Archive for the ‘commuter life’ Category

…Off To Work I Go

It’s back to the day job after ten glorious days of lie-ins. And though the alarm clock going off at 6am today was a shock to the system, it’s probably just as well I get back into the habit of getting up early.

During my Christmas break, I get used to staying in bed until 10am. This time of year, it’s dark by 3:30pm. You don’t need to be a maths genius to figure out that isn’t too many hours of daylight. And then I wonder why I start every year feeling depressed. I wonder how night shift workers cope with so many hours of prolonged darkness.

So it’s not all bad to be back in the usual routine. I have no more excuses to slob around the house in my old sweat pants, eating chocolate and watching crap TV. It’s time to start moving again. It’s time to start thinking again. It’s probably even time to cut back on the cakes and biscuits and go back to the exercise classes, but I haven’t dared get on the scales yet to find out just how many of those mince pies are still with me.

How long will this new sense of optimism last? Probably until the snow returns. But at the moment, we’re still several degrees above freezing here in London and – at least for this week – the trains are relatively quiet, because not everyone’s back at work yet.

Next week might be different, but I’m trying to focus on the moment. By then, I might even be back into the habit of getting up early!

By ‘Eck It’s Parky…

…as my Lancashire grandmother might have said.

Once more London is struggling to cope with heavy snowfall. And this year it’s even earlier than usual – we’ve not had snow before Christmas here in over 30 years.

My friends and relatives in Canada are laughing a bit at the way London struggles when it snows. They cope fine with the snow, whereas here everything seems to shut down at the first sign of snow. However, most of Canada is buried under snow for nearly six months of the year. They cope because they have to, and they’re used to it. They have snow ploughs and snow boots and chains on the tyres of their cars to grip the ice. Shovelling one’s driveway is on the chores list of every Canadian household.

We don’t have such things in London. I can actually see the argument that if we get snow once every twenty years, is it really worth a council spending a huge amount of money – money that could go towards more urgent things – on a snow plough?

Living in Canada, though, taught me how to dress in the snow. This week I’ve been trudging to work in long johns, hiking pants, thermal socks and hiking boots, to get me through the ice and the slush and the snow. All these things come off when I get to work – I keep indoor shoes and a pair of work trousers in my desk drawer. My colleagues laugh at me, but I feel prepared. I seem to feel the cold more than most people do. With all these layers, at least I am staying warm.

I’ve also been leaving the house really early, expecting train delays but so far this week – and I am reluctant to declare this, in case I’m tempting providence – my journey has been relatively delay-free. Not so for my colleagues, though. It seems those who come from the North of London are having the most problems.

But it’s been this way for the last three winters. So is this the sign of winters to come and London should invest in snow ploughs? Not according to Phillip Eden of the Royal Meteorological Society in this article here from the BBC website. He says we’re just following an established pattern, and we can expect a run of mild winters from next year.

Here’s hoping he’s right. In the meantime, I’ve got another three early mornings of struggling in to work in the snow, and then I have ten days of lie-ins over the holiday period.

I don’t really mind if the snow sticks around after Christmas. Hanging around the house, with hubby and the cats, working on my WIP and blasting zombies on the Nintendo Wii, sounds like a pretty good way of spending the holidays to me.

Gender Assumptions

Yesterday I was on a train on the Victoria Line, on my way to an early-morning writing session at Starbucks. It was the second day in a row I’d crawled out of bed at 5:45am to get some writing in, and I do tend to be rather grumpy that early in the morning.

There was an advertising poster on my tube carriage that I found rather irritating. It was an advert for an online store. The gist of the advert was that this particular place was a one-stop shop for your Christmas shopping. “Gifts for her”, the advert said. Underneath this was a picture of a make-up set. “Gifts for him,” it went on. This featured a picture of a PS3 game.

Now, I do try to keep politics out of this blog, but it does annoy me when people make assumptions based on gender stereotypes. And this time of year, coming up to the dreaded Festive Season, we are bombarded by ads making the presumption that men sit around watching football, drinking beer and playing computer games, while women are preoccupied with shoes and handbags and clothes.

