If you work nine to five, your choices are "get trapped in a crowd over here" or "get trapped in a crowd over there". For me, the choices are walk to work or get public transport. I usually walk nine miles a day; an hour and 20 minutes each way.
Here is a photograph I took of the walk:
Anyway, taking the tube would be supersonic-quick if it no one else was there. For me, getting the tube from Holborn to Brixton takes 40 minutes - which is 40 minutes less than the time it takes to walk.
But what's 40 minutes? What are you really missing? An episode of a thing? And a cup of tea? And a satsuma? A walk, maybe? A 40 minute walk...?
Even if you're desperate for those 40 minutes, the sacrifice is well worth it when you compare the trips.
One time, when walking to work, I saw the Mayor of London (or a very close approximation) cycle by and yell "the light's red for a reason old chap!" Another time I almost got hit by a van because the traffic island was taken up by a band playing 'Wish You Were Here".
The other day I got trapped in a jazz festival. Of all the places to be trapped (and I can think of a few), that's quite a good one. The jazz festival was recently replaced by a Funland, so now my walk from work includes wandering between two vast ghost trains and soaking in the delighted screams of quasi-horrified punters.
And the other week, a police chase happened around me. Five rather cuddly-looking police officers were huffing and puffing after some guy that had disappeared round the corner. The dialogue was clichéd, but I suppose they had to write it in a hurry. "He's getting away!" said one (I kid you not). The other replied "I think we lost him". The third concluded with "shut up and let's get back to the car".
I like to think they were chasing a butcher in an apron who was chasing a dog stealing a string of sausages.
Compare that to getting the tube, which goes a bit like this:
- Fight your way through the entire population of London just to get to the station, narrowly dodging free magazines being thrust at you people who for some reason haven't been trampled to death. They've rolled up these magazines into a fine point, for jabbing. All they have to do now is dip it in lemon juice.
- Top up your Oyster Card at a machine that won't let you top up your Oyster Card.
- Spend half an hour going down and along and down and along and along, before missing the train itself.
- Irritate yourself by proofreading those stupid billboards.
- Get on a train. Envelop yourself in the stench of human flesh. Ignore the press of bare skin against your arm. Drench yourself in the sweat of office workers. Stare at the back-acne of women in tank tops. Wonder why this is happening to you.
- Watch as the doors open at the next stop. Nobody gets on, and nobody gets off. You all just stand there, crammed together, staring longingly at the empty platform and wondering why the hell nobody seems to live in Pimlico.
- Seconds before your destination, linger at a red signal. I can't see any red signal. All I can see is someone's armpit. Smouldering.
- Get off the train and walk at a snail’s pace. Feel yourself consumed by hate. Move, old lady! Move! I hate you. I literally hate you. And you'll never know how much I hate you. That's the worst part of all. You'll never know. I actually never knew how much hate I was capable of until I came to London. When I’m walking behind someone – anyone – who insists upon pottering along at a leisurely pace in a massive crowd of busy commuters, my heart races and I’m consumed with so much loathing that it’s almost nourishing. I think there’s a lot of protein in hatred.
- Finally struggle up the steps and escape onto the crowded street. The sunset blinds you and someone's playing the bongos.
Walking to and from work is a more enjoyable, cheaper, healthier, sometimes even faster alternative to getting public transport, but - to give the tube the only credit it deserves - by avoiding it you're avoiding a city-wide joke that everyone gets.