Rocked back on heels this morning by banner headline in Metro which read:
‘Commuting like Wild West, says Transport for London boss.’

This astonishing statement made by Sir Peter Gerard Hendry CBE, Commissioner for Transport in London.

Eagerly scan article to see if Transport for London boss drunk at time made statement. Not so, Sir Peter is merely getting a few things off his chest in interview recently given to Management Today, from which Metro is quoting.

Article gives fuller quote of Sir Peter’s beef:

‘On Southeastern, trains are like the Wild West. They are s**t, awful. And then, now every now and then, some people who look like the Gestapo get on and fine everyone they can. It doesn’t improve your day, does it?’

Sir Peter has spent all working life in transport, and thus can be relied upon to know what he is talking about. According to Wikipedia his first job was as a bus conductor on No 11 bus. True man of people.

Comments in interview suggest Sir Peter has had particularly bad experience recently. Perhaps left first-class Annual Season ticket at home on kitchen table and then made mistake of standing in first-class compartment on train.

Am sure Sir Peter keeps online diary of commuting, so will check to see if has made entry about day he left Annual Season ticket at home and re-post.

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The Urban Woodsman

Have had hiatus from blogging due to, astonishingly, not getting annoyed about anything very much whilst commuting over winter. However, change in weather and first flush of spring obviously playing havoc with hormones as am now taking out High Horse for daily hacks.

On way to work, pick up Tube at Embankment where enter carriage to find youth dressed like Sean Bean playing Mellors in 1993 film version of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (must watch that again) but definitely not as good-looking, perched on one of the double seats that face each other across narrow walkway in carriage. Youth wearing tweed cap, with feet clad in highly polished, expensive, amber brown boots, one of which annoyingly posed on left knee and sticking out into walkway, position known as the ‘4-figure’ and adopted by men who think they are the bee’s knees. Thus, in order to pass without having sole of boot scraping on my coat, I will need to squeeze past foot jibing like dinghy away from wind.

I raise objection to foot being stuck out in corridor. Mellors is astonished at being podiatrally challenged and super-puzzled by apparent society breakdown – how come middle class woman is telling off middle-class youth?

This has surely never happened in entire childhood of Mellors otherwise he would have some manners.

Mellors objects to my objection.

I pull hard on reins of High Horse and come to fast halt with clouds of dust blowing up around hooves. Sit down in nearby seat and express robust response to Mellors. Forget to mention that in Middle Eastern culture 4-figure position considered v impolite and likely to result in punch to nose.

Additional bearded youth dressed head to foot in tweed, turns in seat behind me and, with uncanny ability of over-privileged middle classes to back wrong horse, which why they are hopeless at picking Grand National winners, tells me off for ‘shouting’, (i.e. raising objection at pitch louder than pupils at Cheltenham Ladies College always trained to speak so that they don’t over-shadow dim Hooray Henries they are engaged to).

Express opinion on middle-class sense of entitlement. Middle-class sense of entitlement current bug-bear for self. This cultural phenomenon allows the middle classes to behave as they wish, and then, when challenged, to accuse those who challenge them of ‘being rude’. Being rude is a big no-no in middle-class society, along with expressing any form of emotion other than joy when favoured sporting team win or child gets into chosen school. Advise Mellors and Tweedie Beardie that will feature them in my blog, which has desired effect of shutting them up.

When I arrive at work, and put steaming High Horse in stable, colleague listens to tale and shrieks with amusement, informing me I have met an Urban Woodsman (Mellors), apparently a new class phenomenon.

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On way home from work, stop off at Marks and Spencer’s and purchase, after great deliberation, thermal vests, knickers, blouse and slippers for aged mother so that winter does not catch her unawares in her nursing home in freezing North Yorkshire. Am laden with other shopping like dromedary on Silk Road heading for Samarkand and shattered after long day at work. Sink gratefully on seat surrounded by bags at Oxford Circus Tube station. Tube trains arrives and leap on just in time having scrambled together shopping bags.

Stand in doorway on train, in perfect position to observe, as doors close, that have made tragic error, and left behind Marks & Spencer’s bag on seat. Realise have been total berk and can now kiss goodbye to M&S bag as no chance bag will not be swiped. Frantically jump off train at Piccadilly Circus after interminable journey from Oxford Circus, run up southward Bakerloo platform, rush desperately in interminable search of northward bound Bakerloo platform, catch train back to Oxford Circus, get off train and hurry back to southward bound Bakerloo platform. Although have not prayer of finding bag, hope springs eternal and cling to memory of having left wallet with Annual Season Ticket on wall outside entrance to South Kensington tunnel one torrid morning in early summer, where it was left unmolested by approximately 0.5 million visitors to the South Ken cultural hub.

