March 7th, 2004


For the amusement of my peers

As I know that nothing delights the proletarian masses like a dose of schadenfreude I've decided to lift you all from your slough of despond with a tale of my own misfortune, so that you may learn from my experience, be distracted from your problems by the recounting of another's and be comforted by the knowledge that while I may well verge upon perfection, I have not quite reached it's heavenly shores.

Our story begins with a journey - to wit the journey from Edinburgh to Kent.  For the benefit of my foreign readership (or at least those parts of it who are keeping up with the long words) I should explain that the first of these is in Scotland, some four hundred miles north of the second.  In order to travel from the one to the other, one must pass through fabled London, mother of all cities, pearl of the Empire and home to the Queen (God bless her and all who sail in her).  This is, of course, if one is travelling by train, my favoured method of internal transport, as it allows for a few hours of quiet contemplation, along with the opportunity to work upon my memoirs.  Indeed, it is upon one of these trips (this time returning Northwards) that I am writing this most current entry.

In any case, I called ahead to let my beloved parents know what time I would be arriving, so that they could have the servants prepare the traditional seven course meal, and was delighted to discover that my Father, in London on business, would possibly be travelling to Kent at the same that I was.  We didn't make any formal plans, as his meetings have been known to run both under and over their allotted time, depending on how much the grandees have had to eat and whether their manservants are able to keep them awake.

I arrived in Kings Cross with forty-five minutes in hand to travel to Victoria, those being the relevant stations for entrance to and egress from London.  This is generally considered plenty, the underground system being capable of transporting one between the two stations in approximately ten minutes.  I attempted to communicate my arrival to my esteemed parent, but his phone was beyond my signal, presumably due to his in subterranean transit.  I thus sauntered nonchalantly onto the next train on the Victoria line and relaxed.

This was, of course, my fatal flaw.  My nonchalance had caused a lapse in my habitual panther-like attention to detail and I had failed to notice that while I was on the correct train line, I was travelling in the incorrect direction.  Various thoughts crossed my mind within the space of a few instants - I could attempt to reason with the driver and persuade him to travel back to the previous station, but sadly the underground corporation has taken to the habit of hiring automatons impervious to both reasonable and emotional requests.  I could leap from the train and dash back down the tunnel, but my clothes would undoubtedly become dirtied, which would never do.  I could pull the emergency cord, but this would cause a fuss amongst my fellow passengers, and as a true English Gentleman I know that causing a fuss is the kind of behaviour engaged in only by Americans and the other lower classes.  No, there was nothing for it but to await the next station, some three minutes down the track.  After all, I still had plenty of time.  Little did I realise the true horror that was about to unfold.

A few seconds after my deliberations the train slowed to a halt.  The conductor's brutishly mechanical voice echoed over the tannoy system and informed us that a previous train had encountered mechanical difficulties and was thus both blocking our path and travelling extremely slowly.  Our progress would thus be delayed while we waited for the line to clear.  Again, thoughts of reasoning and flight passed swiftly through my mind before being dismissed as unnecessary.

Alighting at the earliest opportunity, some 15 minutes later, I found the appropriate platform for my return, checked thrice that it was, indeed, the correct platform and waited for the return train.  It had not occurred to me that, the underground being circular, if there was a slowing of trains heading out of the city, there would be less trains coming back in.  A seven minute wait stretched ahead of me like an eternity.  My gaze wandered up and down the platform for a gentleman to engage in banter with while I waited for our belated transport to arrive.  Eventually I drew out my reading material and nervously attempted to immerse myself in a recent popular fiction regarding the adventures of a gentleman hobbit.  While I found myself appreciative of a society where people obviously knew their place and due deference was offered by the common man (or hobbit) to those of better breeding, I was nevertheless unable to truly concentrate, my eyes always returning to the sign as it counted down the minutes to the next train.

When the train did arrive, some eight minutes later, I resisted the urge to throw myself at the doors and claw them open, instead covering my increasing worry with an air of relaxed contentment.  "Me?  Worry?" my outward appearance said, an appearance spoiled by the fact that I have sadly never learned to whistle.

The train sped through the tunnels on its way to Victoria.  I was late, to be sure, but not irretrievably late.  I was unable to contact my father, yes, but I was sure he would be on time for the train.  So I remained contented and relaxed, restricting myself to the gnawing of my fingernails and the swift tap-tap-tapping of my right-foot.

My delay had, sadly, brought me from the edge of Rush Hour to the stark insanity of it's full flow.  That moment when the luxurious offices of London disgorge the workers into the streets to flow downwards into the tunnels beneath, there to be whisked away to the drab homes where the drones eke out their existence.  Those of independent wealth do not, of course, generally concern themselves with the movements of the proletariat, so it had slipped my mind entirely that I would be passing through this nightmare river of lost souls.

At the first station my carriage filled to capacity.  At the next the same number of people entered, forced to stand, looming over us, wavering with each change of the train's changes in speed. At the third, yet more people arrived, compressing the existing passengers to a most uncomfortable level.  The heat levels rose perceptibly and I was somewhat distracted by the sudden thought that with a few more stops both pressure and temperature might rise sufficiently to turn the unfortunate travellers into diamond.

After that, each station repeated the horrific routine - we would arrive and those people who wanted to get off would be forced to fight their way past those of us who wanted to continue our journey.  Then the next influx would begin, clamouring for space until the doors closed, the unfortunates who were unable to gain ingress withdrawing their limbs at the last second, lest they be snipped short.  How I longed to put my years of military service to good use by organising them all, so that efficient use of space and time might be achieved.  But the mob was on the verge of such discontent that I feared any attempt to force reason upon it would lead to rioting.

It was therefore with much relief that I struggled out of the train at Victoria.  I was still beyond the possibility of transmission, so I merely hoped that my father would be waiting above ground, and threw myself towards the nearby stairs.

Some few minutes later I emerged, blinking, into the twilight of London proper.  I rushed towards the departure point, phone in hand, attempting one final time to contact my father.  But to no avail, his phone just rang repeatedly.  With my train leaving in two minutes I had no choice but to assume he was somewhere on it, and that we'd be able to rendezvous once I was upon it.

I found a compartment that contained a motley crew I deemed to be safe for the duration of my final journey and sat down.  I reached for my phone and tried yet again to make contact. 

Success!  He picked up his phone, and informed me that he was near the platform, where he'd been waiting for me for the best part of an hour.  I apologised and urged him towards the train.  Alas, even as I did so, I felt the first bump as the engine began to pull us laboriously forward.

Thus we agreed that I would travel the last part of the journey home by myself and meet him in Kent, where we could console each other of the terrible events of the day.

Of course, this also was not to be so simple, but I shall leave that story for another day, for I feel sure that the excitement will have taken a toll on all of you, much as it did on me.

I shall leave you with the moral of my story, so that you may feel educated as well as entertained:
"Never get on a train going the wrong way."
I hope that this steers you well in all the days of your life.