Me, I’d rather have the computer game than the make-up set. But anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to be aware of this isn’t likely to be buying me presents.

Walking To Work

It’s a grey, cold, wet Autumn Monday. And there is a tube strike today. Not a good way to start the week.

My contingency plan for tube strike days (and this is the second in a series of four planned strikes over the next few weeks) is to leave the house really early, so if I have to walk to work from Victoria Station, I have sufficient time to do so. I was on the train this morning at 6:40 – the same train I catch when I come in early for my writing mornings.

I did go searching for a bus at Victoria Station, but there were already horrendous queues for all buses, even at 7:10 am. I can make the walk in 45 minutes, and I had left the house prepared to have to walk, so off I set.

My route takes me down Buckingham Palace Road and past the Palace (the Queen was not at home, it seems), and through Green Park. Emerging from Green Park I hang a right at Piccadilly, go past the Ritz Hotel and then turn left down Old Bond Street, which eventually becomes New Bond Street.

Bond Street is full of swanky designer shops. None of the items in the artistically arranged window displays have price tags – I guess if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. Even walking past these shops makes me feel like a bag lady. Fortunately for me, at 7:30 am none of the shops are open, so there are no supermodel-lookalike shop assistants to glare at me for bringing down the tone by walking past their doorstep in my hiking pants, back pack and walking shoes.

At the end of New Bond Street I turn right into Oxford Street and I am back into familiar territory.

I may have had to crawl out of bed at an ungodly hour to get to work this morning, but at least the rain held off for my walk, and I started the day with some exercise. I do rather hope I can find a bus back to the station tonight, though. One 45-minute walk in a day is plenty for me.

Signs of Spring

London has seen two weeks of relentless rain, coming right after the coldest winter in 15 years and weeks of snow, sleet and ice.

This week, though, as we move into March, the rain has stopped and the clouds are gone. It’s still cold, but the sky is blue and the sun has come out.

Birds have returned to the trees. Crocuses have begun to bloom, and the first buds of leaves are appearing on the trees. The days are getting longer, too. It’s now daylight when I leave the house for work, after months of travelling in darkness. It’s still daylight when I leave the office at the end of the day.

These are all signs that we are finally moving out of winter into spring, and it feels marvellous. I really hate winter, but the one good thing about it is that when it ends, I love spring all the more.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Most of the UK has had more snow the past few days. Here in London, we’ve been quite fortunate. We’ve had no more snow. We are, however, getting rain. Lots of it. Heavy and unrelenting. And carrying an umbrella doesn’t help much. It might keep the rain off your face, but the rest of your body gets soaked, and the pavements are all so wet you get a lot of splashback to soak your trouser cuffs. The drains are clogged – the rain runs in rivers down the side of all the roads, and avoiding getting splashed by passing cars is a tricky operation.

The rain has been falling, more or less continuously, for about four days now, and it is forecast to continue for the rest of the week. Although I much prefer rain to snow, it is hard to stay upbeat when you’re being relentessly pounded by rain. I have discovered I don’t own a coat or a pair of shoes that can cope with such unremitting rainfall. My nice stylish wool coat is still drying out, after it got a soaking during my journey home from work on Thursday. My unstylish Parka – allegedly waterproof – got drenched when I wore it to walk to the sports centre for my usual Sunday morning swim yesterday, and it’s still wet.

So now I am down to my wax-coated rain coat, which is atrociously unstylish. It doesn’t have a hood, but it does cover most of my body. So between it and my brolly, I can keep mostly dry apart from everything below my knees.

As I seem to possess no waterproof shoes, I have resorted to commuting in my hiking boots, which are at least thick enough and sturdy enough for the water to not penetrate through to my feet. Yes, I probably look like a bag lady as I trudge through London this way. At this point, that’s the least of my worries. My aim is to stay as dry as possible.

