Commuting is horrible. Yes, I know, that one’s up there with gems of wisdom like “oranges are not the only fruit” or “poking oneself in the eye with a stick is a bad idea”, but it’s a truism that somehow packs some weight. I think we treat commuting as a task that we simply don’t think about. Getting to and from work is just something that has to happen. It becomes blank time, a zero point that we don’t think about unless it becomes more difficult than usual. I think that if we properly considered the time, effort and money that goes into the simple act of getting in and out of the workplace, then there would be a lot more people simply rethinking their lives and walking away.
If a train breaks down or if there’s a tube strike, then we are confronted with the true, mind-clawing horror that we have to deal with at the start and end of every day of our working lives. It becomes work on top of work, a trial to be completed before we can get on with all the other crap we have to sort out.
Otherwise, it’s a journey that’s erased as soon as it’s over. There are days when I have walked into my suite and stopped dead, realising that I have no recollection of the steps I took to get there. The bike ride to the station, the train journey, the tube, walk or bike ride to Soho – all gone. Dropped out of short term memory like veg peelings into a bin. Scraped off the brain and composted without a second thought.
I’ve often talked about the virtues of my morning commute as valuable writing time, and that’s still true. But time spent on the netbook has a second, and almost as important benefit. It kills time, compressing the half-hour spent on the fast train from Reading into an eye-blink. On the odd occasions where the batteries on my devices have drained, and I have nothing to read, that 30 minutes stretches out to something like three days. It drags interminably, and I begrudge every wasted moment.
And I consider myself lucky. My shift pattern means that I have to do this trip fourteen times in any given fortnight. An ordinary 9-to-fiver has to do it twenty times. And if you’re driving, or if you have to stand on a bus or a train, that really is time in which you can’t do anything else. The very thought of it fills me with the fear. It feels more like a punishment then a task that we willingly impose on ourselves. It’s not surprising that we wipe it as soon as it’s done.