How to plan a new route to work


I started a new job.

Aside from the usual concerns that churned inside my core – fear of failure being the main one – there is the more banal concern around the new commute. How long will it take? Have I identified the best route? Will I get a seat? And so on.

I enjoy this concern. Much like deciding which outfit to wear, it is possible to get it very wrong. However, it’s pretty obvious what the right answer looks like and there are several opportunities to hit the nail on the head as the weeks go on.

Getting it wrong…

…looks like any journey with too much dependence on an accurate and efficient timetable. If there’s an interchange and if missing it means half an hour sat on the platform reflecting on your mistakes then avoid at all costs. Any interchange should have at least a 10 minute buffer zone and/or services departing at regular intervals.

Walking speed…

…should not be a limiting factor on your first day. Or really any other day. Plan for a saunter, engage in a stride. You may buy yourself a few extra minutes for a breather or a coffee.

Sitting down…

…may not be an option. I like getting the chance to sit down. I worry that I’m taking a seat from someone who needs it more! There are places on the train or bus that have a concentration of people sitting – stand there and ease gently into any seats that become vacant. Wear comfy shoes.

Find moments of joy…

…and indulge. Perhaps it’s a really tasty cup of coffee, or a detour through a patch of green. If your commute is long, if it’s all underground, if there’s never a seat, these things will all add up and could make you feel miserable. Nip this in the bud early with Polyanna’s Glad Game.

I am lucky because there is a very beautiful garden along my route, but the journey time is unavoidably over an hour each way. On the plus side: more time for books and podcasts. See, something to be glad about!


Invictus: Tory style


image.jpegI have finally watched the film Invictus; I’m a rugby fan who spent a year living in South Africa, which is reason enough to avoid this film.

Aside from accents inspired by Lethal Weapon 2, it wasn’t too bad. The rugby set pieces were better than England’s in 2004’s 6 Nations and the sets were believably African.

The thing that I found unbelievable was how integrated the World Cup rugby hosts’ campaign was with its ruling government. But hey, I’m still reeling from England’s dismal performance last year.

I walked away from Invictus wondering if Ben Wheatley might be available for for the dramatisation of the 2015 campaign. His brand of satirical malaise being the only one that chimed authentically with how it felt to watch England play during what should have been our World Cup.

Having made peace with all the accents and ‘blick’ stereotypes on show, what I really enjoyed about Invictus was its appreciation of the political power of sport. From the ancient Olympic Games until yesterday’s friendly against Holland, sport has had a place in the political discourse. Its very attempt at independence is a position in itself: 82,000 people stood in stolid silence for a minute in solidarity with what happened in Belgium; a powerful expression of neutrality.

Meanwhile I’m contemplating the narrative of Invictus, in which the first ever black president enlists a white rugby player from an Afrikaans family to further the rainbow nation.

I can’t imagine David Cameron calling Chris Robshaw to say, “Help me bridge divides within our country, mate.” And I’m torn about whether it’s less likely that he says “mate” or “we should bridge divides”. This is a divided country that doesn’t have anything as obvious as race to help us notice where the fissures are.

I finished watching Invictus and decided that the 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign was everything England deserved.

reLentless commuting: Day 42


0.5% beerLess than one week to go.

My resolution not to drink alcohol has gone better than the one to blog more!

However my resolve narrowly missed a partly submerged iceberg a few days ago, almost cutting a gaping hole in my progress: the ABV of non-alcoholic beer.

My lovely boyfriend had bought me a BrewDog Nanny State, their new low alcohol beer. This has only 0.5% of alcohol by volume, which I read with perturbation. I obviously couldn’t drink it, right? And come to think of it how much ABV had my other drinking choices contained?

Becks Blue, the option most pubs in London seem to stock, has “0.05% or less” in each bottle which, according to a MumsNet thread from 2010, probably has less alcohol than antibacterial handgel. Not the most helpful comparison as I haven’t been craving half pints of handgel this month.

I found a more useful comparison through a basic google search. Apparently a glass of fresh orange juice can naturally contain up to 0.5% alcohol, while malt vinegar is about 0.2% alcohol. I think 0.05% can therefore be excused!

