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Overcrowding on the 0004

December 11, 2009

I wasn’t drunk. I was able to walk in a straight line, string a coherent sentence together and deliver it with suitable poise and decorum. Not that any of that really mattered on my train journey early this morning, an experience signalling one of the negative aspects of Christmas in the city.

It wasn’t the last train home either. Sure, I wasn’t able to get my usual caffeine fix and special stamp on the card promising me a free coffee after I’d bought nine others, but there were two other trains home after the one I jumped on at Charing Cross Station. I should perhaps have got on one of those instead. Isn’t hindsight an annoying thing? (Only if you let it stop you writing a blog post.)

The 0004 was pretty packed when jumped on board in the carriage poking out of the station. This was normal, I told myself. Pretty normal for this time of night and especially given it’s a Thursday.

Thursday is, after all, most people’s party night. Friday is the weekend. Thursday is now the night before the weekend. It’s OK for professional types to finish their week on a Thursday.

This was how I explained the sight which greeted us already cramped passengers when the train pulled in to London Bridge.

There appeared to be plenty of standing room available on the platform and yet a fairly committed bunch of adult-looking individuals displaying an obvious if misguided sense of urgency must have considered this was the last train home for ever. They seemed to think it was imperative they got on the train, even if there was no available space.

Most people already on the train budged up a bit. Then we budged up some more. Then I became aware of how I didn’t need to hang on to the handrail anymore because I was wedged upright in between two other (smaller) people in front and behind me. Suddenly I felt a distinct lack of control. Assuming the train was going to leave the station I had little idea of how I was actually going to get out of it.

Then we had to budge up even more.

The new passengers on the train appeared to find it all very funny. One lady even saw the intimate experience as a cue to promote a spirit of the blitz in the final carriage, laughing and joking with everybody reckoning that if everyone would just relax a bit it really wouldn’t be anywhere half as bad as we were all (obviously) visibly suggesting. “Come on everyone, lighten up a bit,” she squawked.

The train doors attempted to shut. Then they opened again. Then they tried to shut again before apologetically opening once more. Everyone on the train (even the squawky woman) groaned. The people remaining on the platform took this as a cue to squeeze onto the train. We budged up again.

This “routine” appeared to repeat itself four times with passengers making it clear their impatience at other passengers for not freeing up enough space for the doors to shut and for the now half hour delay in the train leaving London Bridge.

When I began to start experiencing the mildest form of claustrophobia (it’s one thing saying ‘you could have got off the train instead of recording an audioboo’ but actually getting to the door was an entirely different and fundamentally unrealistic challenge – as I was quick to point out to the man whose nose was wedged in the middle of my back) I reckoned I felt that fear people who feel trapped in similar situations do.

I could see how people can get crushed. Such simple things as being able to exit from a space had suddenly become impossible. If I had to get out of this place quickly, I wasn’t going to be able to.

True, there was unlikely to be a rush anywhere. There wasn’t a massive crowd of people behind pushing to get out. But still, in that confined space I felt a mild form of that fear.

And still that blasted woman squawked her tiresome cliches. Sweaty men seemingly bowled over by their unsually close proximity to a beauty with bleach blonde hair and inches of foundation found it difficult to resist her apparent charms. Being a gay man in my late thirties I was, thankfully, able to retain my deep seated resentment and rely on my sarcasm. Sadly, it did little to ease the situation nor free up any space.

Most would jump at an opportunity to blame corporations or find some professional in whose a spot of finger wagging could be done. That’s the easy thing.
No, instead. I’d like to say now what I rather wished I’d had the nerve to say when I was in the carriage pinned up against various South East Londoners just after midnight.

Pushing as far as you dare and then some isn’t really as funny as you think it is. There is no spirit of camaraderie to tap into. It’s painfully uncomfortable for the rest of us. Don’t do it. Think twice before you barge your way into the carriage. Because you damn well that if anything hideous happened to a train packed with commuters, then you lot would probably be the first to start bleating that not enough was done to prevent something like that happening. Assuming of course you escaped from such a horrific event alive and unscathed.

Happy Christmas.

  1. This brings back very vivid memories of journeys home from work over 25 years ago & the delights of the underground. I never “suffered” from cameraderie and seemed to spend my entire life not making eye contact with people whilst trying to avoid breathing in anything that they breathed out and not making contact with strange fellow travellers’ bodyparts – all this, whilst keeping up a stream of grumbly and barely audible muttering. It was one of the aspects of London that I really didn’t miss at all and one that I hope to avoid, if at all possible, in the future. Yes, indeed, happy Christmas (humbug!)

  2. Chris permalink

    That all sounds very unpleasant and not a little frightening. Having lived much of my life in quiet villages I *can* find those crowded trains threatening and scary. Next time take the Finnish songs with you on your Ipod.

    Late 30s? That makes me early 50s. I don’t think so, somehow!

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