It’s hard enough to face down Mondays as it is, but rainy Mondays are even worse. Maybe I should go the whole unstylish mile and get myself a pair of green wellies to commute in.

Adverse Weather

Britain is still in the grip of winter, with many areas suffering more snow over the last few days. There’s been none in London – though it’s been jolly cold – but the farther reaches of Kent and Surrey have been the worst hit, it seems.

This does affect our trains, as the route goes out into the wilds of Surrey. So adverse weather, plus a broken down train at Clapham Junction, meant that everything out of Victoria Station was cancelled or delayed this evening, as I discovered when I got there on my way home from work.

It’s always a bit of a gamble deciding what to do next when this happens. I can get back on the underground, facing a very arduous journey involving two underground lines and a bus. It takes a long time, but I get home eventually. Always assuming there are no problems on the underground train or the roads. Or I can hang around the station and hope the train problem clears fairly soon.

Although the trains were delayed, it did seem that they were moving, whereas the underground station got closed because of too many people trying to crowd into it, so I decided to take my chances and stay at Victoria station to wait for my train. I always have a book on my person for just such an emergency, and I am currently engrossed in a James Herbert I haven’t read yet – “Nobody True”.

Twenty minutes after the train was due to leave, it still said ‘delayed’ on the board. It was also apparent at this stage that due to these continuing problems, many of the trains were being rerouted. And the train I was waiting to catch home was apparently not going to stop at my station at all. Now this is more of a problem. About 200 people get off every rush hour train at my stop, and with that train diverted, and no indication of when the next one might be, even getting a space on the next train might be problematic.

So I opted instead to get on the first train going anywhere remotely near my town. Ordinarily, this train takes twenty minutes longer than my direct train, and then when I get off I still have a bus ride of about ten minutes or so as well. Tonight, though, as this train was also rerouted, it whizzed straight through most of the stations it’s supposed to stop at, and took less time than my direct train usually does. And fortuitously, a bus was pulling up at the bus stop when I arrived there after getting off the train.

So I had a difficult journey home, but it could have been much worse. Would I have got home faster had I got on the underground? No way of telling! That remains the path untrodden.

However, the adverse weather conditions are set to continue into next week. Whether or not we actually see any snow round our way tonight, I’m expecting a difficult journey into work tomorrow.

I may have the opportunity to finish that James Herbert book quite soon!

Lost – Normal Life

It’s not unusual for me to start the year with the “January Blues”. I tend to attribute this to the fact that at this time of year we are faced with a seemingly endless array of long dark nights, cold days and a chronic lack of sunlight. I probably don’t get enough seratonin to my brain.

The excesses of Christmas don’t help. During December my exercise routine goes out of the window, and I spend far too much time sitting around watching TV and eating mince pies and chocolate. Come January, my clothes start feeling tighter, and I feel flabby. However, I’m so far removed from my exercise routine that getting back to it is very difficult.

This year, the Big Freeze that grips Britain really isn’t helping. I don’t want to drive anywhere because the car is buried under layers of ice and snow and although the main roads are OK, all the side roads are sheet ice. Walking to the sports centre is an equally unattractive prospect. All the pavements are so iced over that I worry about falling and breaking my neck every time I step out of the door. So I am not exercising. I am limiting my forays out of the house to essential journeys only – in other words, to work and back, and perhaps the occasional foray to the corner shop for bread, milk, cat food and other essential groceries.

And I am so cold. All the time. And tired. So very, very tired. Whenever I get home from work all I want to do is hide under the duvet until Spring.

I am tired of traipsing through the snow and ice. I am tired of leaving the house at 6:30am to ensure I can find a train that will get to work in good time. I am tired of having to bundle myself up in thermals, thick sweaters, scarves, gloves and hiking boots just to step outside the front door. I am tired of having to knock snow off my boots on the front step every time I come in. I am tired of lugging a back pack to work every day with a change of clothes in because my work attire is not warm enough to be outdoors in. I am tired of wearing the same sweater every day, because I really don’t have any clothes to cope with this kind of weather. And in spite of all this, I am still cold.

