Life Lessons from a London Bus

In order to avoid getting the tube whilst temperatures reach astonishing highs for England (over 15 degrees) I have began to do my entire commute on a bus. Sounds hellish I’m sure, but I always get a seat, I can sit by a window, I can read for two hours a day and, much to my surprise, I’ve learnt some rather surprising lessons. Here are some life lessons from a London Bus:

1. You never quite get over being picked last in P.E lessons

Sitting on a bus enjoying a lovely commute it steadily starts to fill up. In true British character nobody would choose to sit next to somebody they didn’t know if there was a pair of seats available, but of course at some point there comes a time where you have to sit next to someone you don’t know. Now, as a chooser in this position you generally choose the person who looks least interesting (nobody likes to talk on public transport in London). As someone with a free seat next to them you start willing for people to sit somewhere other than next to you, that is until you notice that there are only a few free spaces left and you don’t want to be the person that nobody wants to sit next to. Like secondary school all over again…

2. You become an expert on all things transport

I have never cycled in London, I have never driven a taxi in London or driven a bus – yet after travelling around London from the dizzy heights of the top of a double decker bus I now feel educated enough to tut when I see any of the above doing something remotely dangerous. However, if you see a cyclist that cuts off a bus on a busy roundabout then you can’t help but squirm and hope there’s no blood.

3. You start cheating on your oyster card

My oyster card has been like my best friend since I first moved to London. It gets me places and I can always rely on it. However, London transport has now introduced payment on buses through contactless debit cards – we’re all winners (except anyone who has not yet got one of these contactless cards). You don’t have to top it up AND it costs the same amount. I’m so sorry oyster…

4. London traffic isn’t that bad

In the one month I have been catching the bus I have been stuck in two traffic jams and, no-one jumps in front of buses. Granted, when you are slightly delayed the bus decides it won’t complete the journey but that means I have got see areas of London (Camberwell) that I never would have ever ventured to before…nor will I probably choose to venture to again.

5. Never pay for a tourist bus round London

One of the main reasons I know I am not a Londoner is because as I pass over Waterloo bridge every morning with Big Ben and the London Eye on one side and St Paul’s and the City on the other I still want to take a picture (although I don’t because ‘I am a commuter and not a tourist’). You can see the sights of London, going as far as you want but only paying £1.45 for the privilege – you can’t beat it.

I’ll only say this once – you don’t get that up north.

 

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The Seat People

You’re tired, you’re missing your bed already (and you only got up 15 minutes ago) and on your walk to the tube station you are trying to mentally prepare yourself for the crowds of like-minded commuters on their way to work.

Now whilst stood at the platform, and making a mental note that you should choose your outfit the night before cause your sleepy eyed self has no fashion sense, you look up and down the platform trying to calculate/guess whether you will be lucky enough to get a seat on your 40 minute commute.

After 7 months of taking the tube to work, I feel like I’ve seen it all, but I know I haven’t! Here are the five people who don’t spend their mornings worrying about people sticking bags in their face or crashing into them in a bid to board an already jam-packed train. These are the seat people:

1. The Deserving

Pregnant, elderly, frail or injured. This is the group of people that you want to sit down or you offer your seat to. Nobody wants to be responsible for the guy on crutches falling over when the train suddenly brakes!

2. The Peepers

These are the passengers,that when the tube is coming to the station that run to where they think the door is going to stop and keep on their toes peering in the windows of the train. They weigh up whether they should run to another door or risk staying where they are!

3. The ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ people

I didn’t think these people existed, until yesterday. This involved a young man and friend asking two people to give up their seats for them. They did, assuming they had an ailment that made standing for long periods difficult. The boys simply sat down and said ‘didn’t think that would work – don’t ask don’t get’! Touche, albeit mean and against every tube rule.

4. The angry commuter

Simply put; they push past everyone to get to the front of the queue of people to board. Then, they ignore the station announcers and do not ‘wait for all passengers to get off the train before boarding’ and run, push and do whatever they can to get any available seat. It always brings a smile to your face when, rarely, they don’t get one.

