Today, whilst I waited at Victoria for my train, I watched my fellow commuters.
The businessman rushes. He has stayed in the office until the last second, then rushed for the train, making his lateness everyone else's problem. No-one understands the day he's had, or the pressure that he's under. His pinstripe suit has the slackness of a day's wear, and his trousers ride up when he runs to reveal threadbare socks. But he is, in his world, a Very Important Person.
The business woman, a rarer breed, is more equipped for the job. She has paired her pinstripe, idiosyncratically, with trainers so that she can run for her train to greater effect. But then she is burdened with a capacious handbag which slows her down.
Then there is the casual businessman, less sharp, less panicked, and less time-sensitive. He's in the uniform of the freelance consultant - beige slacks, blazer, brown brogues and a pastel coloured shirt. He's left himself time to pick up an Evening Standard and an M&S meal deal ("it's the bottle of Rioja that makes it such excellent value.") and strolls to the platform whilst looking over the day's headlines.
The IT consultant is in his 30's but his wardrobe belongs to a man ten year's younger. Again, there's a uniform - jeans from one of a handful of on-trend brands, blue checked shirt, and earphones connected to an invisible gadget, like some life-supporting battery-pack. He has planned his journey; forty-five seconds to cross the concourse, thirty to get to the second door of the third carriage of the train on platform nine. No need to rush. No time to spare. The system works.
The shoppers rush, but ineffectually. Come to The Big Smoke for a day's hardcore retail therapy, and to flex the husband's credit card in John Lewis, by home-time the ladies of the commuter-belt have remembered that the streets are not, in fact, paved with gold, but with other crazed shoppers. The home-time dash is left too late, by people who forget why it's called a "rush hour", and the plentiful bags make the process of finding the cheap-day return in the inside pocket of the Radley handbag a bit troublesome. They move in gaggles, these women. "Oh DO come along Julia! We'll miss the 6:42 and I'll not have time to hide the shopping before Gerald is home from the office!"
The tourists gaze, without comprehension, at the lists of station names on the board, their tank-sized suitcases sprawling across the concourse. Their dithering is the nightmare of their fellow traveller. Their unpredictability is ... well ... unpredictable, and The Commuter can't cope with any kind of break from the system. And the cases, rucksack, clinking bags of duty-free and Alps of Toblerone make them big space users, which is never popular with the, "can you move down inside the carriage," brigade.
The students loaf around in herds. They don't rush. They expect the timetable to wait for them. They scuff across the station, a Greggs pasty in one hand, and their parents hopes and dreams in the other. They drift between the other commuters, spreading their waves of ambivalence through the crowd. Their too-big or too-small clothes look like they've landed on the wrong person, and they appear to have no real sense of urgency, but they move in the right direction almost instinctively.
Young men shout into mobile phones, "we drank, like, six pints! Man, we were wasted!". Middle aged women mutter into theirs, "I'll pick something up on my way home for dinner." Latecomers run, dawdlers stroll, regulars stride, and day trippers shuffle. Middle aged men in expensive suits push and shove, and teenaged boys in slouchy jeans and offensive t-shirts say, "excuse me, please." Noses in books, or magazines, or tabloids, or broadsheets. Fiddling with phones or MP3 players. Eating, drinking, snapping gum.
We're all just commuters.
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