Walk the (Victoria) Line

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For the last four weeks I have been walking into work – a pleasant 7-10 minute stroll of a morning.

My God – what a lucky woman I am, you might think. But amazingly there were things that I missed. Less of a walk in the park and more a pilgrim’s progress.

As an intrepid commuter and incorrigible thinker, I have realised that there are some problems with walking into work…

Cons

  1. Proximity of the workplace. There is always the lingering shadow of your work building close enough to whisper, “Where are you, my precious?”
    This is the main problem for people who work from home, as they are never far from the office. While it would seem madness for someone to get on a train and take the 2hr round trip to work on Sunday evening, people whose office is in the attic/spare room will quietly use the long dark teatime of the soul to “just finish that project”.
  2. No time to read. Fortunately I have discovered the sublime A History of the World in 100 Objects and am wending my way through each one like a polymath through a dinner party conversation, but one podcast doesn’t quite cover the journey, and so it feels as if I’m always in the middle of something, reminding myself where I was. I miss reading. This is one of the reasons I don’t cycle to work either (along with my dangerous inability to cycle safely).
  3. Footwear. I have for a week now brought my heels along in my bag only to forget to put them on once at work. This may not apply to men.

Ok, so it’s not a huge list. But it surprises me at all that I have one. And so to the pros:

Pros

  1. Far far cheaper daily travel costs. Although if you’re used to a monthly/annual travelcard, it’s amazing how much you find yourself spending on ad hoc travel at weekends and evenings.
  2. Longer in bed. Nuff said.
  3. Daily exercise. It may not be much, but it’s more than none at all.
  4. Fresh air and wide open spaces, rather than a cramped train/bus/tube or lonely car. That is, unless you’re walking down a busy London main road. The bit across the bridge makes up for it though.
  5. The freedom.

Walking into work is as much a daily commute as any other form of transport – there are the same people you see and pass by of a morning, there is the fixed timescale, there may even be the same old route each day, but unlike so many other commutes it can be about the journey rather than the destination. Rather than be herded into a moveable carriage, you are yourself moving, feeling the ebb and flow of the wind, the people and the traffic around you.

As with cycling, it feels as if you take your destiny into your own hands each morning, heralding the start of the day with action and with choice, rather than chipping away at your personal freedom bit by bit with timetables and traffic jams, bus drivers and borrowed time.

I am about to move into a new place and have worked out that it would probably take me about an hour to walk in. Compared to my 10 minute stroll right now, I’m not sure I could hack the whole hour, but I could perhaps do half and bus the rest? The list of cons might increase to include: takes too long, harder in bad weather, risk of mugging… it gets a little pathetic after a while, especially when the long term benefits would include my health and a few grammes of Carbon saved.

The benefits across a wider scale could be wonderful, but how conceivable is it really that more people might walk to work, when most live so far away? I find myself coming to the same old conclusion: that a sustainable and pleasant society is one with fewer geographical dependencies; in a world where people commute by plane, it seems backward to suggest the journey should not be made. It is, after all, not a journey but a means to an end – one that costs so much more in resources, impact and freedom than it is worth.

In my case, is an hour too long? Are the queues for the bus and the platform really worth the 20 minutes saved at the other end? Or am I so used to giving up so many other personal freedoms on a day to day basis that the freedom of walking to work is not worth that much?

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Why did Lost end up so….lost

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If you have never watched any episodes of Lost, then I would suggest not bothering. Find a friend who did watch the whole series (121 episodes), buy them a drink and let them distil the 84+ hours of high-jinks tv for your viewing pleasure.

Chances are that watching them try to remember the order of events, the relevant moments, which season held what, and then realise the final episode concluded almost nothing may be the greater entertainment.

In a nutshell: plane crashes onto a mysterious island and a seemingly random group of people try to decide whether they want to stay, leave or kill as many people as they can with their endless supply of ammunition.

By the end of this thrilling and annoyingly addictive series we have learned, erm, nothing. We have not learned why the island exists or what is so special about it, nor what is so special about this trigger-happy troupe, nor do we find out whether they do, for the final time, leave the island. Oh, there are hints and suggestions, and they’ve probably been chosen because they’re all so damned attractive – even the token large funny man – but the most interesting parts of the story are discarded in favour of character exposition.

Setting all this aside, what frustrated me most about this series was the attitude and skills-set of the survivors. On idle moments in a train carriage, I look at the people around me and wonder what would happen if we were stranded somewhere, forced to survive on our wits. Would we too be able to show these same skills when the situation demanded it?

Tracking

So you’re in a strange wood, jungle perhaps, and suddenly the guy in the suit next to you starts “tracking”. Better yet, he sharpens a handy branch into a spear and comes back with dinner dripping from the end of it. In the space of a few short days a small hardy crew of people who up until recently lived in Croydon and dined in Nando’s are now able to wander purposefully from redwood to reeds, knowing exactly which way is North West and able to track each other, should the need arise.

Shooting people

This may be more relevant to commuters of countries with greater gun ownership, but there is still something odd about former doctors and office clerks wielding guns at any moment possible and saying, “I’m going to kill him/her” at 40 minute intervals. There are also times when wielding a gun means you may get shot, but your fellow commuters-cum-intrepids will express such rage that they will go out and find someone else to shoot to avenge you. And thus the great cycle of life continues.

Keeping busy

Obviously there would not be time to focus on a whole train-load of survivors, so everyone you don’t have time to care about develops the uncanny ability to look busy. This is a general kind of busy, since the shelters are all up, everyone has only one set of clothes and the aforementioned man-with-spear is the one getting dinner. Looking busy at a computer screen while doing very little is easy, doing the same on a deserted wasteland is impressive.

Excellent grooming

Let’s say that things do not go well and we find ourselves stranded for 14 years in whatever dreadful and mysterious place our train crash has left us. We all, of course, refuse to drop our standards. It’s perfectly shaved armpits every day for the women, yes, even for the one remaining survivor who has been forced to eat her companions, the only people who might have cared. And in the 13 years leading up to this, we all display immaculate grooming: designer stubble, perfectly trimmed beards, fuzz-free legs. In the fight for survival we know it’s important to look good doing it.

Lost became farcical when laymen set nuclear bombs and everyone started manipulating each other. But what skills do any of us have that could be used on a desert island, or even somewhere without electricity or running water?

This is probably a disproportional response to a tv programme, but I have decided to learn a skill. A real skill. So that should the need arise, once we have plunged ourselves into a distopia without the internet or spreadsheets, I am able to contribute something, anything useful. I may be a thoroughly modern commuter, with my laptop bag and pasty skin, but I will not be found wanting.