How to survive commuting | Breakthrough Funding

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How to survive commuting

It's a jungle out there and so we’ve written a handbook to help fellow commuters survive the daily ordeal of getting to work by train.

It includes invaluable information on how to spot and avoid sitting next to nightmare passengers, the health dangers from train announcements, the identification of the worst train routes and the unwritten rules on food, toilet and luggage etiquette.

Forget Bear Grylls and his faux death dicing, commuting is the extreme sport for this century and you need to know how to negotiate the toughest challenges. So download a copy of Survival Techniques for Commuters here.

If you're considering buying a house within commuter distance of a new job, you may believe that daily train travel is for you. Better than clogging the local environment with carbon emissions from your Citroen Saxo. It's a responsible decision that will benefit future generations after all. Television and poster ads show manicured trains with jolly staff in neatly pressed uniforms with perfect complexions and very white teeth serving cups of tea served in bone china, whilst your train speeds past queues of frustrated drivers nose to tail on the motorway. How difficult can it be?

Well, any commuter will tell you its tough. Really tough.

Just a few survival snippets from the book . . .

Reading
This is to be encouraged as a commuting pastime, mainly because it makes the journey go quicker. If you have a seat and a particularly good book it will allow you to be transported into another world, far away from the horror of the present.

Survival tip - it's a good idea to sit next to someone reading a book. They clearly have more than one GCSE and if they have spectacles they could even have A levels. The act of reading means they're completely absorbed, so less likely to sniff, fidget, root around in their bag or talk on a mobile phone. But don't stand next to someone who is reading a book. When you're wedged against them and they're trying to read, the book takes up much needed breathing space. Also there's only so many times you can read the two sentences on the back cover.

While it's OK reading the cover of a book or any other reading matter that's presented to you straight on, don't read over people's shoulders no matter how tempting. This applies even in and around Chancery Lane when lawyers are going through their juicy confidential papers. For some reason the reader will always know you're doing it even though they can't see you. Third eye or something.

Personal space
People have different concepts of personal space, and my preference is not to be touched by anyone whose name I don't know. Even then I'm not sure, as my husband will testify. Unfortunately, particularly on the tube and tram, you have no choice but to be pressed up against other people's body parts for sustained periods.

Survival tip - try to master the art of breathing through your mouth and not your nose. Bodily odours abound when everyone's crammed together and the smell can be over whelming especially on the tube in August. If people are wedged in together, the best you can do is wriggle around and make sure the bit of body wedged against yours isn't a soft lumpy bit, or a very hard bit for that matter.   

Trams
If you live in a major city like Manchester or Newcastle you might commute to work by tram. They're as packed as any tube train in the rush hour, but aren't quite as claustrophobic because there are more windows and they mostly run above ground. The window effect helps lift the mood, and if you sit at the front you can see the back of the driver's head and watch him push the complicated array of three buttons and see him wave at other tram drivers as they go past. Veritable excitement compared to most commuter journeys.

The obvious drawback is you can also see quite clearly when he has run someone over, which is surprisingly frequent especially in Manchester, where the tram fights for road space with cars, the world's largest number of buses per square foot, and pedestrians. 

Survival tip - always sit at the back of a tram thereby missing the sudden appearance of any blood or internal organs on the front windows as yet another pedestrian is run over.

Speaking
Commuters do not speak to each other ever. It's not allowed. If you do speak everyone will automatically think you're a nutter. Even if you see the same person every single day, you still don't talk. There could be an almost imperceptible nod of recognition or the faintest hint of a smile, but that's as far as it goes. That's the rules.

It's not that commuters don't want to speak to anyone it's just they fear they'll make an inadvertent 'friend' and will then have to spend the rest of their commuting decades either a) trying to avoid that person every single journey which is a huge effort and not particularly easy, or b) having to sit next to them and think of a protracted conversation topic every day until they retire or die. It's worse than being married, because you'll see more of this person than your spouse, it's just as stressful and crushingly dull, but divorce is not an option.

Survival tip - There are two notable exceptions to the speaking rule. First, you can speak to someone (if they look normal) to ask if they've finished with their free copy of Metro. Secondly, if there's a major delay on the train or it's cancelled, you can then converse with someone you recognise, explaining how terrible you find the whole situation with general mutterings about season ticket costs etc etc. But if you then see the same person the next day, no recognition that the previous interaction ever took place or any further conversation is allowed and you must revert to the usual rules.

Luggage
You're not supposed to have any luggage on a commuter train. There's not enough room for people let alone a suitcase, so don't be selfish. Fill up your pockets and stuff things in your handbag instead.

Everyone secretly wants to stab non-commuter types who are stupid enough to make voluntary travel arrangements that mean they get on a train with luggage in the rush hour. Everyone knows that these people should join the post 9:30am trains, which have been specifically put on for the bewildered or company chairmen. But recognised folk lore appears to have passed them by. The look of surprise on their face at the sheer hell of a crowded carriage at this time of the day, only deepens the hatred. Don't they know we go through this 48 weeks a year? It can lead to thoughts of grievous bodily harm if they also bring children with them, and actual bodily harm if that includes a pram with a baby in it. 

Rucksacks have become seriously popular, even with men in suits. They probably have a macho street cred which the old fashioned briefcase has lost. The problem with rucksacks is that when worn in the proper manner as opposed to slung over one shoulder, the wearer has no concept that their body depth has doubled in size. They therefore wander around turning left and right, whilst vast swathes of people have been knocked to the ground in their wake.

Survival tip - during the journey don't fiddle around for an extended period in your suitcase or especially your rucksack, without extracting anything immediately recognisable like a bag of Wotsits or a pair of glasses. Dig in, get what you need, pull it out quickly and then wave said item about for all to see. If you fail to master this, it is highly likely that your fellow passengers will believe you are a suicide bomber. A number will jump on your chest and attempt to knock your teeth out with a rolled up copy of the Metro.

What to wear
You may think there are different styles of over ground trains around the country given the number of train operators, but this is not true. They're mostly decades old, smell of stale Monster Munch, have the same window lay-out and narrow aisles but differ slightly by seat combination and colour.

Survival tip - the fabric used to cover train seats are designed by the same people that make premiership football shirts - they're forever rooted in the 1970s along with Cilla Black's hair. They favour very bright colours using funky patternation. Don't wear anything that will clash with the awful seat fabric - you could cause nausea among other passengers as your clothes strobe weirdly in the light.

For more hints and tips download a copy of Survival Techniques for Commuters here. You’re welcome.

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