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13 Sep 2020

On Saying Goodbye To Commuting

On Saying Goodbye To Commuting


 I can still remember my first proper day of commuting. That is, if we’re not including two weeks of work experience I did when I was 15. Which I’m not because two weeks is not even remotely comparable to a full-time commuter. My first day of commuting: I had left university mere weeks ago, was living back home and was starting an internship in London. I had to catch a lift with my parents which meant catching a far earlier train than was necessary. I forgot my railcard. I was so stupidly tired, I was pretty convinced I was going to trip over my own feet. A 6am start was a hellish shock to someone who’d spent the last 3 years accustomed to 3am bedtimes and 2pm lie ins. I can remember looking at my mum as we climbed the stairs at Farringdon station and saying ‘so this is your life then?’.


That was seven years ago and I’ve been a commuter ever since. And, bar two months driving to a temp job in Milton Keynes, I have always commuted to London on the train. When I practically lived with Gary during our first year together, I commuted across London. Fair to say, I am very well acquainted with both London and the British transport system.


When we moved last year, I dropped my days in London to twice a week in an attempt to make the new two-hour commute (each way) more manageable which it was, just about, although still exhausting.


Then 2020 happened and I now haven’t commuted for six months. 


I always imagined that the last time I commuted would be A Moment. I imagined I would know it would be happening for starters, that I’d have built up to it for a while, that I'd take the time to pay attention to the last train journey, the last stomp between the station and the office. As it turns out, my final commute in March - just before lockdown - was completely bog standard and only different by the sudden awareness of Covid-19. Otherwise, it was barely memorable. 


The thing is, commuting is a little bit like joining a club you didn’t realise you were signing up for. You don’t get long-term commuting unless you’ve done it. And once you have, there is a shared understanding with other long-term commuters. I grew up in a household with two full-time commuters and had seen the impact first hand over several years, but I still didn’t truly understand until I had become one myself. 


It is not an intentionally patronising club, more one of those you-had-to-be-there moments. Only other commuters will understand the to-your-bones tiredness that comes from commuting. Non-commuters look at the hour you spend on the train and think of the occasional one-hour train journeys they have done in the past. They don’t think of the time spent getting to and from the train station which means the journey is actually two hours, or the sardine-cramped carriages that feel alien in Covid-times or what it means to do that every. single. day. If I were to write a list of attributes I would want in a perfect line manager, it would be someone who also commutes. Trust me, there is a special place in hell for Londoners who refuse working-from-home requests for no credible reason, when they spend just 15 minutes on the tube every day – or worse, walk to work


I always think you can tell a commuter by the way they talk about their journey in exact minutes. If the walking part of the journey is 7 minutes, we will tell you so. Non-commuters will probably generalise to 5 or 10 but for commuters, every damn minute is precious and we can tell you the exact number of minutes it takes to get from our front door to our desk in the office.


Commuters are better at telling you the exact train times than National Rail is, the exact spot you need to stand on the platform to be right where the door opens (plus how to jump on and get a precious seat without physically having to elbow someone) and we know from bitter experience the perfect pounding-the-London-streets comfort shoes. 


We also know the exact amount of alcohol we can drink at after-work drinks that will enable us to get through the post-pub train journey without throwing up, and every one of us has at least one story about falling asleep and missing our stop. 


I think it’s the delays that are synonymous with the British rail system that really bind our club together though. We may fight it out for seats on a daily basis but the moment the system fails us, we are united in our shared groans at the ‘major signal failure’ announcements, shared group taxis from London to the home counties (don’t ask me about the cost) and shared empathy in the knowledge that we have just lost our entire evening only for the joy of waking up to a 5:30 alarm to do it all over again. You know shit has hit the fan when commuters start talking to each other but you will also be able to see the shared solidarity. 


What I didn’t expect, when commuting would be over for me, is that there would be small aspects I would miss. Sometimes there would be a moment, a moment when your blurry eyes could squint through the outrageous cost, delays and tiredness, and see the opportunities it brought you. The moments as you expertly weaved around Kings Cross station, dodging the tourists, where you’d get the buzz of London. The drunken moments following a night out when you were meandering towards the tube, ignoring the length of the journey ahead, and just soaking in the twinkling city lights and the feeling like you might just be getting the best of both worlds. Now that it’s over, I could be in danger of getting strangely nostalgic about commuting and the way it allowed London to be a huge part of my twenties. 

Yet, like a lot of people following lockdown, I don’t have any intention of going back. I fully appreciate how difficult lockdown has been for some people, and why some need offices to reopen for the sake of their mental health, but I also know – right to my core – why there are a lot of us fully ignoring the calls to be back in the office. That elusive work-life balance is so much easier to find when you eliminate commuting. And once you have it, there really ain’t no going back. 

But, to my fellow commuter, whether you choose to continue or have no choice but to get back on that train, I get it. And I’ll always be here to swap the ridiculous yet comical delay stories and share an eye roll at the non-commuters who suggest you use the ‘extra’ time to pursue a hobby. Get your memory-sole trainers on, download your Netflix show and don’t forget to look up at the wonder that is London every now and again. You got this. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing, I get the bus to work, I think with what is going on hopefully peoples attitude will change on public transport :)

    Nic | Nic's Adventures & Bakes

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