I wait in the rain for the 10:19 at Blackheath station to take me to London Bridge, an announcement informs me that my train will call at Lewisham, New Cross, London Bridge, Waterloo East and London Charing Cross, it’s 10:16. At 10:21 an electronic announcement apologises for the lateness of my service. The announcer is a woman, she is well spoken but her synthesised voice does not betray any sense of apology.
My train arrives, it’s 10:26 so has delayed the following two trains; the 10:21 also to London Charing Cross and the 10:25 to London Canon Street. It’s seven minutes late so it actually qualifies as a late train according to Southeastern policy. Southeastern do not classify a train as late if it is “under five minutes behind schedule”. From my experience once a train is late it will miss its entrance slot into London Bridge and be made later in an attempt to keep the other trains running on time. I’m wet, as I walked to the end of the platform, which is unsheltered, some eight minutes ago, I need to be at the front of the train when I get off at London Bridge.
I get a seat easily as the commuter rush was about 45 minutes ahead of me but there is still a hangover of agitated late risers who are doing their level best to get to work as quickly as possible, regardless of the fact that they have no control over what the train does now. We collectively read the free morning newspapers left behind by our earlier passengers; the front pages vary slightly reflecting the earlier and later editions and carry the news of a royal wedding and student protests on their respective front pages. My paper is focused on the Royal Wedding of our future king; the future king William V. The good news story fails to set the tone for the rest of the paper which is filled with civil unrest, knife crime and bankruptcy.
It is almost fitting that the paper should metaphorically follow my route. I pass through Lewisham and then New Cross; they make up one of the worst boroughs in the country for knife crime and inner London gang violence whilst simultaneously a hot bed of political activity in the form of Goldsmiths College. My paper informs me that the lecturers have recently lauded the attacks on Millbank, home of the Conservative party who subsequently make up a large proportion of the government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland although they failed to win the 2010 general election outright. To the east I see the canary wharf complex that marks one of the financial centres of London, rising out of the rubble and failure of 1970s boom and bust Britain, a project that signifies two periods of financial boom as well as two severe busts, the most recent of which I am reading about in the business pages. The docklands was a popular target for the IRA in the 90s but is now classified as being at a high level of threat from Islamic fundamentalists whilst the country in general is under “imminent attack”. As my train picks its entrance to London Bridge I notice Tower Bridge, and to its north the Tower of London which houses the Crown Jewels; on display ”by gracious permission of the Queen”. These vestments will one day adorn the future King of England in a lavish coronation ceremony that will attempt to illicit a sense of nationalism that has not been seen for over half a century and may, in these times of self-reliance, no longer exist.
Platform six; it’s 10:43 as we grind to a halt inside the busy station, scores of commuters and tourists wait at the platform edge, huddled where they anticipate a train door will present itself. I elbow my way off the train, there doesn’t seem to be a code of conduct on the national rail system, it’s always survival of the fittest; who can push harder. As I walk past the drivers cab I am immediately deafened in my left ear by the sound of pneumatic drills bolstering girders into a huge glass prism that screams into the morning sky. The Shard at London Bridge is a pyramid for the postmodern age; brutalist in its appearance and violation of the landscape and yet mesmerising the eye with its shimmering glass façade. Like the pyramids of ancient Egypt, which were used to adorn and entomb their dead Pharaohs with riches, the Shard adorns south London with the riches of capitalism, commerce and progression. Another synthetic reminder of our precarious social situation shifts my gaze back into the station, “Do not leave luggage or baggage unattended on the station platform. Luggage left unattended will be destroyed or damaged by the security services”. With this I head to the underground, weaving in and out of slower commuters, irritated by their pace and obstruction, touching my oyster card to exit the confines of the rail system, my journey has been logged in the vast Transport for London database, where I’ve been and where I’m going.
I touch back in, this time for the tube. The escalator takes me into the underground, 70ft under the streets of London. The walls are adorned with adverts for west end musicals, aftershaves, smart phones and other luxury goods. These small screens flicker in unison demanding the attentions of my fellow travellers and myself. I’m suddenly overcome by a need to look at my phone; 10:45, no signal. A few people start to run, which alerts me that a train is sat on the platform, intrinsically, I follow their lead and manage to slip through the closing doors onto a north bound Northern line train. I catch myself looking around at my fellow passengers for their approval of my cat-like skill slipping through the closing doors whilst others were left behind to wait “1 min” for the next train.
Bank. Moorgate. I’m staring blankly at the commuters around me trying not to make eye contact. Old Street. Angel. A pregnant lady boards the train and I see a number of faces look away but a young girl offers her seat, the men now look guilty and one shuffles as if to offer his seat to the young girl who politely declines, it’s far easier to avoid the needs of your fellow passengers when you are engrossed in the evening paper but the first edition is some four hours away. Kings Cross. “Change here for Piccadilly, Victoria, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith and City line services and national and international rail services.” I take my cue and make my escape, it’s 10:57 and I am late for something.