At least I… still like commuting

January 24, 2010

Tomorrow I begin a week of work experiencing with the Sunday Times. Lucky me, oui? My life then shoots to more drama this time next week as I start a three month placement at the Daily Telegraph (sorry to show off… actually I’m not)  and for a portion of this, at the very least, I will be commuting from Milton Keynes. Flying in the face of convention, the idea of train travel and early mornings isn’t filling me with dread. Here’s why…
Once you’ve capitulated and surrendered your life to ‘the man’ there seems to be no less poignant symbol of your life’s broken dreams than the mind-numbing boredom, consistent frustration and health-ruining inactivity of the daily commute. Everyday, trains fill with men and women who 20, 30 or 40 years ago would spend days wondering what the future would bring: would they be an astronaut? An adventurer? A great leader? No, as it turns out, you’re now an assistant manager for a company that sells ‘products’ or ‘solutions’ you don’t even understand. Livin’ the dream, eh?
It’s an indictment of modern life that the daily journey which, if you work in London, accounts for a month of your life each year should be seen, and treated, as such an aberration: how can we willingly sacrifice so much of our lives for something that fills us with so much hate and/or depression? A quick minute of Googling will show that there are popular websites dedicated to the hatred of National Express, Thameslink and the London Underground. Are sites like these where we want Britons to spend their leisure time? Can the NHS afford the bill for all the Prozac they’ll all undoubtedly need? Surely not.
Well, perhaps before you cry yourself to sleep tonight – mourning all those hours of life you’ll never get back – you should consider how lucky you really are.  For what tells people ‘I’m earning money and can happily walk into HMV and buy a CD without worrying about its cost’ like being present on the 8.13 from Milton Keynes? As one of those youngsters who now qualifies for the ‘long-term unemployed’ club, I can tell you that, if I was successful enough to commute each day, they’d be tears of joy on my pillow each night.
Now, I’m not going to try and argue that, after doing the same journey everyday for 24 years, you’re going to love it – or even be able to stand it – but surely it’s time to admit that, for the newest members of the British workforce, there is a prestige and a novelty that are an intrinsic part of the train and bus journeys that fill up so much time.
Once you are initiated into this group you suddenly realise that the world is built for your needs more than anyone else’s. Early starts mean you avoid the ‘light’ content that BBC Breakfast and the Today Programme always slides towards after 8am. Instead you get to hear the proper interviews: Mervyn King rather than the cast of Holby City. Similarly, the trains – to someone used to travelling after peak hours – are an image of efficiency. Never before had I managed to travel to Euston from Milton Keynes in under half an hour until I sampled this new world (whilst doing work experience at the Guardian last summer). Staff seem to treat this mass of bodies as a collective VIP: the heart of the UK economy. It is an experience a long way from us ‘after niners’, I assure you. I don’t doubt that there are some atrocious lines and one off events which can lead to frustration but at least you know that you, and your fellow commuters, are the company’s priority.
Anyway, in the hour or two that you are in transit, you can pick up a newspaper (or two) and a cup of coffee and – thanks to the mutual anti-social pact that commuters all sign up to – you get precious time in which to read and drink without fear of interruption… amazing. 
There is, however, one more basic reason to cherish your daily commute. As young people fail to enter the workforce and established, experienced employees find themselves ‘let go’, your involvement in the daily city-bound surge proves that, however precariously, you are still hanging on to your job.
With three month’s worth of unpaid Internship coming up, I will soon be part of this group again and – though I’m relying on a charitable grant, and Labour’s promise to keep interns like me eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance, rather than a wage to pay me through this time – I’ll once again get to feel a part of this daily march of success and employment.


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