I think a lot about the future and how we will all be commuting, because the cities are unviable now, and they are only getting more unviable by the day. London? Come on. A joke city for idiots. Pick a commutable-distance county and then go one up from there, because all the commutable-distance counties are already full of clean mini-mansions owned by people who were on £100,000 in the 90s and got in ahead of the curve.
Is it possible to commute from… Suffolk? I guess I could live in… Wiltshire? It’s only a two-hour train for me to get from Derbyshire, you know. Maybe I could just move home and get up really early. Maybe that's what the future is.
Listen, point is: we've all been on a bus, or a train, or a tube or something. It is a universal condition. We've all forgotten to bring our book! We've all stared at our phone as it flickers in and out of 4G service and we feel like we’ve had an organ torn out! Here's a guide to commuting! I know none of you even read these first two paragraphs and just skip straight to the first big-font sub-heading! I'm not stupid! I know how audience engagement works! Read my intros, you cowards!
THE INDIGNITY OF RUNNING
I renounced running for trains and buses when I was about 22, and this rule has seen me good ever since. If I am destined to be late for this, I’m destined to be late. Jogging? While holding a sloshing coffee and a half-eaten croissant, puffing and panting, the desperate beep-beep-beep of the doors? The sudden clatter onto the train, breathless and pink, everyone suddenly looking up and half-smiling at me, The Late Boy? Exerting my precious body at the whims of a moving train? Not for me, thank you, mate. I’m walking towards this thing. If I am meant to get on it, the universe will find a way.
DO PEOPLE WHO TRY TO GET ON A TRAIN BEFORE YOU GET OFF IT UNDERSTAND LITERALLY HOW ANYTHING WORKS
I know this is a very "Live at the Apollo" thing to say, but what’s with people trying to get on trains before you’ve tried to get off them, eh? What are they up to, ah? What are they thinking? That’s not how stuff works, is it! But they try it, don’t they! You’re laughing. You are laughing. But it’s true. What are they up to, ah? Honestly! [ Extended physical bit where I mimic struggling against a tide of human bodies until I sweat myself to death like Lee Evans] That's me, on a commute, right? What are all these people thinking? You get on the train… right? Then get off! That’s the order! Isn’t it? Ahh. Get me on 8 Out of 10 Cats, honestly. I’m ready for it.
OLD PEOPLE WANTING TO SIT DOWN
Hate when an old person gets on the bus, man. Hate it. They've got two ways of asking to sit down: actually asking you to sit down, something so straight and direct it goes violently against my in-baked Englishness and makes me balk so hard I’m already upright, on my feet, before I even know it. Or they just stand there, in the middle of the aisle, visibly degrading and passive-aggressively existing in a way that suggests they want a seat. Since they all voted Brexit I’ve been v hard on my "no seats for old fuckers" rule, but it can be hard to maintain under the full glare of them: you sweat, they stare, they shake on their ancient legs, they make passing comments about the war. Something about the elderly exudes a strong and powerful urge to want to sit down. Where’s an old person even going this early in the morning anyway? You can very slowly creak around a charity shop or go and see some nice plants at Chelsea Flower Show during the off-peak hours of the day, but 9AM is for people who pay their bus fare, sorry. You can stand.
HAVE YOU EVER BOUGHT A TRAIN PASS? IT FEELS LIKE DYING
You know that clunk of dread you get when an ATM beeps red and refuses to give you a tenner because it's three days before payday and you don’t check your bank balance ever because the reality of it prangs you out? If you want to take that feeling and somehow multiply it by a thousand, I suggest buying a monthly train pass to get to and from work, where you queue up for 20 minutes to give someone a decent chunk of your rent so you can get a shitty train twice a day that stinks of sewage and has horrid squidgy little red-grey carpets in it and you can never sit down and it’s always too hot or too cold, and for some reason once a week the train stops without warning in a tunnel somewhere between two stations and doesn’t move for 40 minutes without any real explanation, and that either means you’re late to dinner or late to work – but either way everyone is mad at you! Good! Trains are good!
THERE IS ALWAYS SOMEONE WHO IS DOING WINDOWS OPPOSITE TO WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO
Why you opening a window in winter, mate? I know it’s stuffy in here, but it’s better than actively being rained on. Why you closing a window in summer, mate? I know the flies are coming in, but it’s actively better than dying. Why are you drawing on a steamed-up bus window on a rainy day with your hand? Do you not know the steam is all the escaped breath from everyone on the bus breathing tightly in the same space? You are basically putting your hand in everyone on this bus’s mouth, at once, at the exact same time, then touching that hand to your eyes or face. You deserve whatever mega-strain of flu that gets you for this. You may as well lick the fucking floor.