However, when get back to southward bound Bakerloo platform, no bag in evidence. Has either been nicked by sub-human or else Tube employee has taken it to send to Lost Property. However, unless Tube employee Invisible Man or Woman, second scenario unlikely as no Tube employee in evidence on platform. Mooch grumpily up and down platform scanning seats, and under seats, scowling.

Leave Oxford Circus and scowl all way to Waterloo station. Take up escalator from tube to station concourse. Am behind girl who is behind bulky middle-aged bloke.

As ascend, bulky middle-aged bloke suddenly topples in slow motion backwards down escalator into me. Have flash back to little old lady’s backward swan dive down escalator earlier in summer. Feel sure must be cardiac arrest. Grab bloke’s jumper to arrest fall, but he continues to plummet backwards behind me down escalator.

As escalator continue to ascend, and bloke knocks people behind me down like nine pins, girl on step ahead of me turns and says, serenely:

‘I can’t apologise enough.’

Bloke, it seems, has had ‘a drink’.

Bloke, who it appears is girl’s father, picks himself up, and without a care in the world, gets back on the escalator, and then trots off across the Waterloo concourse with as steady a pace as a dromedary carrying the Queen of Sheba.

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No. 1 personal commuting beef at moment is inability to experience peaceful journey home due to gobby gits on train subjecting flower-like ears to painful noise pollution. Thus have instigated new regime whereby, if seat on train become subject to proximity of noisy gits, find new seat. This additional form of exercise as sometimes have to move up to 6 times before find peace and quiet, slamming connecting doors behind as shoot further up train in huff.

Tonight at Waterloo Station, take seat on nearly empty Woking train where settle down to scoff Snickers bar and read James Lee Burke novel. Start counting ‘one elephant’ to judge how long before first noisy git turn up. Have got to only 5 elephants when City pillock trundle in with grace and lightness of Nellie the Elephant and plonk self on seat across the gangway where slump against side of train.

Three minutes later, additional City pillock, with head like flat iron, trundle in and join City pillock on seats. Apparently friend. Sigh loudly into book. Important discussion immediately held on necessity for first pillock to leave train at Clapham Junction to use facilities, as apparently brain too fried to use facilities at Waterloo. Off-colour conversation cannot go into here follows in stage whispers.

Conversation noise level increases and turns to more important topics.

‘Shall we go to Flat Iron?’ ask City Pillock No 1, ‘Is that such a crazy idea?

‘No more than buying a wine farm in New Zealand,’ replies Pillock No 2, apparently uninformed as to what a winery or vineyard is. Am unsure whether City Pillock No 1 is referring to Flatiron mountain ranges in Colorado, demonstrating sportif nature, or to Flat Iron steak house in Soho.

‘Have you tried the Wagyu thing?’ ask Pillock No 1, slicing his arm through air as if wielding a Samurai katana, ‘It’s like butter.’

Now all other commuters within 500 metres know that Pillock No 1 HAS MONEY.

‘Where can you get hold of the cows in London?’ asks Pillock No 2.
‘To farm them?’ asks Pillock No 1.
‘To EAT them,’ says Pillock No 2, with a touch of impatience.
‘They live happy lives,’ reflects Pillock No 1, ‘And then they kill them. And sauté them.’

Train pulls up at Clapham Junction. Pillock No 1 gets up. Pillock No 2 gets up. They embrace like brothers. ‘See you,’ says Pillock No 1. ‘Next time we will have beef. Let’s talk on the Internet’.

Pillock No 1 leaves train. Pillock No 2 stares in intoxicated haze into space. Dave Robicheaux smacks up someone in book.

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Am pootling along in South Ken pedestrian tunnel this summer morn, rejoicing that Busker Nemesis nowhere to be seen, when come upon small family gathering of mother and two infants around parked pushchair, up against wall of tunnel.

‘Well done, Joshua,’ say mother, bending proudly over toddler.

Beside toddler, on floor of pedestrian tunnel, a main thoroughfare for millions of visitors to London’s premier cultural hub, is pink plastic potty.

