The Olympic Commute
Morning is a difficult time for many, with anything more taxing than a coffee and the successful buttoning of a shirt often a bridge too far for the most disorientated among us. Olympic events that begin so early in the day are anathema to me – there may not be life before coffee, but apparently there’s Archery.
Using the machines to top up my Oyster card before noon feels like a cruel form of sensory overload, but despite this, I have been taking part in the most authentic event of the whole summer- the Olympic commute.
The frantic desire to get to a place of work is surreal (not all are as lucky as to work for the RSA!), but odder still is the détente that permeates the air; an acceptance between passengers that you can’t blame that last person for squeezing through the doors and raising the combined body temperature of the carriage to 40 degrees Celsius. Whatever qualms we might have about dragging ourselves out of bed; we collectively recognise that someone, somewhere, is later than us.
Morning rush hour is often characterised as a noisy time of day; but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are no cockerels, or town criers, or newspaper salesmen; just the rhythmic march of feet, almost military in their unison. Heaven help the soul that breaks the silence with chatter; or worse still, with poorly muffled music.
It’s for this reason that entering Waterloo and hearing the by now familiar “Hi folks, this is your Mayor here” announcement ring out over the loudspeakers feels so horribly intrusive and inappropriate. A commuter who has just unpeeled himself from the side of a packed 8.32 does not need reminding that London will be “exceptionally busy” over the next few weeks! One can’t help but be reminded a little of 1984; the constant repeated messages; the cult of Boris in full effect – fresh from his rock concert and standing ovation in Hyde Park, boasting poll numbers that David Cameron could only dream of; Mr Johnson sounds positively exuberant; completely out of keeping with the morning spirit.
Weary; but wary of motorized transport after stage one; this commute now resembles a modern biathlon; the second stage to Charing Cross takes place on foot – a migration; not quite as disorganised as the stampede when a long distance train’s platform is announced; but hardly as regimentally constructed as the queue for an ATM either. Only one set of traffic lights controls the herd; but the tension that awaits the green man is physical; electric; driven not by poor timekeeping but by a sense of obligation to not break the morning cease fire and become an obstacle for those marching behind you.
Through Royal Festival Hall we go; and over the bridge; surreally serenaded by an ever changing cast of street musicians; who could treble their income by tapping into a now awakening sense of humour by playing ‘Chariots of Fire’ or ‘The Imperial Death March’. The sight of Embankment station momentarily brings questions about whether the walk was worth the hassle of having travelled just one station’s distance; but a step inside the station reveals a gust of hot, stuffy; and frustrated air that makes the modern biathlete romanticise the bridge; and push on to their final destination.
The transport system might be creaking; but nobody could accuse London of being caught unaware of the havoc that was bound to ensue; the ‘Get ahead of the Games’ campaign has been running for months; and the busiest stations are filled with more pink shirted assistants than your average phone shop. Many people will have either ignored the pleas; or decided that regardless of the disruption, they simply have no other feasible choice but to push on with their regular route. But perhaps; if you genuinely want to feel like you’re part of the Olympics; and don’t have a spare 50 quid to watch Fencing at half 11 in the middle of the working week; you could do worse than to lace up your boots and join myself and thousands of others who are experiencing the most authentic race of the summer.