ironing a fresh shirt, brushing your teeth and applying deodorant; then this section is for you. Firstly, WHY? Secondly, no really, WHY? I appreciate everybody leads busy lives and fitting everything in can be a struggle but not smelling of body odour or stale bed should still be pretty high on your list of priorities. You are sharing a confined mostly unventilated space with a large group of people; respect yourself and everybody else by ensuring you’re not assaulting our senses with your own unique fragrance. The free Metro newspaper available at every station has a ‘Rush Hour Crush’ section for people to enquire about fellow commuters they had a connection with but couldn’t get their details, not one of these to my knowledge has started off with “To the gorgeous guy who stank of BO, with the bed hair and food stained creased shirt…” Just saying.

Manners cost nothing

I’m always surprised by the lack of manners displayed on my journey around the capital. Some of them are pretty basic, covering your mouth when you yawn/sneeze/cough. I don’t want to breathe in your morning breath nor do I want to hold my breath whilst the mist of your sneezing fit envelops the carriage. Also, whilst we’re on the subject, BLOW YOUR NOSE. It may seem slightly intimidating to blow your nose in front of a group of people sat in silence but trust me, it’s better than us hearing you sniff snot every 2 minutes for the entire journey. Tissues should always be part of your commuting armoury. No exceptions. This should be more than obvious but cutting your nails on a train is also a no-go. I once saw a businessman take off his shoes and socks and then cut his toenails on a packed 6 o’clock from Waterloo. Bits of toe nail flying around the floor onto people’s bags and coats, this guy completely oblivious to the rage he was inducing. Cutting your nails, fingers or toes will not make you any friends.

Neither will pretending to be asleep or engrossed in your newspaper whilst an elderly, disabled or pregnant person is forced to balance only feet away. Your fellow commuters are your family now. Well, at least you’ll see them more than your family. Treat every journey as Sunday dinner with the family. Elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed and don’t flick peas at grandma. Bottom line, manners cost nothing and a simple gesture can make the biggest difference to your own and someone else’s journey.

Patience is a virtue

Look, we’ve all had a long day. We all want to get home, eat dinner, say goodnight to the children, watch EastEnders or feed the cat. We’re all in the same boat. There is no need to push forward, cut in line or tackle someone to the ground to secure your favourite seat.  Believe it or not the front carriage of the train arrives at your station the same time as the last carriage. Mind blowing, right? Wait in line like the true Brit that you are. Rest assured you’re getting home the same time as everybody else.

Technology is king

It’s quite likely your train carriage will look like a small branch of Apple during rush hour. iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, Kindles… the list is endless. Normally my motto is sharing is caring, but on the commute into work; keep your technology to yourself. The first reason is obviously safety. And forgetfulness. Getting off your train in London and your phone continuing onto Manchester isn’t a good start to the day for anyone. The second reason is, let me put it this way, you may like listening to Drum’n’Bass at 7am, I don’t. Invest in headphones that cancel noise, or turn the volume down. It’s not OK to force everybody within 10 feet to listen to your music. I once spent 2 hours on a train with the woman next to me listening to ‘Let It Go’ from the movie Frozen on repeat for the entire time. I love Disney as much as the next 27 year old guy (which is a lot) but come on, it was like Japanese water torture, over and over again, I was ready to give up secrets I didn’t have JUST TO MAKE IT STOP. I still have flashbacks.

The commute to and from work for myself, and I’m sure to most people, is an hour or so a day when we can unwind, relax and just process the day. I like to read a book (I don’t believe in Kindles, devils work) it’s the only time I get to read and to have a whole hour devoted to it. Bliss. That is until someone starts tapping away at a keyboard endlessly or sharing their phone conversation with the whole carriage. It’s a distraction and a nuisance. Whilst we’re on the subject, the quiet carriage is there for a reason. If we start breaking the quiet carriage rules what happens next? Looting? Lawlessness on the streets? The breakdown of government? All because you had to call your best friend and tell her about the hot guy at work that kind of noticed you for the first time today. Shame, shame on you.

Commuting should be at worse, tolerable and at best, productive. Enjoyable lies somewhere in the middle between not listening to your neighbour’s music and sitting opposite your ‘Rush Hour Crush’.

You can even make it into a game. I like to come up with amusing names for my fellow commuters. I regularly enjoy the company of Darth Vader Dave (breathing heavy), Longing Looks Lucy (I think she has a thing for me), BO Barry (self explanatory), Nose Picker Norman (yeah…) and my personal favourite, Lycra Liam.

Respect other peoples boundaries, and you shall establish life long commuter buddies.

You can follow Gordy on Twitter: @Gordy__W

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1 Comment

  1. Awesome post. So true on all points!

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