A Travellerspoint blog

Definition for the Morning Commute: Lumping

Gregwtravels creates a new word to define a part of his morning commute

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I moved down to South London a few months back, now living in Battersea. As part of my new life south of Thames, I no longer commute into work using the tube. I am now going "overground."

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Overground is how Londoners describe the commuter trains. The trains come in from all directions - north, east and west - but are most prevalent in the south. This is because there are few tube lines south of River, so the trains act as us Southerners rapid transit solution.

My local station is Clapham Junction station. Clapham Junction is "Europe's busiest train station" by the number of trains which pass through it. There are 2,000 trains a day which pass through the station. Clapham Junction is on the mainlines running into Victoria and Waterloo stations, and away from London heading to the southwest and south.

During the busiest hour there are 180 trains per hour passing through Clapham Junction. 117 of those trains stop at the station.

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The good news is that means I never have to wait long for a train heading to Waterloo, near where I work. There is usually a train every two minutes during the rush hour.

The bad news is that as in addition to serving the local community, Clapham Junction is also one of the busiest transfer points on the rail network, and thus there is always a lot of people waiting for those trains. It is not uncommon for me to have to wait for three or four trains to go by before I can squeeze on one of the trains.

To make it easier for those people waiting to get on the trains, on many of the platforms they have painted lines to indicate where the doors will open. This makes it easy to know where to stand to get on the trains, but does lead to a rather uneven distribution on the platforms, with everyone crowding around the areas where the doors of the trains will be.

When the train arrives, those getting off squeeze through a small channel through the crowds, as those waiting to get on the train wait with nervous anticipation to get onto the train. Once the last person is getting off, the crowd surges forward to push on to the very busy trains.

It isn't complete chaos, though. It has a certain order to it. As there is never enough space on the train for everyone, there is a certain amount of jostling for position. At the same time, there is an honour to it - people do look at each other - making eye contact, and allowing those who have been waiting the longest to get on first.

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I have never really been sure what to call this process by which people wait for trains at Clapham Junction. It's not a queue, but it does have some order to it.

Last week, it came to me. It is lumping.

Lump (verb) - to wait and board trains in small groups huddled around where the doors are projected to be.

Lump (noun) - the group of people waiting to board a train huddled around where the doors are projected to be.

And thus it is defined.

My daily commute starts by heading to Clapham Junction and lumping to get on a train.

Posted by GregW 14:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged transportation train_travel Comments (0)

The Best (and Worst) of The British Newspapers

Reading the London newspapers

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Newspapers may be slowly circling the drain, heading down until they are no longer relevant. But they do still provide some interesting bits and bobs.

There are two types of papers here in the UK. The tabloids - those papers that search for the lowest common denominator - and the broadsheets - those who the Tories read.

The tabloids haven't had a great time recently, with the News of the World being discontinued after it turned out they hacked into the voice mail boxes the famous and the powerful.

Yet, the tabloids still serve their purpose. This week, the most talked about story in the office I work in was not about the UK economy, the Eurozone, Libya or any other story. It was about Percy Foster. He died this week, a sad man who probably suffered from a legion of issues. He was a dwarf, and some how ended up working in porn movies. A co-worker on the film Hi-Ho Hi-Ho, It's Up Your Arse We Go said he looked a bit like celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, and so soon enough was appearing in Midget MasterChef: Assbasters 7.

This week, his body was found dead, and half eaten, in a badger hole in the English countryside.

And this really highlights the differences between broadsheet and tabloid newspaper editors.

The Times editors splay out the stories on their desk. They quickly dismiss the story of Percy Foster, and instead concentrate on the local stories. Instead, on a story a sheep rustling, adopt the headline "Baad news for farmers.". The Times Editors redeem themselves after the bad pun with "Not even being spartan is going to save the Greeks" with a picture of Gerard Butler and co. from 300 with shields replaced by giant Euro coins. Satisfied with the outcome, they have good chuckle and agree to meet up for G&Ts at Groucho Club.

The Sun works feverishly to come up with "Gordon Ramsay's porn-star dwarf doppelganger eaten by badger," before hitting the local pub for pints and a brawl.

