Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Strike it Unlucky

Tonight I am feeling a little bit apprehensive. You see, tomorrow is college day. In Clapham. Do I have an exam in the morning? No. Do I have an assignment to hand in? Not this week. So, what is the problem? You may ask. The problem, my reader, is getting there.
Okay, so I don’t anticipate having any problem getting south of the river tomorrow. But after last week, I am worried about having flash backs. Those of you who have been asleep for the last month or maybe don’t live in London may not have been aware that there was a tube strike last week. The RMT took a stand against job cuts, which could potentially leave some stations unmanned. I can see their point. I have visions of anarchic tube stations at night, people left to fend for themselves against feral hoodies as they wait for the last tube home. I have nightmares of having my Oyster card pick pocketed and being left stranded at the other side of the barrier, praying for someone to appear in that all too familiar yellow jacket to save me from a life wandering around London’s underworld.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but you get my point.
There have been tube strikes before. But, to be honest, they’ve never really bothered me. You see, I walk to work and am relatively central to most meetings I have to attend for my job. But travelling further than a short bus ride away? Never had to do it in these circumstances before.
I admit it, I was naive. A colleague told me the Northern Line was usually okay during strikes. I had a contingency plan: Get the train to Gospel Oak, then to Willesden Junction, then to Clapham Junction. A bit around the houses, but it would get me there.
However, I made a mistake last Wednesday morning. I listened to the radio. A good service is running on the Northern Line, it reported. Oh goody, I thought. So I headed to the tube station. As I travelled down the escalator, a lot of people stood opposite me on their way out. Certainly more than usual. My heart sank.
On the platform, the countdown clock confirmed my fears. Eight minutes until the next train. I waited for eight minutes, watching the platform become more and more crowded. The train finally arrived, packed tighter than grapes in a carton of Welch’s. It pulled away without me. I looked at the countdown clock again. Thirteen minutes to go. This clearly wasn’t going to happen.
I gave up. Back in the fresh air, I headed to the bus stop and got on the first bus headed south that I could squeeze on to. After a quick calculation, I figured I could change at Oxford Circus for the 88. Happy days.
Unfortunately, the rest of London had the same idea and had taken to the road. It took me an hour to get to Kings Cross. I started to panic. For a moment I contemplated jumping off the bus and trying to catch a train. In my heart, I know this was a bad idea. The chance of me getting on a train from Kings Cross headed south via the City? Pretty slim. So, I stuck it out.
To cut a (very) long story short, it took me three hours to get to Clapham. Three. Hours. Stressed doesn’t even come close. When I finally arrived, someone asked me if I had got the train. With great self restraint I didn’t kill him. However the banshee in me leapt out and he scuttled away for cover.
So, what is the moral of the story here? Well, for one, do not underestimate the power of a tube strike. It is frightening how much we rely on public transport, and how we suffer without them. Secondly, have a plan B, C and D on how to get to your destination. Thirdly, don’t listen to travel advice. Tfl tried desperately to minimise the destruction the strike caused on local media. In short, they lied.
And, finally, fourth. Just stay at home. The rush hour is soul destroying enough at the best of times. But during a tube strike? Don’t do it to yourselves unless you really have to. Take the day off. Work from home. Whatever. But if you do venture out? Take a (small) book to read, walking shoes, a flask and some Kendal Mint cake. And give yourself three times as long as normal to get where you need to go.
You have been warned.

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