Tuesday, 7 September 2010

On The Day The Tube Stood Still

Well, God knows it had been a slow start to the week, news-wise. Page 4 of Monday's Metro had a full-page feature on a carrot that looked like Buzz Lightyear. Not so yesterday morning; thanks to the ever-belligerent Bob Crow and his industrial action. London's journalists had plenty to write about - from praising the 'Dunkerque Spirit' shown by disgruntled commuters to scanning Twitter for the most interesting updates; the tube strike dominated the news sites and headlines.

I get the Underground to work, so the fact that all but one of the lines were suspended left me with something of a dilemma. Do I cram myself onto an already over-capacity bus? Or maybe I should pull a sicky, avoid it altogether? Too much effort and too obvious, respectively. Instead, I decided to walk from Fenchurch St to my office, in King's Cross. This would take about an hour, but would guarantee me impressive bragging rights when swapping "how-did-you-get-in" stories with my colleagues. "''You let 3 buses go? WELL, I hiked. For miles. 3.8 of them. Hiked, I say."

The walk itself was great; through the City skyscrapers, on past St Paul's Cathedral, up through Barbican and Farringdon. And because I'd left early, I saw the city waking up; tables being set up outside cafes, streets being swept, traders at Smithfields Meat Market with forklifts full of raw beef. Or chicken. Or whatever it was - I had to step over a puddle of blood which I wasn't prepared for so early in the morning. But all in all I enjoyed it, and so felt rather smug when I passed a tiny picket line outside Kings Cross. "Strike all you want," I thought, "I don't give a shit because that walk was well nice. I could do that all the time." [I swiftly came to my senses and realised that there is no way in hell that I would walk that far everyday, and kept my thoughts to myself].

In fact, my love of The Walk didn't even last a whole day. By the time half-past five rolled around (and it took its sweet time) I really couldn't be arsed. Instead, I decided to join the scrum of people waiting outside King's Cross for access to the one tube line that was operating a good service. 20 minutes later, I was carried along by a stampede of commuters as they rushed to the platform, and three minutes after that, I'd wedged myself onto a train. It was one of those journeys where the handrails might as well not be there - it was so packed that the train could have rolled down a hill and I wouldn't have moved an inch. Returning to the surface at Moorgate was blissful.

Finally I made it home, having experienced two ends of the spectrum; a leisurely morning stroll to work, and a boiling hot, claustrophobic tube ride home. As much as I think some of the headlines were slightly sensationalist and over-the-top, I can't deny that they have a point. Everyone in my office turned up for work and I don't know anybody who couldn't make it in. That's pretty good going if you ask me.

And the fact is the tube workers strike too often for me to feel any sympathy with them. They are paid very well, and to strike because redundancies may be made in a time that's seeing the whole country tighten its belt seems slightly selfish to me. However, they can cause massive disruption and do so at least once a year. I'm pleased this time the papers focussed more on people's determination to get about on foot, on bikes and by boat and bus, regardless than on the picket lines and scenes of chaos. Plus, managed to beat a bus full of people down Gray's Inn Road because of the traffic. Admittedly I was almost running by the end and the bus driver wasn't actually racing me, just me racing him, but I got a sense of achievement from my victory nonetheless.


  1. Well, it did seem pretty awful when reading the paper! London comes to a standstill, etc etc etc.

    What was it? A 4 million pound loss/day? Awful.

    At least you don't live in Paris, those guys strike all the time!

    The first time I was in Paris, my friend and I were at the Charles de Gaulle airport station; queuing for our tickets when the lady at the counter lets out a stream of French at us and shuts the counter down. My friend and I are flabbergasted- our French wasn't nearly good enough to understand that! This tiny Japanese man turns to us and asks us if we understood.. "Apparently," he says, "they're on strike".

    Of course, being bloody CDG; the phones are all rubbish and we can't ring Emi and let her know. We wander around that god awful airport.. try to figure out a bus route, no luck.. tell everyone we meet that the metro isn't running (and they believe us! We're clearly foreign and.. WHY WOULD YOU TRUST US???)

    We finally get to a desk and they tell us that, "no. they're not on strike for once.. they're just running late, as always".


  2. This post made me SO nostalgic! I lived in London for 4 months in 2007 and used to go for runs early in the morning over the Waterloo bridge (I think? Does my memory fail me?) and the smell of the cafes opening and the sounds of the city waking up were fantastic.

    Now I need to buy a plane ticket. Thanks a lot.

  3. I concur, bloody tube strike. Of course, it did mean I got to take the day off, so in a way, I owe Bob for my impromptu holiday. I would have loved to have walked, but my commute takes one and a quarter hours by tube, so I don't think I'd have made it... Also, I'm lazy.

  4. Do workers even get what they want when they go on strike? I don't get it. People are weird. No?

    Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed the walk but seriously, don't do it everyday. Well, you already said you won't. I just want to repeat it. Ha!

    Okay, so as I was saying, don't do it everyday because by the time I win the lottery next year and go to London, you'll be as thin as a twig and hard to recognize. Also, I need a healthy strand of hair for our DNA test.

    Not that I'm doubting that we're related and all.

    P.S. How were you able to sustain the energy to work when you walked on your way there? I'm AMAZED!

  5. I walked from Liverpool street station to Hyde park last year, that was really nice! I got to see a lot more of London that way:)

  6. There's a public transit strike (i.e. buses) in my city & a good chunk of the university faculty is on strike too. The walk to school for me is an hour and a half. The scenery is trees, rocks, trees, rocks, and the occasional bear. Your morning walk sounds MAGNIFICENT!

  7. @ Risha - Haha, I am looking at it from a completely selfish perspective I suppose. I don't want to generalise, but the French love a stike. I'm jealous of them. They're so involved. I think some sort of cross-channel exchange should be set up - we'll have some of their zeal for protest, to wake us up a bit, and they'll get some of our apathy, to calm them down.

    @ Adria - I'm sorry! Where did you live? It's not a side of London I see very often, only when I'm up far too early (or out far too late!).

    @ Leavespaceblank - Nothing lazy in that - I would have quit before walking that far. Still, day off - result.

    @ Gnetch - I kept my energy levels up with copious amounts of alcohol for breakfast. I'm joking - don't worry your distant cousin is not that bad, yet - I felt strangely invigorated after my stroll! I didn't need booze!

    @ Alexandra - EXACTLY. You get to see bits you'd completely miss otherwise. I still find strange places now if ever I walk around rather than run straight onto a train!

    @ k-money - I'm sorry, but a bear sounds pretty interesting to me. Maybe we should mix it up a bit, combine the two. That would make for an interesting result, methinks.