STUPID BUS IDIOTS WHO DON’T KNOW WHEN THEIR OWN STOP IS JFC
I don't understand how anyone can do this, because when my bus stop is coming up – when it is, say, only eight stops away, or 15 minutes – I immediately start packing all my shit up and sitting with a sort of palpable tenseness exuding off me, so much so that the person sitting next to me reflexively starts turning their legs away from me to give greater passage for me to exit our double-berther and unmake this horrible chair-sharing bond we have with each other, because I am a thoughtful bus user, and a genius.
And yet, for some fucking reason, every time I’m on a packed bus, someone always so catastrophically misses their stop that they miss both the precise moment the doors open to release them from the bus – i.e. the optimum and only time anyone should be disembarking a bus – as well as the easy few seconds the doors are just there, fully open, and only actually start to make moves to get out of their seat and get off the bus when the doors start making that beep beep sound and closing, at which point they inevitably ding the bell three times urgently and shout "DRIVER! EXCUSE ME, DRIVER!" at which point the doors have to reopen and they disembark and we’ve all missed a green traffic light so now we’re all stuck behind for about two minutes while the person who fucked us all waddles down the road visibly in front of us.
What I’m saying is: never allow me to ascend to power, because my first rule will be to construct gulags for these people to live and die in.
THE RAIL REPLACEMENT BUS, OR: A FERAL PLACE WHERE SOCIETY'S RULES NO LONGER APPLIES
What’s good about the regular commute is everyone has their place, their time, a quiet sort of competitive respect for the other commuters trying to get on the train first, a knowledge that – to truly win a seat of your own, the one goal we all have when we get on a bus – you have to be ruthless, and bloodthirsty, but not so much where you use your elbows to crack the faces of people, because you have to see all of them again at the same exact time tomorrow. But if a train gets cancelled and you have to get a rail replacement instead? Lord help the absolute lot of you. I will bite out someone’s neck artery before I wait for the next rail replacement to come along in 16 more minutes. I will murder you for a seat on this bus. I will find your family.
OH GOOD, AN ENTIRE BUS FULL OF CHILDREN
Was thinking recently about a spectrum of the best feeling you can possibly feel, and then the worst, and I’m pretty sure it’s this:
BEST FEELING IN THE WORLD
Being a ten-year-old boy about the say the word “fuck” for the very first time
[ every other feeling including love]
WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD
Your bus slows down and pneumatically lowers itself closer to the curb to allow an entire class of schoolchildren in day-glo vests to get on, chattering constantly about dabbing and Pokémon and smelling – somehow, impossibly – sticky throughout
I think this spectrum is… perfect? I think I am… a genius? Is this possible? Have I captured the breadth of human emotion? You know what, I think I have. Anyway: get off the bus and wait for the next one, truly. You don’t need this agitation. Just be late to work. Literally nobody cares if you are or aren’t there anyway.
YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN YOUR BOOK AND YOUR HEADPHONES AND NOW YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO
Oh, your headphones are in the pocket of your other coat: oh no. It’s fine, you can read that book you’ve been reading one page at a time for three months: ah, no, it’s the last two pages and you finish it in five minutes, and oh great now you have to carry this book around with you. Is it bad how quickly the human mind melts and unspools without constant entertainment? You read the blurb on the back of your book. You stare out of the window at the static traffic around you.
'What if,' you think. 'What if this bus crashed on a tropical island, and all you were left with were these people to start a new society with.'
Who would you take as a bride, you wonder. Who would you kill in a power struggle for tribe authority? The old guy, by the door. He’d get it, wouldn’t he? You could bash that ripe bit on the back of his skull with a big coconut and punch him to death while he laid there. Hmm. [ Your teeth are red with the fresh blood of the slain enemy beneath you]. Hmm. Maybe there’s a Metro lying around, here. Let’s not dwell on that. Let’s not think about the bad thing. [ You, topless and yelling, blood smeared in palm print across your chest]. Where’s Metro? Let’s have a lovely little read of Metro. [ You, yelling yourself hoarse beneath the perfect aqua blue of the tropical sky above you]. Ah, 60-second interview. You never let me down.
'CAN YOU MOVE DOWN PLEASE?'