I’ve been including Sundays, hence it being Day 42 rather than 36. That includes communion wine, which over the last few weeks has been communion juice. I’ve read or heard people say that Sundays don’t count during Lent, but I’m not sure about that. If anything Sundays should be even more holy, especially since the final Sunday of Lent is the day set by for celebration. It’s a better celebration surely if there haven’t been days off in between.

Back in 2005 Morgan Spurlock, who made the documentary film Supersize Me, made the first season of a television series called “30 Days” based on the premise that since the 30 days he spent eating nothing but MacDonalds had so drastically affected his attitude to fast food, 30 days of intensive new experience might affect other people’s attitudes to things.

Episode 3: “Muslims and America” saw David, a Christian from West Virginia, spend 30 days with Shamael, a Muslim, and his family in Michigan. I only watched this episode once but there were several moments from it that I have never forgotten. One was during Shamael’s friend’s stag do. The lads were playing basketball and having a laugh. However, David marveled that Shamael and his friends could consider this a proper stag do, since no one was drinking any alcohol.

I struggle to recall many of the details, but I remember that Shamael asked what David and his Christian buddies would have been doing. As David described all the drinking, Shamael was appalled by the picture. He asked how poisoning their bodies with alcohol could be rationalised with their Christian faith. I don’t remember David having a particularly good answer.

My friend Abdul-Rehman Malik – I recommend following him on twitter – chatted to me once during Ramadan about his own attitude to fasting. Fasting, or sawm, for Muslims isn’t limited to Ramadan, although fasting during Ramadan itself is a religious duty. Abdul explained that sometimes he would embark on a period of fasting as part of his personal devotions to Allah. This was something he’d self-imposed so he could break it and no doubt would be forgiven, but that with Allah always watching, it wasn’t worth lying to himself or to his God.

I’ve only given up alcohol. During the hours of daylight I’ve been eating food, sometimes very delicious food, in a period that Christians rather ambitiously consider “fasting”.

So before I congratulate myself for being so very holy for avoiding beer with 0.5% ABV and for keeping up the observance on a Sunday, I think I should take a long hard look at what fasting really means and to what extent it’s a devotion to my own God.

reLentless commuting: Day 23 (belated)


Prachettmain_2334426bTerry Pratchett died today.

I found out on twitter in the middle of the day. I work in a small office, which isn’t so much open plan as a room with a bunch of desks; not the best environment for quiet sobbing.

A short walk and phone call to my long-suffering Mum later, I walked back into the silent office. I have no idea if I was missed or if they’d noticed my tears in the first place. Offices can be lonely places when you’re unable to share your grief, or your joy.

On the way home I read his last, heart-rending and poignant tweet to the world:

@terryandrob Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.I looked up at the people in the carriage with me and wondered how many of them might be mourning his passing, and the passing of his characters whose final chapters had already been written.

It’s rare that I don’t see someone reading a Pratchett book in any given month. It was more frequent before e-book readers denied fellow commuters visual eavesdropping on each other’s reading fare.

I wanted to clear my throat and tell the people around me that my favourite author had died, like I had a few hours earlier, only this time be met with something warmer than silence, by an affirmation that I wasn’t the only one. But I would probably just have cried again and embarrassed another bunch of people as they made their way home from work.

I met him once, when he was signing books in my hometown. My Mum had stood in the queue for me for several hours because I’d been in a play at school (see what I mean about long-suffering). When we finally got to the front I saw that he had his hand in a bowl of ice between signings, unfortunately as a star-struck and unemotionally intelligent tweenager I didn’t connect this well enough to desist from excitedly shaking his hand. He was remarkably gracious about the whole thing, a running theme among fans across the world.

My cousin and I traded mournful texts throughout the day. For over 20 years, Christmas has meant the latest Terry Pratchett book. In recent years these tended to get published in October, so led by our stubborn adherence to tradition, we would wait for Christmas day to finally get our hands on it. His wife and my boyfriend were on hand that evening to give us hugs: the sympathy that we could not (and perhaps should not?) expect from our workplace.

