Commuting into central London for work creates contempt. I hate pedestrians, I hate cyclists, I hate motorcyclists, bus drivers, lorry drivers, taxis and white van man. I hate packed commuter trains, ticket inspectors, Oyster machines that don’t work and I hate Transport for London (TfL).
To really hate all these would cause me to explode. So I have realised that we all need to rub along a bit better. Pedestrians walk in the road, cyclists cross pavements, bikers block cycling lanes, car drivers target bikers, lorry drivers cannot see (or don’t care about) other road users. Get used to it.
Old Compton Street in Soho is a classic. There are more pedestrians in the road than vehicles. I nearly ran down comedian Tony Hawks last week (I confirmed it was him via Twitter).
Pedestrians step off the pavement without looking, walk four abreast arm-in-arm and stop suddenly or change direction at will. Many have headphones on and are texting, emailing or surfing the net, completely negating my hi-viz vest and bicycle bell.
Cyclists ride up, over and along pavements as well as the wrong way down one-way streets. Some never stop at red lights (I have stopped and been hit from behind buy a guy who seemed incredulous that I stopped), most will leave early or ride through slowly.
And there are the militant cyclists who will do their utmost to stop obvious amateurs without Lyrcra, such as me, from getting past. They also swerve and sway to dominate bus lanes to prevent motorcyclists using them, even though bikers are equally permitted in Red Route bus lanes.
It is obvious that many cyclists have never read the Highway Code let alone taken a driving test. Oh and many of them have their personal stereo headphones on too, ensuring they cannot hear warning horns and bells or the screeching of brakes.
Motorcycling in London is mad. I do it sometimes – when I have a secure place to park at my destination – because it is by far the fastest way of getting about. But regular commuters start morphing into courier riders, breaking all the rules of the road and defying death only marginally.
Bikers will go through gaps. They will ride in the cycle lane on the inside – annoying cyclists and blocking their path. They will ride on the outside, forcing oncoming traffic illegally into bus lanes. And when they come across a traffic Island they will ride the wrong side of it rather than wait.
Crazy car drivers
Congestion charging seems to have had little effect on the car commuter. There are still queues of cars – usually with just one person in them. And car drivers only recognise other car drivers as legitimate road users.
A car driver will happily pull over to allow a car coming in the opposite direction to pull out round a bus. But the same driver, faced with a motorcyclist just over the white line, will swerve towards the biker and gesticulate wildly that the biker’s on the wrong side of the road.
Buses and lorries
I suspect bus and lorry drivers are the sorts of people who have failed in every other job they have tried and find the isolation of the cab a comfort. They seem to drive that way, anyway.
And let’s not start on black cab drivers or, even worse, private hire minicabs.
And while we’re at it: is there a shortage of rear light bulbs in the country because very few cars seem to have all of them working. And when I do tap on the windows and tell them, I am usually met with: “yeah I know”.
I have been commuting for a couple of months. I am acting news editor at Incisive Media’s Post Magazine on a maternity contract three days a week. For most of the other two days I have been in AOL’s offices, working on the launch of the new Money site.
I start at Post at 8am, but I am still commissioning AOL’s Daily Finance too. That means, although I can get a lot of emailing done earlier I really need to be at my computer soon after 7.30am.
I have tried the train, which would allow me to work if I could secure a seat. But even the 6.50 from Lewisham offers standing room only.
The train is hot, uncomfortable and crowded. And I often get a bad sense of tinnitus as the sound of other people’s “personal” stereos chitter-chatter constantly, even drowning out of my own music.
I’ve taken to cycling, leaving home about 6.30. Incisive Media has no showers, so I have joined the H2 club round the corner (motto: catch the gym to work), where I can shower and change.
Even that annoys me. Some fool decided that instead of hot and cold taps at the sinks they’d have a motion sensor-controlled single temperature (tepid) water spout. So the water’s not really hot enough for shaving and horribly warm for cleaning your teeth. They are reinventing the wheel next.
And it is rare I am able to ride the same route to and from work more than a few days in a row because London councils or TfL – or the utility companies, regularly dig up the roads and demand detours. And you try getting a straight answer out of TfL, by email or on the phone.
So there are few rights and wrongs, just lots of people all trying to get to or from somewhere in difficult circumstances. We just all need to accept that at sometime we will be in the wrong place where we don’t have right of way. And other times we will have right of way but it will be in theory only. Chill out. Forgive a bit. Relax. I know that is what I need to do.
Home sweet home
I have several more months to go of commuting. But each day that I don’t have to, that I can sit at my computer in my dressing gown, that I can fill those short periods of downtime with useful home tasks, the more I realise how much I love working from home.