Down the pipe

A morning commute can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Gone are those blessed mornings when I used to walk to work, or the later era when I was lucky enough to commute out of London on half-empty trains. These days I sardine myself into a humid metal cylinder packed tightly with angry human bodies. The smell is somewhere between mouldering tupperware and used sports kit, with an occasional jagged edge provided by halitosis or that segment of society who believe that using mothballs on one’s clothes is an acceptable alternative to washing them.

Of course I only notice all this for the first couple of journeys back after a holiday or a trip up north. For the rest of the time I am one more ant swarming unconsciously with all the others, accepting and unaffected by the twice-daily ordeal.

The simple act of journeying into work does, however, provide occasional flashes of interest or amusement that you just wouldn’t encounter if you weren’t there and bored. Last month, for example, I was waiting on the platform when a giggly gospel choir, all in matching t-shirts and presumably on their way to a competition, spontaneously burst into song. Another example of this type of freak event might be the man I spotted just days ago, sitting serenely in a London traffic jam atop his ride-on lawnmower.

Tube drivers too can be a source of delight. An entire train full of people can unite in a silent cheer when, after their fifth consecutive request to stand clear of the closing doors, a driver cracks and barks through the intercom ‘To the guy in the green jacket in carriage three – it’s your bag mate. Keep it out of the doors or we’ll be here all day.’ They can say what for the rest of us would result in one of those uncomfortable spats of commuter rage that generally occur when a rude boy pushes an Essex girl while boarding the train at Mile End.

I once had a driver who decided to tell a joke to the whole train. It was just the one joke, delivered moments before we pulled into Kings Cross, and he had the most deadpan, public service voice imaginable. ‘What is the difference between a gun and a wife?’ he drawled laconically through the speakers. There was a long pause, then he said slowly ‘You can put a silencer on a gun’. Of course it was a sexist joke, so everyone was careful not to laugh, but I caught the eye of an old lady on the other side of the carriage and both of us smirked into our collars. It wasn’t necessarily that the joke was particularly funny, but these moments of levity deep in the tunnels are few and far between, and you have to take them where you can.

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