Eyeballs ping out on springs like cartoon character in ‘Loony Tunes’.

Stop dead in tracks just past pushchair, stunned.

American woman stop dead in tracks just past pushchair, stunned.

‘That’s the weirdest thing ah have ever seen,’ says American woman as we stare at each other with wild surmise.

Share horrific experience with colleagues when get to work. Opinion split between those who equally stunned and those who feel that potty training, no matter where, is an important rite of passage for infants.

Chinese colleague puts things into perspective by sending me news story from Sydney Morning Herald about mainland Chinese family who insist on child defecating in seat on Delta Airlines flight from Beijing to Detroit and child being allowed to do same on train in Hong Kong.

Realise that commuting traumas have not yet reached zenith in UK.

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Busking Nemesis

Gadzooks! What spectral horror dost I espy down the long, lonely, dim reaches of the South Kensington pedestrian tunnel this summer morn? Though it be sultry outside an icy chill plays about my heart.

Why flees the solitary pigeon, pecking in the gulley, on frighted wings? What terrifying sound reaves my ears?

Heaven forfend, can it be my busking nemesis; galloping lightly like a Suffolk Punch all over Rod Stewart’s ‘Tonight’s the Night’?

Like the phantom of Ichabod Crane’s nightmares oft haunts he the Tunnel, leaving some of England’s greatest pop tunes lying traumatised in in his wake.

Whence comes he? Whence goes he? Why sings he so jauntily, and always in the same calypso style no matter what the song?

A poke in the back indicates a friend has joined me in the tunnel.

‘I heard him in Leicester Square a while ago murdering my favourite song by The Fugees,’ says friend, screwing up her face. ‘I don’t know how he gets away with it.’

Explain that Tube buskers have to go through a selection process before an audition committee.

‘Maybe when he went before the committee they were all drunk,’ says friend.

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The Danger of Flowers

Waiting for delayed train at Waterloo Station, loitering around giant escalator at top end of
concourse which lead to deserted haven of bars, upmarket retail outlets etc, stuffing face
with burger when small, somewhat tubby, female senior citizen, in jaunty raspberry pink
cotton skirt and sleeveless blue top – producing general air of festivity – tanks by pulling
plastic square wheelie thing like find in garden centres. As wheelie thing has delphinium
poking out of it can easily deduce senior citizen is returning from Hampton Court Flower show well stocked with goodies.

Despite distraction of cheeseburger cannot help but notice senior citizen sporting flush on
cheeks colour of bullfinch chest, which, coupled with general appearance of person
tottering on edge of health, does not bode well.

Not sure precisely what this indicates, but sure senior citizen should not be mounting giant
escalator as observe senior citizen immediately does.

Return attention to cheeseburger when almighty crash sound overhead. This, horrified to see,
is senior citizen plummeting backwards through space and smashing head on floor of

Stop eating cheeseburger and hare up escalator. Note to self as ploughing up escalator that
have forgotten one important technical point, i.e that escalator moving staircase. Thus,
senior citizen being carted skywards, whilst ineffectual rescuer stares in horror behind.

Fortunately, someone with brain see accident on CCTV and stop escalator.

Post Traumatic Commuter run down escalator to gateline in search of help, arriving just
behind faster commuter who also running for help.

20 minutes of very edgy wait ensue whilst a doctor – holding head of senior citizen; the
Waterloo Station manager; the doctor’s friend; two ladies who suggest accident caused by
high blood pressure; Post Traumatic Commuter; station person with radio (harassed by Post
Traumatic Commuter); elderly first aider – not much younger than senior citizen –- and several other interested persons await arrival of paramedics.

As nearest hospital, St Thomas’s, a mere five minutes’ walk away, some terse conversation

Wile away time by testing weight of shopping trolley, which weighs ton, and sharing opinion
not the kind of weight pensioner with possible dodgy ticker should be lifting off train.

‘The elderly will insist on taking this escalator’, says the elderly first aider, shaking her head.

Paramedic (one) arrive at last, and having passed on eyewitness report of senior citizen’s
accident to elderly first aider to pass on Post Traumatic Commuter leave for sanctuary of
homeward bound train, pondering just how one paramedic will remove upside down
unconscious casualty from middle of escalator.

