The Novice Commuter
Don’t dare look.
Don’t dare talk.
Don’t dare hesitate.
This is not the place nor the time.
You must be focused solely on your muse. Like an alcoholic to its alcohol, like an addict to its heroine.
Whether that be a red top newspaper screaming its radical right wing headlines at you in bold print, using cockney slang to ensure the masses understand. Or perhaps a black top; The Telegraph. Discussing the economy, politics and old boy’s reunions from Eaton and Harrow in a language used deliberately so as the masses will not understand.
Maybe your muse is a magazine asking you if you’re beach body ready and telling you that this time round, Cheryl Cole is definitely not. You gawp at the images of her semi-naked on a beach which she assumes is private. For once, she hasn’t been photoshopped, in fact the cellulite and skin rolls have been enhanced to make you feel better about all that weight you gained at Christmas and despite your efforts, still haven’t lost.
Perhaps your muse is a novel, or your laptop, your phone, your iPod, your iPad or you Kindle which ironically tells you you’re reading a ‘page turner’.
Whatever your muse may be you must treat it generously.
Give it your undivided attention.
Let it distract you from all that is before you. Let it do its job and do it well. That old slogan, the one you’re always hearing from your Mum, your Dad, your boss, your aunt, anyone remotely superior. ‘If it’s a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’
If your focus wavers, you have broken the rules.
‘What rules?’ You ask.
The unspoken, unwritten rules of the London underground. The place where anything goes and anyone goes. From your high flying businessman to your hardworking bin man. Your single mum, your mum of 7, your divorcee, your young and romantically in love couple soon to be married, your homeless man, your gothic girl, your football player, your football hooligans, the private schooled, the state schooled, the old, the young, the careless and the careful, the risk takers and the stay at home safe players. Those that are talking of cocktails and fortnights away in Dubai. They sip their over-priced, under stewed coffee from Starbucks with their name spelt incorrectly on the side of the cup which they have complained about earlier whilst giggling at the coffee girl’s stupidity before concluding that that alone is why she must ‘just make coffee’.
The rules are too obscure to ever reach paper.
Too isolating to ever be verbalised.
But they are immanent, they linger in the dense, moist, recycled air that you breathe as you stand just inches away from the stranger next you.
They are the rules which separate the novice from the common commuter.
The novice commuter is like a rabbit caught in headlights.
Confused and hesitant. They are startled by the business; the hustle and bustle, the rumble and tumble, the hum of the underground.
Their eyes dart from person to person lingering too long on the man with the tattooed face and the homeless woman with a ring on every finger.
They glance too often at the map on the wall wanting to be certain they are being hurtled across London in their desired direction.
They stop start stop start as they walk through the criss-crossing tunnels, reading every sign as they go whilst their overwhelmed brain makes the decision between northbound and southbound.
Once on the tube they talk in hushed tones and giggle nervously at their own ignorance.
In contrast are the rule makers, the ground shakers, the early morning wakers, the ones that make the city tick like clockwork as they stride purposefully to their place of work. Although from the look on their faces you would think they were marching in a funeral. They are angry at the human traffic they have to endure day in day out, the delayed trains, the heat, the air con, the closeness and claustrophobia, the broken ticket barriers and the novice commuters. The novice commuters that get in their way, who dawdle along unsure of where to go.
The common commuters know not to break the rules. They know not to talk. They know not to look and they know not to hesitate.
Once on the train their eyes remain locked on their muse. They do not people watch, they do not map watch, they do not clock watch. They know their journey like they know the back of their hand. Each crevice an underground line. They know which way to turn and where to stand to make sure they are directly in front of the doors but obviously not obstructing them. The announcer has reminded them several times each day in a voice drenched in thick boredom that obstrucing the doors is ‘dangerous’ and ‘can cause delays’. And who wants to be delayed?! Who wants to be late to their 9–5 office job whereby they sit in front of a desk dragging out tasks which could probably be done in half the time and by half the people. Would anyone even notice if you were late? Would anyone care? Would anyone lift their head from their glowing computer screen if you nonchalantly strolled in at 11am instead of 9am? Regardless, like obediaint guide dogs, no one obstructs the doors.
So that is it.
Don’t dare look.
Don’t dare talk.
Don’t dare hesitate.
Those are the rules. The rules of the London Underground. The polarising, isolating, obscure, queer, anti-social rules. But we abide by them all the same. And if you don’t, if you can’t follow these simple, unspoken, unwritten rules you reveal yourself as a novice commuter.