5. The clever/insane ones

The commuter who walks back a station or two away from their destination to where the train is less busy to board. Fair play.

It’s nice to relax in a seat on your journey to work, but at least try to adhere to some kind of ‘tube code of conduct’ whilst finding your seat!

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The Storyteller – More Than a Story

Everyone learns about it at school, I studied it in more detail through history A-level and in depth through German modules during my degree – what I’m referring to is the Holocaust. Most know the basics: the Third Reich, Hitler, Auschwitz, Jews and other undesirables. If it wasn’t studied at school then films such as Schindler’s List and the Pianist, amongst others, start to scratch the surface.

One of the most important genocides in the history of the world which I’ve studied in detail – from German novels to eyewitness accounts. Yet nothing could have prepared me for reading Jodi Picoult’s latest novel – The Storyteller.

Having read Picoult’s novels before, I knew how powerful her writing could be but this is something else. Based in North America following the life of Sage Singer there is nothing at the beginning of this story that you could relate back to the Holocaust apart from the fact her ancestors are Jewish.

Soon the book starts telling the story from the perspective of four different people, broken up with snippets of a fictional story of a monster. The book not only jumps between people but time, from modern day America to the 1930s and 40s, touching on life from the Hitlerjugend to being a Jew in Poland during the 1940s, to life in Auschwitz.

It is not the shock with which Picoult writes that makes you want to turn the page, as the facts we all know. It’s the personal nature she brings to the characters, the individuality she brings to the Jewish victims who didn’t have that luxury during the Holocaust and the question of redemption and forgiveness that does not quite sit well with your conscience.

Be prepared to close your eyes in moments of graphic detail to try and shut off your imagination, shed a tear at times of beauty and horror and to fight with your conscience.

How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world – Anne Frank, Diary of a Young Girl

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How to Adhere to Northern Stereotypes

Warning: this article may contain outlandish stereotypes!

When you move to a foreign country people always assume you will adhere to any stereotypes your country has; the Germans wear lederhosen, the French smell of garlic and the Italians are supposedly rude (and good looking)! Perceptions that all go back many, many years.

Then in England you have something similar between the North and London ( very different to other parts of the southwest and southeast). Living down here you become very aware of Londoner’s perception of the North and also how different the people from these places are. So whilst living amongst the people who speak like the Queen and go shooting on the weekend in the country (no stereotypes there), it becomes almost fun to rev up your northerness and not succumb to southern life. So here are 5 ways to becoming the perfect northerner down south:

1. Be as common as muck. As far as every southerner knows everyone above the m25, I daren’t mention any further above that, is middle class at best! So continue talking about mucking in, the ‘struggle’ and hand-me-down clothes just to hammer home the fact maids and butlers don’t travel up ‘there’. 

2. Pick a northern accent, whether it be Manc, Scouse, Yorkshire or Geordie and speak loudly and quickly in it, making sure no Londoner can understand a word you’re saying. This only confirms the North is a foreign land.

3. Re-enact Peter Kay’s jokes – be surprised at garlic bread, substitute the for t’ and talk about the bingo hall like you’re a regular!

4. Emphasise that a Friday night takeaway is a northern tradition. Not Thai, too posh, Indian or Chinese at a push, but what we love is a chippy tea! Fully-equipped with gravy (not the watered down stuff you get down here) and curry sauce; can’t go wrong.

5. Two words, one man – Jeremy Kyle (or jezza up north). Claim to know someone on it, or have been on it yourself and you’ll be branded a northerner for life!

These stereotypes aren’t offensive, or necessarily wrong in some cases (we do love gravy), they’re just based on television, media and the ‘olden days. And despite the terrible stereotypes of the North and then the worse ones of Merseyside, I can definitely say I’m a proud northerner!