I want my life back. I want to be able to walk to my yoga class without worrying about ending up in Casualty. I want to go swimming on Sundays without getting hypothermia walking back with wet hair. I want to be able to wear my nice work clothes again. I want to be able to get in the car and drive somewhere, without having to anticipate twenty minutes thawing it out, or worrying about swerving off into a ditch somewhere.

But none of these things are possible. Life consists of tramping through the snow and ice, in the dark, to get to work, then tramping back home again, in the dark, too tired and too cold to do anything else when I get there. I have dinner, I take a hot bath, to warm up, and go to bed. Then it’s time to get up and make the arduous journey again. This isn’t my life. This is a holding pattern, until I get it back.

The snow and ice and sub-zero temperatures are meant to continue for at least another week. Wonderful.

Can’t someone teleport me to the Southern Hemisphere for a while? I hear it’s really hot in South Africa right now.

Power Cut

At the moment, Britain seems to be suffering its worst winter in many, many years. We have come off fairly lightly with the snow as far as it goes. We haven’t had nearly as much in London as the rest of the country and I have made into work every day I’ve had to be there, whereas a lot of people haven’t. I do have more than one route in and I’ve been leaving early, so if my first choice is inaccessible I can use another route and still get to work on time.

However, there is no doubt that London’s been struggling. The power cut we experienced today I am sure is not unrelated to the current extreme weather.

our offices are in a wonderful Georgian building, which has had various bits added onto it over the years. It has a lot of character, but it is prone to strange quirks, and we are used to fuses blowing, the telephone system going down, the internet server crashing, and so on. But usually these problems get resolved quickly.

Today though, just after 11 am, everything on our floor went off. Lights, power sockets, computers, telephones, everything – except, bizarrely enough, the heating. The whole building, it seemed, had problems, but strangely, different ones. All the lights and power were out on the ground and first floor. The second floor had lights, and power, but no telephones or internet access. The office in the annexe at the back of the building had power, telephones, internet – but no heating (a distinct problem in the current sub-zero climate).

As it turned out, other buildings in the area had similar problems. The power company informed us they were working on the problem, but couldn’t say when it would be fixed. With no lights and no heating in various parts of the building, it was decided to close the office at lunch time and send everyone home.

So I have had an unexpected afternoon off. Though the journey home was rather more difficult than it should be, due to the trains in and out of Victoria station being affected by the weather.

We have been told the power has been fixed, so the building will be open as usual tomorrow. The snow remains, though, so my journey to and from work remains arduous.

Roll on summer.

Winding Down

I can’t deny it – I am looking forward to having some time off work for the festive period. One more day and then I get ten glorious lie-ins. One more day of getting up early, and leaving the house when it’s still dark to trudge to the station in the cold. One more commute in and out of London, and then a rest until 4 January.

Officially the building closes at 3pm on Christmas Eve, but staff are usually encouraged to knock off work around noon. Many commuters, of course, have taken the whole week off, as the emptiness of my train carriage in the morning testifies (it’s not empty on the way back – it seems all those people are going shopping in the West End instead of going to work). And in the run-up to the festive season, it’s difficult to get much work done. The expense claims I got authorised today will not get settled until January, because our accounts team are all on leave. Most of the emails I have sent this week are unlikely to get responses until the New Year – I’ve just been getting Out of Office messages.

Tomorrow I think I need to put on my Festive Face and accept that Christmas is here. Perhaps not much work will get done, but we might get a mince pie and a festive tipple or two before the office closes for the holidays – and in my mind it’s worth going to work just for that.

However you choose to spend the holiday season, I hope it’s peaceful and happy for you. Me, I shall be working on my edits. But at least I can do it in the comfort of my home, with wine and chocolate in close proximity. And of course, I don’t have to get out of bed at 6.15am. That’s a definite plus.