Wednesday, 12 January 2011


As Britain was buried under a blanket of snow leading up to Christmas, the commuter was laid bare for all to see. Whilst T Mobile optimistically imply that ‘life is for sharing’ making a direct reference to the life of the commuter, the Christmas spell revealed the commute to be anything but communal.

As the 7.58 gingerly pulled into the platform, sparks disconcertingly flying from the tracks, the realisation of the hellish journey ahead set in. A train, usually empty upon arrival, was bustling. As passengers frantically pushed and shoved their way into the non-existent space for fear of having to wait an hour for the next train, I found myself a sardine in a sea of long black coats, briefcases and bad breath.

The hour that followed provided me with an insight into the dark depths of the commuter. Stepping through the sliding doors, social etiquette, personal body space and pride is disposed of and the once apparently mature, responsible, intelligent and articulate crowd suddenly transform into something strangely animalistic. Every stop that followed consisted of panicked attempts to board an overflowing train as commuters shamelessly dove at doors bulging with people; aggressive remarks thrown at those refusing to suck in their stomachs and hold their breath in order to make room for ‘just one more’; and the struggles of passengers attempting to disembark through a crowd refusing to move for fear of losing their desirable spot: face pressed up against glass, crotch inappropriately close to the man opposite. Falling out of the train at London Waterloo, an hour late and exhausted before the day had even begun, plans for the journey home were already ticking over.

Taking precautions, I arrived at the station an hour early to avoid repeating the unpleasant experience of the morning. However, it soon became apparent from the overwhelming crowds at Waterloo that I was not alone in my preparations. Approaching the arrivals board I caught sight of familiar faces from the earlier commute, this time accompanied by a days worth of stresses. I braced myself for the journey home.

Eyes were transfixed upon the arrivals board, anticipating the platform information for the Alton train. Taking a moment to blink, in a split second I found myself swept along in a sea of movement. The movement was not the expected purposeful stroll but a combination of runs, dodges and panic.

Approaching a platform configured of congregating groups of commuters huddling around an absent train, there was no mistaking the conformist nature of the Brits. As one clueless commuter took a risky guess at where the doors of the train would fall, there was no stopping fellow commuters from following suit. When the train eventually arrived, it was no surprise to see the shuffling bundles of commuters who, as expected, had entirely missed the invisible target.

There is no denying that the commuter has considerably calmed down since the snow’s departure, but the unruly etiquette of the world behind the sliding doors remains. Whilst notoriously rude, inconsiderate and unaccommodating, rightly or wrongly, these are commonly shared and respected traits among commuters. After all, no one likes the guy who sits in the middle seat. However, despite the hours shared of silence, sour faces and body odours, it is not all blood, sweat and tears.

I’m not promising an all singing all dancing scene out of the T Mobile ad, but as long as you stick to the commuters etiquette: no touching, talking, making eye contact or breathing too loudly, you will survive in the relentless reality of the commute. Just make sure to mind the gap on your way out.

Rose Brownlow

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