I understand that it is occasionally necessary to say this – public transport is essentially a complicated piece of performance art where the only meaning is telling you "most people have next to zero awareness of space" – but also one of the more agonising sounds in the world is the sentence, "Can you move down a bit, please? Some people are trying to get on" said slightly too loudly on a packed hot train. I have never once had the bravery to say this – I would rather die, crammed into a tight corner of a train, bent over like a sunflower against the closing doors, than speak publicly on a train full of people – and you can hear in the wobble of the voices that say it that they don’t either.
"Can you mOVE DOWn a bit," they say, delicate then booming, "Please? TheRE’S SOME PEOPle who need to GET ON." Fuck those people, man. There’s a train every two minutes. Fuck the absolute lot of them. There’s no space down here either, dip-shit! None of us are actually moving down, we’re just shuffling our weight from one foot to another in an analogue of movement! There’s no extra space to be had! Shut the fuck up!
THOSE UNUSUAL MEN IN SUITS WHO HAVE EVERY ASPECT OF THEIR COMMUTE DOWN TO A FINE AND HORRIBLE ART
The obvious cue is the slightly worn bit of paint lined up on the edge of the platform that indicates that this is where the doors open: he’s waiting there, just a little too close to the edge, reading his emails. Look him up and down: suit, shirt, no tie (yet), running trainers. Occasionally he will openly go at his face with an electric shaver on the train. Flip-open Kindle case. Moves smooth in the train like a fish: first one through the doors, dip the shoulders, turn right, perfect form and grace, and, yes, a seat. Wireless earbuds. Starts anxiously packing his bag back up minutes before his stop. There is something eerie and depressing about this efficiency of movement: so learned, so hard-baked. How long you been at this job, my guy? How many times you got up at 5AM for this? He’s there every single day of the year, no holiday time. You start to recognise the patterns of his suits: blue on Mondays and Wednesdays, charcoal Tuesday and Thursday, no blazer on a Friday for fun. You start lining up behind him at the train approaches. Hold on, you’re— you’re wearing a perfect shape of your own feet here in the yellow paint. Yo—you’re wearing a suit! Run to the toilets (you know exactly where the toilets are on this train platform: you have been here 500 times before) and splash your face and look in the mirror: it’s his face staring back at you. You are 200 pages into your book on the Kindle. You are cursed to live this life every day until you die.
NOBODY CAN HOLD A BACKPACK PROPERLY
Backpacks go on your back until you’re on a bus, tube or train, at which point – you fucking idiot! – you take it off your back and hold it neatly by the loop on the top of it, in front of you, with your hands. If I have to be clattered in the face with a 30-litre Berghaus that is inexplicably criss-crossed with a complex system of elastic pulleys even though all you have in there are trainers, a book and an empty water bottle, I’m throwing hands. You can’t drive a car without a license. It is baffling we don’t make people pass practical backpack-ownership tests before we allow them to leave a shop holding onto one.
THANKING THE DRIVER
THANKING THE DRIVER: A DISCUSSION
Do you thank the driver when you get off the bus? [ A herd of savages from the north of England stumble down from the caves in which they live to bellow "EE, RIGHT, THANK’T DRIVER FOR’T LIFT T’TOWN OR YER A RIGHT KNOB"] The answer should be no. Why am I thanking you for doing your job? I paid my fare. The bus exists without me, the path is pre-ordained. Me being on it, and you driving it, are technically irrelevant to this interaction. "Oh, well done mate, for driving a big bus along a special red part of the road that is specifically designed for driving the bus on?" Give me a break. Absolutely not.
I know this wasn’t a discussion, but I said what I said. I know this whole argument seems to tap into the whole "if you're rude to wait staff, you're a bad prick!" discussion people really like to have a lot for some reason. Thank a driver if you must, fine. If you absolutely have to, you’re only allowed to do it from the front door of the bus (middle door: you have to shout too loud for the driver to hear you. back door: absolutely not, you mad shit). If you call the driver "driver" – as in, "Thank you, driver!" – then you are a Tory, sorry.
You don’t say, "Thank you, bouncer!" if they let you into a club! You don’t say, "Thank you, barkeep!" unless you are a Men’s Rights Activist! Do you see how it’s easier to just not thank anyone for anything now! The world would be a better place if we abolished the false concept of politeness!
