a city through the eyes of a girl who's not sure how she ended up here

Saturday, 3 April 2010

London on leave

Bank holidays in London are curious times. I left my flat around half past nine yesterday morning. This in itself is a curious occurrence for a Friday, given that on any normal day I am usually heading out on my merry way two hours earlier, bound for the office. If, by some stroke of bad luck and faulty alarm clock, I am hurtling along the road at that time I am cursing throngs of people, ambling to their breakfast dates or already assaulting the shops. The road itself is often the swiftest (but most dangerous) route to the tube stop, as pavement progress is deathly slow.

Yet yesterday the pavements were clear, grey runways for me and my suitcase, heading for the Accidental Parents' place back up North. The red buses zooming down the similarly emptier street had far fewer passengers. Down on the Underground however the scene was somewhat different. Suitcases and bags lined the platform, and jammed the spaces within each train. It was as if London was breaking up for the holidays. A few foreign tourists struggled against the flows pressing towards the largest train stations - Kings Cross and St. Pancras, Euston, Victoria - seemingly bewildered at this emptying city of which they were being left in charge.
Established Londoners, traditionally competent at handling a punishing commute through an old and complicated city, seem to lose their capability when the week does not behave as it should. Casually drop a bank holiday Friday into the "5 day slog/2 day crash" regime and confusion abounds. After mere weeks or months of following the same commuting patterns any Londoner worth their salt can find their way from home to work with their eyes shut. But when they must adopt an alternative route rarely traversed, to a station taking them beyond the city for example, they revert to the same wide-eyed disorientation that first-time visitors to the city display.

And here is how a singular irregularity demonstrates the slick timetable to which London normally runs. Coordinating the individual lives of over seven and a half million people is a logistical masterpiece, which requires the cooperation of a staggering number of participants. Yet on an average day we workers and inhabitants dance around the unfamiliar tourists and visitors without having to detour from our well-worn paths. Even terrorism and protests do not put off the commuting Londoner. The next morning, following a disruption, they are straight back on their auto-piloted routes. Hence, come Tuesday I predict it will be business as usual. Bank holiday? What bank holiday?

3 comments:

  1. Isn't it amazing how empty a city can get on a holiday.
    I love that when you change a hardened Londoner's routine all is lost. Adds a definite air of vulnerability.

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  2. This is so true - my commute takes me through Aldgate every morning and evening. When Aldgate closed a few weeks ago I was completely thrown, despite knowing and often using the other four or five stations around it. Because of this I tried a different route every day, and my arrival at work varied wildly between 9 and half 10...I was completely useless. A normal week though, and 'auto-pilot route' is pretty descriptive!

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  3. Happy to report all appears to be back to normal now! Everywhere is rammed full of busy Londoners...and it's still raining...

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