I had one of those incongruous walks to work this morning. Outside of the station, at 06:00, I passed a carefree couple who had just discovered a bench and sat down to roll a cigarette. The bench was convenient because it is difficult to roll a cigarette whilst drinking beer and walking. None of the workaday stress for this couple, no moaning about working late or not having time for each other, these guys were sorted. As I walked past them I walked through a veritable sea of cigarette ends as I crossed the grass in front of the NHS ‘dependence unit’. I have noted before that this building has a lift that scales more floors than were built, almost in anticipation of future demand. As I turned to look up at the building I saw that the lights were on as an army of low paid cleaners busied themselves preparing the building for the day.
When I walk past later today I will pass a collection of relaxed smokers, drinking a beer and playing with their dogs. Don’t misunderstand me, that’s not the life for me but then either is cleaning their mess up at 6 am for minimum wage.
Another incongruity caught my eye in the newspaper yesterday. Following the announcement of fare rises on public transport the RMT union decided to show their support for passengers. The guy pictured at Kings Cross holding a placard that read “Cut fares not staff” seemed oblivious to the oxymoron that he was supporting. Given the public and press venom every time Bob Crow’s followers take a day off in support of gold plated pensions or the lack of full cream milk in the canteen, it seems insane to think that they can claim that they support the passengers. Let’s be brutally honest the passengers don’t want the support of the unions other than in turning up for work regularly and this is probably a step too far.
I would guess that the jobs comment was based on the ‘leaked’ document that shows that LU are considering removing ticket staff from all but a few stations. The press decried this saying “who will explain the system”, “who will sell occasional tickets to those that don’t use Oyster cards” and “who will explain the machines?” I can only think that such pieces are written by those that have never visited London; certainly they have not used the metro. The people behind the bullet proof glass of the ticket office never leave to assist with machines for a start. Tourists trying to purchase simple tickets are berated, in a language unknown to them, for their inability to understand one of the most complicated transport systems on the planet. This is not unique to tourists, Londoners are also expected to know the intricacies of the network and be fluent in the language of the tube. If you dare to present at a ticket office with a question you will be offered an answer in a language unintelligible to anyone other than another member of staff and then met with a look that clearly indicates that you are an imbecile.
If you don’t believe me then feel free to try it, ask at a ticket office window whether you can have an adult single to Mornington Crescent and the only word that you will understand in the answer is “Oyster”. I think it is the result of attempts, years ago, by London Underground to breed a super race that could live underground. Being brought up by rats and tramps has meant these ‘children of the deep’ have developed an entirely new dialect. In short I would take a machine, coded by a ten year old, in Russian, over queuing politely to be called a moron.
In case it seems that I am being unfairly biased against the metro I should point out that stupid people are available on other transport systems to. The route to my hotel in Derby involves crossing the station; this is an agreed route with the train operator. Generally you present yourself at the barrier and advise that you’re “just crossing” and are allowed to enter and exit. I tried this on Monday and was met with “are you going to the hotel?” Impressed at the deduction I answered yes and then it went wrong, apparently I should show my hotel card at the gate. I explained that this was not possible because I had not checked in yet, indeed I was on my way to perform this very activity. The young lady struggled with the concept that a person could be going to a hotel but not have come from there and I was seriously considering drawing a picture that included hotel and home. We agreed to disagree in the end with a disparaging “next time show your card” met by “next time I will have one”.
Think that it’s just the staff? Think again. Last night I met a guy remonstrating with the barrier guard because he had “lost” his ticket. The barrier guard was adamant that the guy needed to buy a ticket to exit the station. Having waited a couple of minutes I caught the guard attention and said “just passing through” and he opened the barrier for me. As I walked away I heard a complete change of tack from the fair dodging passenger who suddenly remembered he was “just passing through”, needless to say this new plan was unsuccessful.