I’ve been sooo excited preparing to take my 4Nomadic travel blog readers on a trip to Pakistan in the next few weeks, that I totally neglected to blog about perhaps the most crucial bit of travel in my life at the moment.
Considering many of you are off-shore readers (IE investing your time outside of the British Isles) I realise that my daily trips to London town may be worth sharing as something of a foreign commodity for you.
Over the past month I have travelled over 1,500 miles (2,414 km) making regular, sometimes agonizingly early treks from my sleepy village home on the Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire borders into the heart of the city of London. Since the clock change, I invariably tip toe out of my home under the cover of darkness (only once waking neighbours as my wing mirror hooked a forgotten wheelie bin and dragged it noisily down the drive way). My children, in various states of awakeness suffer my departure with sleepy kisses, “can I borrow your hair dryer” or by pulling a duvet back over their heads. My other half usually keeps me plied with green tea and kind words and then deposits me at the station (perhaps better he drives given the wheelie bin incident).
The trains run to several an hour and are generally on time (if they are delayed, early morning commuters tend to tut quietly – is all). The ticket itself is bloody expensive – to buy an annual pass to cover my train miles costs £3400 ($5400, EURO 3780, 37,800 CNY, 262800 INR). I know this is more than some of you earn in a year, let alone spend on trains.
Aside from the occasional tut, my fellow fare payers are generally wrapped up in their Blackberries, books, work papers or if it’s really really early are fast asleep (see picture taken this morning). They travel alone and avoid eye contact and small talk. occasionally work colleagues will travel together, generating passive aggressive sighs from fellow commuters as they break the dull silence by daring to talk. And if it happens to be school holidays and you should decide to use rail travel with your talkative young, expect people to blatantly move seats to be at a distance from you or huffily plug their ears with headphones. If you are American, it’s strongly advised that you remain mute, less you should offend – something about the tone of voice that carries and will disturb this sacred silent time.
The journey home on the same train is a little more animated. A similar group of commuters, but this time wrestling under a sea of free newspapers handed out by low paid masses who thrust said paper in your face at every train and tube station in London. I sometimes can’t resist and after a hard days strategizing with government, I find myself drawn to know more about Jude’s relationship with his illegitimate child, a Winehouse breast falling out at a party or Paris’s British Best Friend. Actually I cheat, I pick up discarded papers from seats not from touts and consider my actions one of ethical recycling. Besides I feel very uncomfortable with myself straining to read tabloid filth over someones shoulder.
Sometimes when I arrive at King’s Cross in the morning I decide to walk all the way to the office. Like I did this morning, taking far too long (50 mins) and generating bloody blisters on the backs of each heel. Sometimes I wear proper shoes, fit for purpose – like many a suited officer walker, and can manage the distance in a 35 minute march. The journey clears my head and I love to glimpse shop owners preparing for the day, and get wafts of Great British fry-ups from cafes, or encounter jet-lagged tourists awake far too early for anything to be open. It reminds me of early mornings in Sri Lanka where people stretch and stand in the street brushing their teeth from a communal tap. Seeing a place wake up is an intimacy not to be taken for granted.
Not far from the British museum I usually come across groups of labourers gathered over steaming polystyrene cups and cigarettes. Their laughter makes me envious, as my own work colleagues aren’t as colourful or at ease with one another. Walking through Convent garden, which seems entirely recession-free and littered with stupid boutiques selling quirky things that nobody needs, and onto Trafalgar Square where I quietly nod a hello to an alledged relation on top of his column and head down towards Big Ben and the powerhouses of British Government.
Sometimes I don’t walk, I get the tube (subway), which unless I time it right involves some very close bodily contact with complete strangers (who still manage to maintain the silent no eye contact thing despite being an inch away from your face). It’s a fear of loosing dignity thing I think – we simply pretend not to be there.
The good thing about the commute is the amount I read. As a mother of three with a full-time job, reading is an absolute luxury, so to have been able to fill my heads with the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Britain’s immigrant community in the east end of London, as well as Winehouse, Jude and Paris as the shadows of British countryside flash past in the dusk and dawn light has been a thrill indeed.
So, just a glimpse at my daily travels. I realise that if I had travelled 1500 in a straight line would have reached Azerbaijan by now. But I like it this way, close to home for now. See you in Pakistan in a few weeks!