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Merry Christmas, Love Scrooge

Getting up at 4.30am, sneaking downstairs with my brothers to see if Father Christmas had arrived with our presents. Heads peer round the door to see four heaps of presents and two smaller piles – Mum and Dad were clearly not well-behaved enough. We would then run back upstairs and sit at the edge of our parent’s bed for hours until we were allowed to start unwrapping our surprises. Luckily for us, this was when children’s television did not start till later in the morning and there is only so much of the teletext music one can take before going insane, so by 6.30 we were sat on the living room floor, wrapping paper flying in every direction while our parents were half asleep on the sofa.

Now I’m older, Christmas almost seems like an anti-climax. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Dad’s Christmas dinners, I wait for them all year round. However, the excitement of opening presents have diminished, the four of us are older so Christmas morning starts much, much later, and as we have grown-up the numbers around the table have began to diminish so it is less of a family reunion and more of a Sunday lunch.

Living in London though, you can’t avoid the Christmas hype. In Southport and Nottingham it is certainly possible to forget it is actually the festive season. I mean heavens waiting room and student central – one group of people aren’t sure what time of the day it is, let alone the time of year, the others are too drunk or hungover to know what’s going on. In Germany, it’s not possible to forget because there is a Christmas market on every corner you turn – but what’s not to love about Bratwurst and Hot Chocolate with Bailey’s? The Germans have got it right! However, London at the best of times can be overwhelming, London at Christmas time..Woah.

So for all those that put up with the festive season, who like to do their shopping online to avoid the Christmas madness, and only put up decorations as close to the 25th as possible here are some ways to enjoy the Christmas spirit in the capital (and elsewhere around the country).

  1. Avoid Winter Wonderland like the plague. There are other Christmas markets in London (albeit incredibly expensive), but at least you have a chance of getting from the beginning to the end without getting elbowed in the face and trod on so many times you break a few toes.
  2. Embrace the weather. This winter, especially, has not been too cold in London. So when you go for a walk along the river towards London Bridge, or head out to Wimbledon common, you can enjoy the brisk bite of winter without the snow and feel a lot better for it!
  3. Do not turn on the radio. There are going to be times during December (and November in some cases) where you are going to have to listen to Christmas tunes. Whether it is in a shop, at work or by the busker in the tube station – this will be unavoidable at some point. So don’t put yourself through the pain of listening to them in your free-time as well!
  4. Get every group of friends/family anyone that you would normally feel obliged to buy a gift for to participate in ‘Secret Santa’. Not only does this save you a lot of money, but time as well. It also means that when you inevitably leave buying your Christmas presents to the last minute, going in to a shop for one present seems less of a challenge.
  5. Remember that, although everyone around you is in the Christmas spirit and enjoying the stress and madness of getting things ready for that one special day, you don’t have to be the same! However, you should be aware that you will be judged if you let this fact known to others – so maybe best to smile, nod and keep it under-wraps!

It’s not all bad. It is apparently the season to be jolly and spending little time at home, it is nice to come back for the holidays and enjoy some precious family time before disappearing again – but no doubt in five days time I will be ready to run out of this house and back down to London…  Until then though, I will admire the tree with a smile on my face, go shopping for my presents and grin and bear the constant Christmas merriment of those around me!

Bring on January sales…

Merry Christmas!

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Tube Envy

We’ve all heard of food envy; that feeling when you’re sat in a restaurant and your food arrives and you’re perfectly content with your decision and then your companion’s food arrives and all you can think is ‘I really should have ordered that’! Always made worse when they sit there exclaiming that it tastes just as good as it looks. Well, in the past week I’ve experienced tube envy.

I spend approximately two hours a day commuting two and from work and I people watch for a lot of that time. Now, in my first few weeks people watching involved adjusting to the weird and wonderful characters you come across in London. I realised today that now I sit/stand there getting ‘tube envy’! Let me explain with three things that are top of my envy list:

1. People who have mastered the art of standing with five people within about 15cm of their body at all angles yet can still comfortably read the Metro. How? They have clearly had years of practice as they, with the grace of a swan, fold their paper into various ways in order to avoid a boring journey. This morning I ended up using my paper as a barrier between myself and the guy in front – we were so close I didn’t have to hold it.

