A morning in London
Getting to work English-style
By Shahin Shahin
June 13, 2000
It is about 5:30 in the morning. Another restless night has passed.
I battled the demons of darkness all night long. I was so close to saving
Cindy Crawford from the clutches of the two-headed monster resembling Woody
Allen with Margaret Thatcher's hairdo and Madeleine Albright. I am awake.
But I wonder: Why is it that when you feel most comfortable in bed, you
have to get up? Being a full-blooded Iranian, I open negotiations with
myself. "Just another 10 minutes please. I promise not to make you
late." "No." "Come on. Please? Five minutes then?"
"Okay, but this is the last time."
I get up at 6:10. I have to. The bathroom is mine only till 6:30. Then
it belongs to others in this great culture of house sharing, English style.
Five bedrooms in the house, only one bathroom/toilet. You miss your time
slot at your own peril. Be late and the day starts with the torture of
holding yourself while imitating the slithering moves of a boa constrictor.
Bathroom, shave and shower. Back to the bedroom, I choose my shirt,
tie, and suit for the day. I need to leave the house by 6:50 in order to
catch #312 bus so that I can catch my 7:10 train to London's Victoria Station.
Sometimes the bus is late. You spend ages for one to turn up, and then
after what seems like an eternity, three turn up the same time. Patience
is a virtue at moments like this.
When getting to work is planned to the same degree of military precision
as, say, bombing Yugoslavia, every minute lost is a minute close to being
within reach of enemy fire -- in this case the onslaught of commuter rush
hour between 7.30 to 8.30 when children renounce parents; friends betray
each other and military alliances break up, all for the sake of being able
to get on the overcrowded train.
At 7.07, I reach the bus stop closest to the train station. The bus
doors open, we are poured onto the pavement, dazed. I got to run up the
hill, just like Rocky. Which idiot builds a train station half-way up a
hill? I've got my suspicions: He lives on top of the hill, so that he can
stroll down to the station at a leisurely pace.
Laptop in one hand, briefcase in the other, I run. I arrive at my platform
Groups of people are huddled together in front of imaginary train doors.
You see, veteran commuters know and anticipate the exact spot where a train
stops and where its doors would open. After weeks of near misses, I am
pleased to announce to the world that I have claimed my own spot on the
platform, with a respectable cloister of followers.
Train arrives. Like a human wave we charge into a train. The only thing
differentiating us inside the train from a tin of sardines is the lack
of vegetable oil. The close proximity of humans makes one thank the inventor
of deodorant. May he rest in peace. And if I ever meet the person who scheduled
the train time table, I will be sure to give him a piece of my mind.
On this crowded train, a peculiar English ritual is practiced. Everyone
insists on reading broadsheet newspapers within the confined spaces of
this cattle train. The Times of London spread out on someone else's
back, repeated throughout the train over and over again.
The most frustrating thing in one's life occurs at this juncture: You
are looking over the shoulder of your neighbour, desperately trying to
read his newspaper. The inconsiderate sod turns the page before you are
done finishing whatever had caught your eye. "When Mr. Clinton was
asked whether he regretted ever meeting Ms. Lewinski, Mr. Clinton replied
that his only regret was not....".
7:29, and the train arrives at Victoria Station. Mad rush to the Underground
subway station, to catch the 7.32 train.
7.50, and I have arrived in my office. I am shattered -- and I have
not even started work.