In Algeria you don’t always need an alarm; you wake to the sound of the Muezzin calling for prayers, usually way earlier than you'd like to or to the guy shouting batata batata (1) from his Peugeot 404.
Because I never prepare my next-day-outfit, several minutes are spent deciding what attire will make me look like I didn’t fall out of bed and actually thought this through. From the window, it looks sunny, which of course means it’s also freezing because you know you can never have both in
Walking to the station, my nipples drilling holes into my jumper, I have the feeling people are racing me there, the competition is kiling me. At the station, after a few crammed trains I manage to get into a corner of a train carriage, the day I’d get a seat I would do a “ma3rouf”(2), but I am grateful still, grateful that the train doesn’t smell of ammonia and bad breath, grateful for the cute guy who shuffled about a quarter of an inch to allow me to hold the handlebar so I don’t fall on top of the obviously expecting women standing next to me who nobody notices for fear of having to give up their seat, I am grateful for my book “Le Chuchoteur” I am reading in French this fortnight, I find switching between English and French fun – just that! Other armours or commuting material Londoners use include: newspapers, IPods, Ipad, amazon kindles, Smartphones (silently please) and game consoles; we are all plugged into a device or escaping in a story.
After 20 minutes and what feels like a 100 stops (actual number of stops 9) not that I ever looked up from my book, but I got elbowed and shoved so many times, and the range of perfumes and bad colognes that overpowered the carriage couldn’t have been from the few people I noticed when I first got into the carriage and scrutinised the dwellers because that is what you do no? You analyse your carriage when getting on, some you acknowledge, some you look away from and some you decide were crazy and must avoid their eyes. So I get off the first train and start quietly shuffling in ridiculous baby steps with the rest of the herd trying to make our way to the next line for yet another joy ride.
The walk takes about 10 minutes because some “tourist” doesn’t know his way around the underground and has to walk back and another is standing in the middle of the herds path studying a tube map, I hear tatting, flabbergasted looks exchanged between commuters, whinges and deep breathing all emanating from frustration. Walk like you drive, don’t cut corners and stay in your lane.
London commuters have a certain rhythm and speed that is quite scary to outsiders, we all walk in synch with a goal, we don’t stop for anything, we avoid obstacles but don’t stop a bit like the daily tube marathon, we know all the shortcuts that get us to our platform the fastest;
When I approach my platform I veer like a road rage driver and sprint to my spot, a guy is standing there, I look at him in disgust, he doesn’t understand he’s standing in “my place”, the spot I meticulously calculated over time and established its strategic location that gets me to my exit within 2 seconds. It’s mine get off mate.
Busker playing way too upbeat a tune for a Wednesday morning, it's interfering with my grumpiness, stop it for gods sake stop it or I might actually smile, train approaching the platform after a very outrageously long 3 minutes, the guy standing in my platform spot is shuffling already, getting ready to pounce and in bad form gets in before passengers get off, at this point I want to take him to court for breaking underground rule including minding the gap, when I finally manage to get on the train, I shove my bag in his face and mutter “sorry”
He’s onto me, he knows I hate him already so he stays away from me, girls can be very scary on the tube, we wear stilettos and can make a scene particularly if hormonal, which let's face it ladies it is about 19 days out of 30.
Five stations later, train alights at my stop; I get off first because my face was cleaning the glass door and start running up the escalator (on the left hand side naturally) pacing myself for a whole days' work, I feel I have been through war and welcome a day in the office with joy, I walk away happy to be alive and off the train of death, only to find the whole office outside for a false fire alert and start shuffling again trying to get into the building with the rest of the herd.
07h35: alarm goes off again, I overslept, realise it was all a bad dream! Good lord I have to go through all of that again!
(1) potatoes potatoes…farmers selling local produce from their trucks
(2) charity – usually couscous or a meal to be given to all neighbours or to the mosque etc
Picture from Zimbio.com ©