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Edvard Munch: In the Lair of the Revenue Inspector

The appointed day for my interview with Her Majesty’s Revenue Inspectorate having arrived, I redeemed my three piece worsted suit from the pawnbrokers and put a shine on my shoes that a Guardsman would have been proud of. My toiletries having been completed, and a fresh handkerchief stuffed in my breast pocket, I betook myself to Waterloo Station as instructed, to throw myself on the mercy of that iron-souled body of men, the Revenue Inspectors.

Arriving at a grim lobby, I approached with trepidation the Sibyl who presided there, sat on a three legged stool behind a reception desk. After some time, she looked up at me with scarcely disguised loathing.

‘Edvard Munch, madam.’

The Sibyl checked her computer, then rose to her feet and waved an incense burner across the desk.

‘Edvard Munch! You shall miss your lunch!’

I looked at the clock. It was quarter to the hour of one. The Sibyl’s prediction was true. An icy hand began to grasp my heart.

The Sibyl raised a bony finger and pointed to a door in the far corner of the lobby.

‘Go, Edvard Munch, go hence. Ye shall be tested, as never man was tested before!’

As I approached the door, with terror in my soul, the Sibyl’s voice rose to a shriek:

‘Procol o, procol este, profane!’

I knocked on the door.

A deep voice bade me enter.

As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw one of ancient years sat poring over a ledger on a bench.
O Newgate wretch, dost thou approach the bench where sits the implacable Jeffreys with greater trepidation than do I the Revenue Inspector?

He, hoar-headed and careworn, whom power clung around as ivy to a tower, finally spake.

‘Mr Much?’ asked he, without looking up from his paperwork. So busy was he that he had no time for small courtesies.

‘Munch,’ I querulously corrected.

‘My mistake,’ said the Revenue Inspector, making a mark on a paper. ‘Please take a seat.’

Some moments passed. Finally, like an elephant seal hauling itself from the surf, the Revenue Inspector broke surface from his paperwork and addressed me directly.

‘You have lost your season ticket, Mr Much? On what date did this occur? At what time did you lose your ticket? How did you lose it? Where did you lose it?’

All memory fled my mind.

‘Err…three weeks ago?’ I guessed.

The Revenue Inspector looked at me with rheumy eyes that pierced my soul and weighed my heart against a feather.

‘‘Do you have tickets, Mr Much? Tickets you have purchased since you lost your Season Ticket?’

I did, and after some ten minutes fumbling in my wallet, I produced them, and, after some further period, put them in something resembling date order.

‘What is the date of the first ticket, Mr Much?’ asked the Revenue Inspector.

‘21st April?’ I hazarded.

‘Where did you purchase the ticket, Mr Much?

‘At Waterloo Station, sir,’ I said.

‘What time did you purchase the ticket?’

‘At 8pm?’ I hazarded again.

‘How did you arrive at Waterloo Station?’

I told the Inspector the tale of my loss, leaving out the bit about the pigeon.

The Revenue Inspector inspected the ticket. ‘This ticket was purchased at Waterloo Station at 2000 on Thursday 24 April. Was it that evening that you lost your ticket?’

‘It was!’ I cried.

The Inspector seemed satisfied.

‘Very well, Mr Much,’ he said, making a mark on his paperwork. ‘You have passed stage one of your interview. Now, to the practical. Come with me, Mr Much.’

The Revenue Inspector rose heavily to his feet, like an elephant seal rising from a rock. He took down a lantern from a shelf, and a bunch of great keys from a hook behind the desk.

‘Follow me, Mr Much.’

With that, he unlocked a low, narrow door in the corner of the room, and beckoned me.

The door squeaked like a mouse under a cat’s paw on rusted hinges, and I followed him
down into cavernous darkness. The air was damp and a smell of cold water rose to my nostrils.

We descended down a spiral stairway, the lantern ahead lighting the way. Finally, the Inspector halted by a dark body of water.

A small boat bobbed on the noisesome flood. The Inspector bid me step down, and cast off.

Some half hour later, we arrived at a landing stage, where the Inspector tied the little
boat to a ring and bid me step out. A portcullised grille stood before me, through which a
dozen pairs of hands waved piteously from within an ill-lit and unfragrant dungeon. Some waved tattered copies of the London Evening Standard or The Times. Some rattled the bars with furled umbrellas.

‘We have arrived, Mr Much,’ said the Inspector, ‘At the Place of Imprisonment for those who have lost their season ticket more than twice in any given twelve month and cannot afford to replace it.