Somewhere between the two stands the British citizen. Half-Tabloid and half-broadsheet, we like our news serious at the same time liking to hear about the strange and wild world that exists outside of our middle class existence.

And so this week, I spent my time reading about the Eurozone and American economies slipping into the darkness, while at the same time reading about the midget Gordon Ramsay look-a-like whose life was so desperate that he somehow wound up walking into the English countryside and let his life slip away.

Posted by GregW 12:03 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

World Trade Center: 10 Years Later

Examining the fall of the twin towers on my own life over the last 10 years.

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Anniversaries drive reflection. And this is a big one. Ten years ago I was sitting in an office in Toronto when someone said to me "a plane has hit the World Trade Center is New York." As the day unfolded, I started to wonder in which direction my life was heading. Do I want to be at my desk, in a office tower, when it comes my time, I asked myself.

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So, my life since September 11th has been quite different than before. Before September 11th, I was living in Toronto, trying to get up a corporate ladder and not taking many holidays at all. Since then, I have sacrificed work for travel, made sure I take all my holidays and looked at how I can mix a love of travel with a life of ... well, not starving to death and actually eating.

I can't claim that September 11th alone lead to this change. It was a catalyst, but September 11, 2001 was just another straw on the camel's back (or another brick in the wall, for the Pink Floyd fans). The big changes that September 11th was a part in feeding, at the time that the twin towers were falling, were still years away.

I experienced a series of events, from 1999 through to 2002 that all ended up changing my life more than any event since... well, probably my birth in 1970. It is hard to add them all up, or separate them out, but the events included turning thirty, bad jobs, failing romantic relationships, strained friendships and September 11th.

The most important event, though, was the death of my mother in 1999. It impacted my life, and continues to do, in ways I could not imagine when she passed away in the autumn of 1999. It was the start of a long, slow slide towards a low point in 2002. And so, in the early months of 2003, to try and recover my sanity and my happiness, I left my job, got on a flight and flew south to Chile.

It was all the start of a long march to where I am today, a 40 year old living in another country, with a reasonable but not overly impressive career, a vaguely decent pension fund and a year long lease on a flat - you know, in the event that something better comes up in South Africa or Hong Kong or Sao Paolo.

Ten years later for September 11th, 2001, the lesson I take away from that horrific day - and all the horrific days in life that came before - my mother's death - and after - work stress, health problems and burn-out in general from life - is that life is too short to stand by and wait for it to come to you. You have to reach out and find it for yourself. Sometimes it won't work out, and sometimes you will make awful mistakes, but at least you tried. Ten years on from September 11th, I am happy to find myself in a place I would never have thought I would be - in another country, on a different career path and just trying to find a way to make my life work.

To me, the best tribute to those that have come before is to live your life - as you want to live it - to the best of your ability.

Posted by GregW 12:35 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

Playing Tour Guide, and Getting A Set of New Eyes

How showing around visitors lets me see more of my city, and even see the familiar bits with new eyes

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I have two sisters, and they recently came to visit me in London, spending 8 days in England. They spent a few days staying at my flat, before moving to a hotel on the Southbank for a more central experience of London.

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The great thing about having visitors is that I wind up doing things I haven't yet had a chance to do. For me, this was an opportunity to final get up on the London Eye, the massive wheel across from the Houses of Parliament.

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Visitors also provide a chance to see and do thing I wouldn't normally do myself, even with my local friends. I went out to see David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing, toured the Victoria and Albert Museum and even had afternoon tea at Kensington Palace.

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More importantly, though, it reminds me that my life in London isn't just life, it is an experience. Much as I talked about in a previous blog, sometimes it is easy to get yourself into a routine. Work has been very busy lately, and many days I am tired and just want to get home and relax.

Having visitors, especially new ones to the city, is a great way to see things that you take for granted every day in a new light. One day, we were sitting in my front room, and my sister was staring out the window. "My God," she said. "Look at that view. What an amazing view!"

I looked out the window, and saw the set of buildings which used to be a school and is now high-end flats and offices spaces for creative industries, backed by a grey, cloudy sky.

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"Umm, it's not exactly overlooking St. Paul's Cathedral," I said.