2. The older generation who look so content reading a BOOK, or engaging in conversation with another human-being instead of playing Candy Crush on an iPad or listening to music that is so loud that when the train is quiet you can hear Beyonce blasting out ‘Listen’. I wish I could justify sparking up conversations with random people without others thinking I was a weirdo, for some reason the over 60s are allowed.

3. The men that hear the beeping noise of the doors closing yet see that as a challenge to dive into the carriage, or as I now call then ‘superman’. To the man this morning on the northern line that did this with the brightest blue eyes, if you read this…. Anyway, those men…one day I hope to have the courage to risk getting my head chopped off for the sake of waiting a minute!

Along with envy comes the ‘glad im not them’ but that’s another blog…

 

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Characters from a Commuter’s Eyes…

ImageGetting on the London Underground is sometimes like entering a weird child-like cartoon. There are certain characters that seem to appear every day and odd situations seem to play out in front of your eyes that seem somewhat unbelievable. There are certain characters I have learnt to avoid; there are some that provide me with constant amusement and always make my morning commute that little bit more enjoyable. So here they are a few characters to warn you of next time you take the Tube.

The Impatient Idiot

This person is incredibly common during rush hour times on the tube. They usually situate themselves at the back of a crowd of people waiting to board. Now sometimes they tut as people get off the train, and then when the way is made clear to enter they push like they have never pushed before. It’s difficult to tell whether they are doing this to be helpful and make sure everyone fits like sardines in the carriage, or whether they are being incredibly selfish and quite like hurting people just because they can’t wait another minute till the next tube. If you’re lucky, at the same time you meet their nemesis the ‘pusherbacker’. This person does not appreciate being herded like a cow into a carriage and will often push a row of two or three people back into the Impatient Idiot whilst various people start shouting various swear-words to stop the madness. This particular scene is most enjoyable when you have a seat.

The Blonde Girl

Oh yes, you may think I’m being horribly stereotypical but there is one on EVERY single tube journey I have gone on. They talk really loudly and make comments that always have me in stitches. An example ‘I’m gutted I’m not in Rush-Hour Crush this week, I really made an effort’. They also make sure to inform the carriage of anything that has happened in their day, and tut perfectly loudly when somebody accidently nudges them when they refuse to move out the way to let them off the train.

The OTT Couple

Standing or sitting, this couple are always somewhere on a tube. Sitting down they are usually not so bad, leaning on each other’s shoulders, whispering into each other’s ears – yes it does make you feel slightly nauseous, but sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether that is the public display of affection, or the slightly jerky train. When they are standing though, they hold onto each other to make sure they don’t fall over, hugging and kissing. I’m all for people being in love,  I don’t even object to hand-holding and I think I’m relatively OK with dealing with public displays, but when you’re stood within millimetres of these couples kissing on a packed to the brim tube it does make your journey that little bit more uncomfortable.

The Strong Old Ox

It’s standard procedure when an elderly man or woman, somebody who is pregnant, or someone who is disabled gets on the tube they immediately get a seat. In fact, forget standard procedure it is good manners. Every now and again though, you go to stand up to let an elderly man sit down and he insists that he can stand up like all the other commuters. You can fight as much as you like, but they are very strong-willed. So, as you quietly sit down, you can’t help but keep an eye on them for the rest of the journey, taking a sharp intake of breath whenever they nearly fall over or the train jerks forward suddenly, or when you see the Impatient Man starting his pushing campaign. Each time you always think to yourself ‘Fair play to him, but when I’m 75 I will be taking that seat when it’s offered’.

Now some of these characters I would tell you to avoid like you have never avoided anyone before, but to be honest, when you’re tired and blurry-eyed on your way to, or from, work sometimes it is the eccentric, weird and unintentionally funny people that make your commute that little bit more bearable.

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