Now they reside in the cells of the Revenue Inspectorate, for they cannot afford to travel to work, and here they must stay, until they are redeemed, or a new calendar year commences.’

It was indeed a dread sight. One of the imprisoned, a young man in a ragged city suit,
beckoned me close. ‘I say, fellow! Can you lend me two and a half thousand pounds, just till I get straight?’

‘Shall such a sight not impress itself upon your mind, Mr Much?’ asked the Inspector. ‘What would you do to avoid such a fate?’

‘I will never ever lose my season ticket again, sir,’ I said.

‘Indeed, Mr Much, that is the wisest course to take. Look at these wretches, without hope or succour, their clothes as tattered as their lives. Learn, Mr Much, and keep your season ticket secure. Perhaps in a special pocket in your jacket. Now, let us return and continue the interview.’

Chastened, I followed the Inspector back to the boat.

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The Equity Train is Leaving

‘The Equity Train is leaving!’ bellowed a City pillock wearing a pair of earphones the size of sunflower heads, on my train last evening as it approached Esher Station, to what appeared to be a potential investor he was trying to earn a commission from.

We are having a bit of a run on shouty City pillocks at the station – the night before last, as got off train in monsoon conditions, another Financial Wizard was bellowing like a typhoon off the coast of Java on his phone to a hapless client as a monsoon-like deluge pelted down at Esher station and harried commuters hurriedly took shelter and summoned their wives to pick them up.

I have zero interest in the equity train, or indeed, any other financial matters, which is why possibly am always in a stew. However, I am very interested in the small goings on of the tiny spiders who spin webs amongst the railings at Esher station.

Each set of railings has its spider, mostly very small, about the size of the * on my keyboard, who spins their webs in a spirit of optimism like Ernest Shackleton’s.

The Station building sits at the top of a steep incline, like a mini-Acropolis, and the railings hang over a high drop, with the station car park entrance and Esher common and golf course beyond. For the little spiders, it must be like pitching a bivouac on the side of Mount Everest, but they are persistent. They are entirely exposed, but they manfully – spiderfully –keep on web building. Wind and rain may sweep them away and leave their home in tatters, but there is always a return, and a new web being spun.

Of the night of the torrential rain recently, when I didn’t dare leave the shelter of the station for twenty minutes, I saw that one tiny little thing was sat stubbornly on his rain-encrusted web, where the rain drops were bigger than he was.

As I Ieft the station last evening, checking on the little spiders, the sound of City Pillock died away in the distance, and the sound of the blackbirds began. Like every railing having its spider, it seemed, so bright was the music of the blackbirds, that every tree must have its bird. I know, of course, that since blackbird numbers have fallen dramatically, this is not the case. But as I walked down Station Road, and down Lower Green Road, Wood End and Douglas Road, the sound of caroling blackbirds accompanied me. Some of those blackbirds were mighty noisy. But none of them were in any way irritating like the City Pillock. Maybe they were telling each other that the Worm Train was leaving. Or they may have been telling me it was time to pack in the commuting and spend more time where the birds are singing and the City pillocks are quiet.

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14 May 1893

Several weeks having passed since the terryifying loss of my Season Ticket, I had been lodging in that miserable abode of pain and suffering, Croydon Workhouse, where, at the utmost extremity after my daily expenditure on railway tickets had seen my life savings whittled away to nothing, I had taken refuge in the hard bosom of Parish charity. There, to the company of other miserable wretches who filled their hours picking oakum, I nightly returned from my London studio to nurse my anguish over a mug of the thinnest cocoa heated up over a candle stump and a slice of bread scraped with lard. After some weeks of silence in which I grew to believe that Her Majesty’s Revenue Inspectors were as fabled as the Vittra, an envelope bearing their frank arrived. So hungry was I that forthwith I steamed off the penny farthing stamp and licked up the life giving nourishment of its glue.  The letter within commanded me to appear at the hour of 18.30 a week hence at Waterloo Station where I must be interrogated by a Revenue Inspector. I should bring proof of identity, a bank statement – I laughed hollowly – and a character reference provided by a doctor, a lawyer or a Justice of the Peace. The Inspectorate in its wisdom did not ask me to vouchsafe the word of a bank manager, knowing that no man Who Has Lost His Season Ticket is in any position to ask favours of his bank manager.

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