"No, but it is so much different than what you would see at home," my sister said.

I am not sure if the view of my window is really amazing, but it is different than the view I had out of my apartment in Toronto, and I do live on a street of Victorian row houses which you don't get back in North America. So, I looked out the view again, through the eyes of someone who had never been here, and realised it is pretty special, because it is so different than what they might see elsewhere. It's just my everyday view, and the kind of view that people might have all over London, but it is a view of London.

It was a great reminder that I shouldn't take my local commute, or the view out my window for granted. It may be every day to me at this point in my life, but it certainly isn't every day of my life so far. It is my a special experience living abroad, and I can't forgot that.

Now, when I look out my window, thanks to seeing it through my sister's eyes, I can remind myself that it is the view of an experience I am living, and that is pretty special.

Posted by GregW 06:56 Archived in England Tagged migration_experiences Comments (0)

A Single Scene from The Aftermath: London Riots

A surprisingly saddening scene the day after the worst of the rioting in Clapham Junction

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I understand that the news has travelled around the world, so you are probably aware of the recent rioting in London. The trouble started on Saturday night in Tottenham, when a riot broke out after a peaceful protest at the local police station following the shooting of a local man by the police. On Sunday night, the violence spread to other boroughs. On Monday night, it came to the top of my street.

I live about 5 minutes from Clapham Junction station, just half a block from the local police station. As violence started to flare on Monday, people at work started to leave early. I got out about 30 minutes earlier than I usually do, and was passing through Clapham Junction station at around 7:15 PM. There was a lot of police around the station, but no signs of trouble. I grabbed some food from the Sainsbury's and went home.

By 8:00 PM, hundreds of people were trapped in the station, as the police shut it down while riots broke out on the streets just outside the station. Rioters broke into a number of local shops, including a number of department stores, sporting shops and electronics stores. People in the area reported that it seemed as if the police had just retreated, allowing the rioters to gain control. A local party and costume shop was set alight, and it burned uncontrolled for hours.

In my flat, I watched the violence on TV. No riots on my street, but police cars and vans whizzed up and down my street all night, and helicopters hovered overhead most of the night. I saw a few hooded youths running down my street at one point, but they were obviously on the run and didn't cause any trouble near my place.

The next morning, I walked to the station. The main road up to the station was shut down, and the smell of smoke was still thick in the air. Even in the areas where pedestrians were allowed, a number of shops had smashed windows. At the top of the street, along the police tape, were a number of journalists and camera crews. I surveyed the scene for a bit, and then headed off the long way around to the station. As I walked away, a man in front of me was stopped and asked, "do you mind spending a moment speaking to Japanese television about the rioting?" Great image for London in advance of the Olympics, I thought.

I have some photos taken with my Blackberry, and there are better images from the newspapers, but there is one image I snapped that really struck me.

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The Pizza Express on Lavender Hill with two smashed windows. Just beyond the window, tables with half finished meals still on them, including the one in the photo, with two half empty glasses of wine and slices of pizza on a plate in the middle of the table.

I imagined the diners. In my mind, they were two old friends - middle aged ladies catching up over a glass of red wine. They talk about their husbands, and the men's mishaps with DIY projects. They speak of their children, and their successes and troubles with jobs and lovers. Talk turns to their young grandchildren, and the ladies compare development timelines. Is young Billy walking yet? Has Jenny said her first word?

I imagined these two ladies, leaning in close sharing a funny anecdote, as the rioters came up the street, so quickly for any one to react. I imagine the two middle-aged ladies' fear as a hooded boy raises a cricket bat and swings it at the window, just at head level with the women.

I can see them now in my mind, these two ladies I have created, their eyes wide, mouths agape. One screams, "Oh, dear," her voice shaking with fear.

One of the waiters grasps the ladies' arms. "Please, follow me," he says, leading them to safety out the rear door. The ladies flee the scene up Lavender Hill towards the police lines, their hearts racing and hands shaking with fear.

They wonder why, but there is no answer. All they wanted to was a nice meal and to catch up.

Posted by GregW 12:01 Archived in England Tagged travel_dangers Comments (1)

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