Whether you live in Acton, Upminster, Hadley Wood, Croydon or further afield, one thing that's clear is the capital's reliance on our far-reaching transport network. As a veteran commuter who has spent countless hours ferrying myself to and from central London over the years, there are certain things you become accustomed to without even realising it. Here are ten lessons I've learned along the way:
1. ‘Boris Bikes’ will be of no assistance.
As it turns out, those trusty red two-wheelers on every street corner aren’t actually available on every street corner. Come to mention it, neither are cycle super-highways. If you ask the locals where the nearest docking station is, you’re likely to receive one of two responses; firstly the ‘what-the-hell's-a-docking-station?!’ look of utter confusion, a reaction only comparable in popularity to the ‘You-must-be-an-Olympian-to-cycle-this-far-out!’ sense of awe. The truth is, Boris Bike’s don’t actually exist outside the confines of Zone 3.
2. Adverts suddenly become REALLY interesting.
I kid you not, the influence of brand power on the underground is remarkable. In a commuter's desperate bid for entertainment, even a simple advert becomes the greatest thing since sliced bread. Hop on the tube at High Barnet and I can assure you that by the time you reach your office at Warren Street, you really will need those all-in-one multi-vitamin supplements you spent ten minutes staring at on the Northern Line.
3. You’ll inevitably fall asleep mid-journey.
An unwritten rule in the commuter handbook is that every journey exceeding 30 minutes demands a spontaneous power nap. It may come with a side helping of dribble, but there are only so many eye contact-avoiding measures that can be implemented before shutting your eyes becomes the only viable option. It’s a win-win situation – that is unless you miss your stop and find yourself waking up in Morden.
4. Seat choice is essential.
As much as the non-competitive types among you will hate to hear this, it’s all about tactics. Commuting from further out has its advantages – quieter carriages being one – and by choosing a seat in the center of the row, there will be far fewer games of ‘musical chairs’. Priority seats mean courteously giving up your perch more or less instantly, with those next along being ‘unofficial overflow’ seats, but mid-carriage is you’re aim – a region with less footfall and far more breathing room.
5. You’ll finally have time to read that book you never got around to starting.
A lengthy morning commute doesn’t have to mean wasted time. No longer will you need to distract yourself from the ungodly smell of B.O as commuters cram themselves into carriages; your trusty paperback (or Kindle) is here to save the day. Pop that Ian Flemming best-seller in your bag before walking out the door and you’ll be surprised by just how much of it ends up getting read.
6. Whether it’s zone 6 or zone 1, everybody looks miserable in the morning.
It’s a fact. I know there’s a deep-seated rumour that people move further out of town to attain a better quality of life, but that seems all but a myth come seven-thirty on a Monday morning. ‘Long-distance’ commuters may have more parks and green spaces to frolic in, but than means nothing when you have an additional half-hour commute to contemplate the long day ahead. Here's a tip, why not give the 'newspaper face' game a go; you may end up looking a tad awkward as you hold it up, but boy is it worth it when you find the perfect match.
7. The ‘Will the barriers be open?’ game.
The outskirts of the capital are mystical places where sometimes even ticket attendants and train staff can’t quite manage to reach. It was on one such day that another game by the name of ‘will the barriers be open?’ was created, a game involving risk and chance, in which travel companions place bets on whether they’ll need to spend the next ten minutes rifling through their pockets in search of that illusive travel card. OK, so it’s really not that complex, but it’s certainly a time passer.
8. Second hand newspapers – it’s all or nothing.
There’s a frustrating scarcity in the newspaper department come 8am on a weekday morning at the further out stations. The Metro stands lie empty and people clutch onto the things like their lives depend on it. 6pm on your return from work however means you’ll find yourself drowning in them, with Central London’s share of disregarded tabloids piling up behind the seats like some form of defense barricade. It’s actually something that proves pretty handy in the event you’re moving house and find yourself in need of wrapping materials.
9. Replacement bus services are your worst nightmare.
We all understand that engineering works are a necessary part of London life – we want to keep the transport systems running after all. That being said, it doesn't make the dreaded words ‘replacement bus service’ any easier to swallow after you attempt to catch the last train home, and find yourself sobering up at Raynes Park while waiting for the coach that reads ‘Cheam’. On the plus side, it does act as a sort of 'bonding experience', and chances are you’ll actually end up socialising with fellow passengers for a change instead of popping in your headphones.
10. Train delays are blamed on the strangest things.
As regular commuters will know, the reasons behind late-running trains can be anything from leaves on the line to the ‘wrong kind of heat’. Occasionally though, we get fed some pretty obscure excuses. Wembley Central saw ‘illegal immigrants on the line’, while commuters in Charlton were halted as a result of a ‘burglary suspect in a tree’. There has even been the occasional case of a ‘tanking train toilet’, which apparently means your train has run out of the water needed to flush the, ahem, toilet.
Want to be a good commuter? Read seven things you must never do on the tube.