There was a certain â€œMondayMorningitus” about my commute today. Firstly the electronic ticket machine had rejected itsâ€™ â€œpin required” upgrade like an unwanted spleen, and so mirrored the operational state of the uninformative passenger information system.
The rather touchingly simple platform ticket machine showed solidarity with it’s electronic brethren in a â€œone out, all out” scenario leaving me the solitary option of dealing with a real person. Sadly this endemic malady had crossed the electronic/carbon barrier and the station master (mistress?) was also off on the sick.
The only obvious working process â€“ electronic or human â€“ was a whistling bloke in overalls happily plastering â€œout of order” signs on Chiltern Railwaysâ€™ state of the art computer systems. Since he didnâ€™t seem keen to sell me a ticket (â€œnot my job mate”), I repaid his dedication to customer service by not buying one.
This did give me an opportunity to begin what may become my Magnum Opus, a lifeâ€™s work, the perfect obsession if you will. I speak of my need to categorise my fellow passengers into the anthropological groups they so clearly inhabit.
Let me begin close to home with that special and some would say special needs commuter â€“ the cycling road warrior. Immediately identifiable as an evolutionary branch of the species commutus stupidus by their high visibility jackets, chapped lips and the deportment of the permanently cold symptomised by shivering and sniffing.
The call sign of this branch (tribe? widdle? whittled stick?) of misfits is captured in their discordant harmony of chesty expectorant reverberating loudly in the carriage. A simple cough and stuttered apology is the hair trigger setting off a chain reaction of rattly lungs, tender sore throats and full blown sneeze powered snot – bouncing off windows and occaisonally shocked suit wearers – all building to some kind of symphonic death rattle.
Our fellow commuters â€“ wrapped warm in their winter coats â€“ regard us like some interesting but faintly repulsive medical specimen. I fully expect to be asked â€“ and not politely â€“ if Iâ€™d consider carrying a bell in future to warn of the one man viral pandemic I have become.
Through a combination of being shunned as the social lepers we clearly are and evolutionary Brownian motion, we find ourselves closeted together in a makeshift ENT outpatients ward masquerading as a train carriage. We talk of the awfulness of the subzero morning start, the horror of near death experiences caused by caffine starved drivers, and the social embaressment of “Joggers Nipple”.
We reminisce on those halcyon days of warm sun and near permanent light. Then we share cough sweets and cast envious looks to those whose idea of â€œchilly” is walking back to their car.
Yet weâ€™re better than them. Just because they donâ€™t know it doesnâ€™t matter. We know.
But we all look ill. Weâ€™re creatures of the night, harshly illuminated in our yellow jackets and red LED strips. We look wrong in daylight with our pallid skin and wind worn faces. Others serenely read the paper while we spend the journey industriously rooting in travel worn bags for food rich in carbohydrates, lucazade and lights â€“ always more lights.
As the train wheezes into the station, we wheeze onto the platform shaking rapidly cold muscles in a parody of stretching. We add gloves, helmets and jackets to our already overburdened bodies and head â€“ ticket in mouth, brain in London mode â€“ for the exit. And then we see our superior snooty carriage dwellers heading for Dante’s Inferno (or “the tube” as the terminally misinformed are want to call it) with itâ€™s dirt, delays and disease.
And we smile.