NOT UNDERSTANDING THE SEATING ARRANGEMENTS
A Piss Aside: There is a natural order to pissing at a urinal that every man inherently knows, and it is this: furthest urinal from the door; closest urinal to the door; the urinal in between. A mark of a deranged man is someone who chooses the middle urinal when another urinal or cubicle is available. Nothing makes me more nervous than pissing next to someone who has chosen to piss next to me. What is your agenda, my man? What you trying to say?
Sitting down on a bus is similar to this. The bus order (assume top deck; bottom deck is for prams, short distance hop-ons and people who are somehow carrying 100,000 shopping bags at once): front window seat left, front window seat right, every other seat working backwards. Nobody should be sitting next to another human being unless they know them or every other possible seat is full.
And yet, like pissing, do we not sometimes find ourselves stumbling into the insane? Sit next to me when there’s a full double-seat spare and available and I’m going to spend the whole trip now nervous of what you’re going to do. Stab my kidneys? Smell obnoxiously very bad? Talk to me? No good can come of those who ignore the natural order of things and override them with chaos. Be on your guard.
THE UNEASY FAMILIARITY OF THOSE AROUND YOU
Ah, yeah, you know that guy. Always does the quick crossword before he watches a single episode of Top Gear on his iPad. That woman always does the thing where she eats a small box of celery on the way home. There’s that guy with the bad haircut who jogged in front of you once and handed your train pass to you after you’d dropped it. All these people, with their faces, little frowns and tics and habits. Imagine if one of them actually spoke to you, though. Vile. "Little bit hot today," that guy who goes to work in a suit but comes home with his shirt sleeves rolled up is saying. I don’t want your fucking life story, mate. Shut your fucking dog mouth. Find a new way to get to work.
PEOPLE EXPRESSING THEIR HUMANITY
Sorry to say it, but people on public transport reminding me that they are viable human beings with beating hearts and soaring souls absolutely turns my stomach and I hate it. Eating on public transport? Feed your fetid body elsewhere, you vile pig. Applying make-up in the morning? Groom at home, you horrid monster. Clipping your fingernails? They should have prisons exclusively for people like you.
Whenever someone does anything other than sit rigidly and behave themselves according to the strict laws I enforce only in my head – i.e. by eating, blinking, talking, bleeding, sleeping or vomiting – I sit and think: maybe I am the only decent person left on planet Earth. And whenever I do any of the above things, which is normally once every morning when I have a nice little cereal bar and a milk-based drink, I think: I should be allowed to do this, because I am the author of reality.
THE THUDDING REALISATION THAT ALL THESE DARK THOUGHTS YOU ARE HAVING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE ON THE COMMUTE ARE BEING HAD RIGHT BACK AT YOU, AND TO SOMEONE ELSE YOU ARE JUST AN EXTRA IN THEIR REPETITIVE LITTLE LIFE, AND YOU WILL PROBABLY SEE THEM EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS UNTIL ONE OF YOU MOVES, CHANGES JOBS OR DIES
You have to work to live, and you can only afford to live far away from work because of complicated machinations designed by hands unseen and an unfair structure that necessitates this and the fact that your work don’t pay you enough anyway (whatever your work pays you is not enough, this is a fact that is true about broadly everyone), and all this time you spend clunking to and from work every day is eating into your sanity and your spare time, and no matter how far you are from work the reality of the commute is a constant within it – you know how you went for a couple of pints after work to avoid the packed commuter train home and now here you are, half-pissed in Liverpool Street station and desperately eating a pasty because you know you’ll get in too late to have dinner? You know how you’re out late on a Sunday with friends and know you have to go soon because you have to get up extra early to catch the train because it’s inexplicably been slowing down for two weeks and you keep getting to work late? – and on and on and on it goes, you tied to the wheel of the commute and Richard Branson there at the top whipping you to death with it, whu-pow whu-pow whu-pow, and your life is just this horrible circular routine now – wake, shower, Tuesday outfit, keys bag door, make nervous "the usual please" chat with the girl in Costa who hates you but serves you the same latte and a double-choc muffin every morning regardless, and you eat it and get crumbs down you and you sigh and the train is coming, so put the half-muffin in your pocket and focus now and push and thank the lord you get a seat today, you need it, you are so tired, you are so tired, you keep re-reading this sentence in your book again and again and over, but the information is not going in, you are so tired, you are so, so tired, you will have to do this every day until you die, you will have to do this – there and back, there and back – every day until you die. You have bought a travel mug to drink your coffee out of but it doesn’t make you feel better about the inevitability of death. Please! Someone! Tell me there’s a copy of Metro around here!
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.