Up close and impersonal
Having moved to London and embraced public transport, eve Jones now offers some survival tips – such as how to keep the whiff of oniony pasty out of your hair
I read recently that Bentley has made an SUV with a special seat in the front for a falcon. This means there are chauffeur-driven birds in the world while I am carless and still see taxis as a choice between the fast way home and supper.
I was bought a car at 17. My parents, with decades of taxi service under their belts, felt the financial loss a minor irritant by comparison, although one car became five (one nicked, three write-offs). On moving to London, however, I realised the Oxfordshire dirt holding my trusty steed together was thinning perilously and the obstacles I seemed so inclined to hit had multiplied. So I decided I had best give public transport a whirl.
For all the whining people do about public transport you’ve got to admit mostly, technically, it’s pretty good. delays and blocked loos aside, problems stem mostly from hygienically suspect, obnoxious passengers. Take the tube, where you’re typically squashed among damp, undeodorised armpits or coughed and sneezed over. A man once openly fired snot on my face on the Victoria line and another time I got off and found a piece of ham in my hair. A friend, feeling some creep having a grope in a sardined carriage, gripped the offending paw, held it high and shouted, “Has anybody lost a hand, I’ve just found this one on my arse.”
I had a fight with some brandy-loaded West Brom supporters because they were foul mouthed while there were kids on the train. If I were a man I’d have been flattened but I channelled my mother’s scary genes and dressed them down like schoolboys to a round of applause. Being vocal on public transport is unusual, because in town we don’t talk to strangers unless we’re pissed. I must radiate bumpkin because I often find myself in conversation with strangers. It’s not always bad. After days partying at a wedding in Germany, a very jaded Jones on the first Monday morning BA flight to Heathrow was immeasurably perked up by a hot Hamburger in the next seat. We flirted agreeably all the way to england, blushed through passport control but I chickened out of taking his number. I later wrote to BA and asked if, in the name of romance, they could get word to him that I fancied the pants off him and we should probably get married but they declined. Spoilsports.
Most mornings I’ve a straightforward travel routine. Up at 5.30, crawl to the tube, snooze on the Piccadilly line to Knightsbridge, ride a horse then catch the number 10 to Oxford Circus by 9am. No-one is capable of speech at 5.30am, luckily, but the fly in the ointment is a middle-aged Sloane ranger on the bus bit, who, despite my pre-9am scowl and horsey aroma, makes a beeline for me. His favourite topic of conversation is himself and a round-up of his financial successes. I know about his holiday plans, his mother’s costly cataract operations and an “inappropriately young” girl he is taking on expensive dates. He’s so arrogant that when I said he was sounding a little like a sad old sugar daddy, to the agreement of the lady in front, he took it as a compliment. Next time I’m going to point out the hole in his “expensive suit” and suggest once his mother’s eyes heal that she stitch it up for him.
I’m sure there are similar bores out in the sticks but more easily avoided by car. Not just confined to buses and tubes they congregate in hordes at train stations. At 4.30 on Fridays, they honk and bray their way to their “countryside weekend” packed as heavily as if they’re embarking on an Arctic expedition. Shooting season sadly increases the weekly migrations of fur-clad, suede-booted, backcombed twits each with holdalls larger than two grown men blocking the aisles and bellowing down the carriages.
It’s especially annoying on the first offpeak service to Penzance, where space is at more of a premium than a train out of Mumbai Central. Last time I sat on the floor by the loo for two hours and, bored, took a sly picture of the hot guy I was forcibly entangled with to send to my mate. Then I (accidentally) dropped a bag of cashew nuts in his crotch and he saw me send it, which did little to improve the comfort level.
Thankfully, the townie tossers’ luggage size generally belies their destination as they don’t stray far from London. So, if you aim to go farther than the Home Counties you’ll probably be OK. My friend from Northumberland catches “the Stella express” to Berwick on Fridays, where there’s boozy cameraderie on the outward journey and a supportive, post-roast haze on the Sunday evening back, proving not all passengers are prats and there’s hope if people take stock.
So, in the name of harmonious travel, I’ve some suggestions for public passage:
• seats are for bums – not your MASSIVE suitcase;
• let’s revive the hankie – keep your snot to yourself;
• do not eat Cornish pasties on a packed train (I know this is hard but, honestly, one day I’ll murder a middle-aged commuter who steeps me with their onion waft);
• do not talk to anyone before 9am;
• don’t make friends on a night bus – if you do chat, don’t exchange numbers (the 73-year-old rastafarian was LOLS on the ride from Camden but you do not need to go with him to Orleans basement club in Finsbury Park – note to self, that one);
• mind your language (in case you meet my mum, who’ll have your guts for garters); • be nice – works on all platforms, that one.
A man openly fired snot at me on the Victoria line; another time, I found ham in my hair