Thursday, 25 February 2016

Miss a machine, miss a train, but at all costs, get a seat

Not everything’s good about working in London, but quite a few things are.

It’s a great benefit that Luton, where I live, is on a direct railway line to the station at Farringdon, a pleasant stroll from my office. Pleasant in the sense that most of it is on elevated walkways that wind around the Barbican complex, containing the London theatre that is home to the Royal Shakespeare company. The walkways and the buildings they link are modern, with flat spaces at many levels leading down to fine extent of open water; in amongst the modernity, we also have the remnants of the old city walls and, standing proud if slightly isolated, the fine old church of St Giles, Cripplegate (yes, that’s a real name).

The commute has given me a bit of a fixation on train seats. I go to considerable length to ensure that I have a seat both on the way in to work and the way home. For instance, I catch a train in the morning nearly an hour later than I need to – which means getting up at an entirely dotty hour – to be sure to be able to sit down. On the way back, I try to leave soon after 4:30 or not until at least 6:15, again to be sure of a seat.

Although I have found another way of securing a seat on the way home. Instead of walking to Farringdon in well under a quarter of an hour, I walk nearly half an hour to Blackfriars station. Trains travelling northwards, my homeward direction, reach Blackfriars two stops before Farringdon. That makes it the stop where, in rush hour, the train fills up. Get there and I’ll get a seat.

There’s another benefit in walking so much further. Blackfriars station is built on a bridge. It's glorious, especially when approached from the south, so I even walk a little further across the Millennium Bridge, the footbridge built to mark the year 2000, which provides a breathtaking view of the Thames in both directions, of the Tate Modern gallery straight ahead, with St Paul’s cathedral soaring behind. That means I reach Blackfriars from the right end to get another great sight of the Thames further upriver, as well as the same view downstream.

The sun dying on the Thames, viewed from
the Millennium Bridge looking towards Blackfriars
Today, I left ahead of time. I’d been in early every day this week, and stayed late, so I thought it was time to indulge myself a little. It meant that, with the days lengthening, I caught the last of the light, and was able to enjoy the sunset on the cathedral and the river. I made it to Blackfriars station, continuing as always to enjoy the view through the station’s glass sides. The 16:52 drew into the station and I climbed on, immediately securing a seat.

I sat down and went to pull out my work laptop, ready to send a document to a colleague who’d asked for a copy. Only to discover that it wasn’t in my bag. A picture sprang into my mind: the laptop, on my desk, still clipped to its docking station. I hadn’t picked it up before I left.

It wouldn’t have mattered, except that I plan to work from home tomorrow. I needed the machine. I enjoyed my hard-won seat for two stops and then, my heart sinking, left the train at Farringdon, retracing the steps I’d taken in the morning.

Back in the office, I picked up the machine, to the kind but teasing merriment of my colleagues. By then it was getting on for 5:30. I knew Farringdon meant standing room only on the train. So I headed off to Blackfriars again.

The same sights, splendid as ever, in the later, fading light, presented themselves to my eyes. St Paul’s. The footbridge. The river with Tower Bridge downstream, its lights coming on. The Shard, lit at its monumental top. The river itself, again.

And yet, somehow, the experience had begun to pall a little. The extra walk once seemed a price worth paying for the view. But twice? It felt like too much of a good thing. My feet were paying too high a price for the pleasure of my eyes.

Still. At least I got a seat again. Though on the 17:52 instead of the 16:52. My inattention had cost me a full hour.

I just hope the lesson will sink in.

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