I live North and a bit East of London. Today I had a work thing in Southampton, which is South and West of London (for the uninitiated). I looked at the train details last week, all looked sensible: 45 minute train into London, cross London on the Tube, 70 minutes from London on the train to Southampton. A perfect day trip. Except there was a little warning sign on the details on the National Rail website. I clicked on it. “Notice of possible industrial action affecting tube service on November 2-3” Oh Crap. I normally don’t have to go through London central all that often, especially since I take a car service to Heathrow these days. So maybe I go into London or cross it every month or two. And this time, I was going to get to witness a totally European public services strike.
Not a thing I could do; this meeting had been planned back at the beginning of the year, more than six months ago. I spoke to one of my colleagues who insisted that it wouldn’t be too bad to catch a taxi across town, especially mid-day when most people were at work. For the record, she was wrong. I made it into north London and went to stand in the taxi queue. Where I was still standing, 35 minutes later, chatting with the nice bloke in front of me who was in the same predicament–we both needed to get to other rail stations in the city. When it was finally my turn, I got into the taxi… where the traffic then caused the trip to be almost another 25 minutes. I made a train heading south, texted my meeting person to say I was indeed on the way, if a little later than I had hoped. And I took out my trusty iPhone and checked how far it actually had been between the two stations.
It was only 2.4 miles. I was gutted. I don’t know central London all that well, and it hadn’t really occurred to me until then that it would have been much faster for me to walk. Lesson learned for the return trip. So after my 3.5 lovely and hopefully useful hours in Southampton, it was back on the train to London. I arrived just before 7 pm, and the place was absolutely teeming with pedestrians. Apparently we all had the same idea. Fortunately it was neither raining nor freezing, and further fortunately I just had my small computer bag with my light-weight laptop in it so it was not too much extra effort to carry. Fortunately also, I walk to work most of the time and so I was wearing, as I normally am, flat shoes with rubber soles even though I was dressed up for the meeting.
In the end it was not a bad walk, and in fact was about the distance between my flat and work so I’m quite happy to travel that far by foot. I am gradually learning that if I need to get somewhere within England and it’s less than 3 or 4 miles, the only way to guarantee you will actually arrive on time is to walk. (I called for a taxi from my flat one morning, after moving to my lovely place 2.3 miles from work, and ended up getting out half-way and walking.) Important lesson. Buses get stuck in traffic. Taxis get stuck in traffic. I am not in London, but the vagaries of the public transport and Tube systems mean that you cannot guarantee an arrival time no matter where in England you are unless you have total control of the situation.
In the midst of my cross-London hike this evening, I got to witness some European-style pedestrian “road rage”, once when a man was beating the side of an empty, out of service, bus and screaming profanities, and once when a man was beating the side of an empty, out of service, taxi cab who was blocking the road at the pedestrian crossing. Good times.
I made it home. Today. A mere 12 hours after I left. Four and a bit hours to travel what Google tells me is 150 miles (so in an American Interstate mindset 2.5 hours), 3.5 hours at my meetings in Southampton and another four and a bit hours to get home. It was a long day. And I’ve learned an important lesson.