As an author, Pratchett leaves behind a wealth of humour and wit and insight and sheer unbounded creativity that I believe will remain loved and appreciated by many generations to come. His death is not the end: new readers will discover his work and for them it won’t matter that he died today. At least, not until they read his last book and realise they must mourn the death of his characters and and the Discworld as he imagined it.

When this Lent is over I will raise a bottle of Discworld Ale in his honour.

reLentless commuting: Day 19


iwd_2015It’s International Women’s Day 2015. A day to celebrate the women in the world, remember those whose memory lives on and raise awareness of women without the rights and freedoms they should have.

Women are amazing. Men are pretty ok, but women are amazing.

It starts around puberty when women start bleeding once a month and continue for several decades until menopause, with the occasional interlude depending on weight, pregnancy or whichever contraceptive she’s using. If she’s lucky enough to have access contraceptive that is, because women also have to contend with the ever present risk of getting pregnant through sex. Although choosing not to have children can also be considered a social faux pas. They are, on average, smaller and less muscular than men, but they have strength that goes beyond the physical.

Women’s tear ducts are smaller than men’s, which is one of the reasons we may be seen to cry more; showing emotion is expected of women and also what can hold us back. But we soldier on. We can be soldiers now, due to the courage and determination of women who refused to conform to expectations.

My Mum is one of those women who refused to conform. She went to a top tier university in the 60s, kept her maiden name in the 70s and went back to work after only a few months in the 80s, earning her the scorn of an angry woman in a shop at one point. Her and my Dad’s first mortgage was from her salary, as he was still a student, but he still had to come in to sign the paperwork on her behalf. She loves her sport and takes joy in shorter queues for the ladies at cricket and football matches.

A few weeks ago one of my Mum’s best friends died suddenly. His wife asked people to write their memories of him and Mum shared hers with me. She writes beautifully; I enjoyed getting to know him again through her words. I also got to know her: some of the things she’d done in her career and in her life, which she hadn’t told me before. As her daughter I am very selfish with her time, which means I know less about her than I should.

I’ve always been encouraged by my Mum but only in the last few years have I realised how much she’s inspired me.

I think it’s brilliant that we have International Women’s Day. Men can have one too, if they want, but I think we need it more. Being a woman isn’t easy and it’s the support and inspiration of other women that makes it so worthwhile.

Thank you, Mum for your support and inspiration. Happy International Women’s Day!

reLentless commuting: Day 16


XKCD flowchartI realised about 7 days ago that setting myself a target of writing a blogpost a day was a) overly ambitious and b) illogical. I think that perhaps I’d expected to spend a few moments every day whinging about my self-imposed abstinence. But neglected to consider whether anyone might actually want to read it.

The real reason I set myself that goal was aspiration by proxy. I had started upon a path of righteous self-improvement and the part of me that would like to do more writing decided to hitch a ride.

Sometimes it’s easier to give something up than it is to take something on.

I was out tonight with a friend of mine who published a book last year: Quantum Confessions. It’s good! A dystopian future involving faith, absence, quantum mechanics and protagonists that have gone through puberty.

It’s a little nerve-wracking reading a book your friend has written, mostly because you so want it to be good and therefore create a micro-climate of anxiety around the experience, but also because you’re aware you may learn things about them you hadn’t expected. “Write what you know” goes the maxim, and then you read a sex scene written by someone you’ve known for years.

He has a full time job, a successful marriage and he’s already finished his second novel (due out in Summer in case you’re interested). It’s all rather impressive. And here’s me struggling to publish 200 words of an evening. I had hoped to kick-start a habit; stop sitting on my hands like a cowardly could-be.

Michael McDermott’s song Great American Novel is about a girl who has lots of ideas, lots of self-belief, who “someday” is going to write the great American novel, but she never quite gets around to it. I worry sometimes whether, apart from the blue eyes and Britishnss, I’m that girl. Whether in years to come I’ll be nursing a glass proclaiming I could have been a contender.

But here I am at 10pm at night writing. It’s a start.