This morning I commuted, Reggie Perrin style, from my leafy suburb into the heart of London by train. Nothing too unusual about that.
After I paid for my daily travelcard, I took my place on an unusually crowded platform. An unusually crowded platform normally means only one thing. An lengthy delay inevitably followed by an overcrowded, late running train.
Sure enough, I soon gathered that there had been a fatality on this section of the railway line last night which caused major delays and now had a knock-on effect to this morning.
Naturally enough, I didn’t hear this update from South West Train staff at the ticket booth or over the loudspeaker system. Instead I heard this important travel status update from a gentleman in a smart, grey suit (and not so smart white trainers) giving a blow by blow account to his secretary, Julie.
The gentleman spoke with such a loud, clear authoritative voice, I took the opportunity to thank him and suggested that he should get a job as a station announcer. Thankfully, the delays didn’t inconvenience him that much as his first meeting was only at 10:30a.m - a catch up on the Q3 numbers with Brian and Phil.
A train arrived. It was already overcrowded with standing room only. Everyone attempted to pile on and most of them succeeded. I stood to one side and watched the melee with a few other commuters who didn’t fancy standing for half an hour, uncomfortably positioned, face to face, desperately trying to avoid bodily contact with a young lady’s breasts or worse, with your head positioned directly under someone’s sweaty armpits.
Two minutes later, another train arrived. It was empty. Gleefully, we all boarded and took our choice of seats in the empty carriages.
The train set off - it didn’t stop at New Malden and it didn’t stop at Raynes Park. Even better, it turns out that we are on a fast service that only stops at Wimbledon, Clapham Junction and Vauxhall. Only this train didn’t stop at Wimbledon. Nor did it stop at Earlsfield. It just sailed straight through both stations at great speed.
We also sailed straight past Clapham Junction (the busiest railway station in England) which was a surprise to a couple of people who had got up and stood by the doors, hoping to disembark. I spotted the earlier train packed to the rafters with yet more people trying to board, politely enquiring in a very British way: ‘Could you possibly move down inside the carriage - possibly - at all ?’
Back on our train, no-one got off (even if they wanted to), no-one got on and no-one spoiled the blissfully quiet environment with their mobile phones and discarding their copies of ‘Metro’ so I was able to enjoy my high speed journey, listening to ‘Boxer’ by The National, in a virtually empty carriage.
As we approached the final destination (Waterloo) I was slightly worried I was sitting on a ghost train with no driver at the controls. Briefly, I wondered whether we were, in fact, even going to stop at Waterloo or simply plough straight on through the buffers into the station concourse, killing 34 people who were staring blankly at the ‘Departures’ board.
We arrived at Waterloo and thankfully stopped at platform 4. The journey which is normally timetabled to take 29 minutes and normally takes closer to 35 was over. In a new world record of 18 minutes.