It isn’t so much the length of my commute that troubles me. At an average of 45 minutes to an hour I suppose it’s not too bad by modern standards. No, I’m afraid to say that it’s the people.
Until quite recently it wasn’t too bad. You see I catch the number 38 bus from Clapton Pond in East London to the centre of town, and since my stop is the first, when the vehicle was an old fashioned route master bus, I was pretty much guaranteed a seat at the front of the top deck. From there I could daydream the journey away, enjoying the London scenery.
Even back then, there were, of course, a few alarming incidents. Like the time I was joined by a woman who spent most of the journey singing dreamily and cooing at her crack pipe as if it were a baby. And the time when a gang of youths relieved me of my personal possessions. During office party season there would also inevitably also be someone hanging off the rail at the back heaving up his guts, making my exit onto the street fraught with danger and bad smells.
However, it would be churlish to complain – especially since the journey was so blissful compared with what I have to put up with now.
You see, thanks to the advent of the new bendy buses, all the focus of the journey is now turned inwards. There’s no view out the windows and no escaping my fellow passengers. The best thing that can be said about whom (as the residents of London’s loopiest borough Hackney) is that they are never boring.
They are, however, far too many in number, far too lax in personal hygiene and far too ill-mannered when it comes to keeping I-pod volumes low, letting people in and out of the doors and making room for old ladies.
So far so similar to most other commuting experiences around the country, I imagine….
What sets my journey apart is the constant –and often realised – threat of violence coupled with the sheer madness of a small but very vocal minority of the passengers. These I have labelled in my head as The Woman Who Throws Bread At Me, The Man Who Shouts About Jesus, The Man Who Just Stares (scarily), The Man Who I’m Sure Stole My Wallet Once, The Man Who Sweats and The Woman Who Shakes. I think their titles give an idea of the kind of challenges they present on the way to work. They’re also sometimes accompanied by a very frightening person who wheels a rotting old doll around in a pram, lying on a bed of plastic bags, and a young city-boy who snorts cocaine from his Oyster card and says “oh fuck” every time he does so.
The heat and the psychic pressure built up by this combined mass of bodies and madness has also driven me to the point where I worry that I too am as crazy as the rest of them. Only the other day I heard someone crying in anguish “Will you please just give me a fucking break…” only to realise in horror that it was my own voice.
I think I should probably start cycling.