PC 252 Commuting

A deserted Trafalgar Square in London

It stopped …. dead in its tracks, as it were (!) ….. commuting ……. as the pandemic locked societies’ workers down. For months individuals used to travelling some distance to work found themselves in, for instance, their spare bedroom, trying to sort out the intermittent connection on Zoom. Gradually Working From Home (WFH) became the new norm and now, as the restrictions ease, there seems to be a need to prize out ex-commuters from their cosy WFH existence and get them back into the real office.

I stood on the wet platform at Fleet railway station, leaning forward to get my first glimpse of the 0722 that would take me into London Waterloo. My position on the asphalt ensured that when the train stopped the carriage door would be directly in front of me, to reach out, open and climb into my usual seat. Those who don’t regularly commute (Note 1) by train will decry the numbness of the habit but it made all the difference – a front or rear facing seat – smoking or non-smoking ….. ah! The choices!

Up until this point in my life I had never had a commute of more than a few miles, in some cases a few yards. Now I had joined the great daily migration into the UK’s capital city, for a role in the MOD’s Procurement Executive in Fleetbank House, just off Fleet Street. From the steps out of Waterloo Station to my desk was about 16 minutes, a wiggly walk south of the river then over Blackfriars Bridge and up.

There is no ‘commute’ when at boarding school, or indeed at the Royal Military Academy. My first posting was to a regiment stationed on the outskirts of Devizes. The commute was simply falling out of bed in my room in a wooden hut, putting my uniform on and walking down the hill to the barracks and work; the first task was ‘stables parade’!

In Lippstadt in Germany it was a sleepy walk across Sűdstrasse to breakfast in the Officers Mess, then back into the barracks; 300 yards maximum (we hadn’t changed to the metric system at that time!)

My first real commute, ie using a car, was from an Army married quarter in Harnham, a suburb on the southern edge of the City of Salisbury, to the headquarters of the UK Land Forces where I had a staff job. This took the time it takes to smoke one cigarette!

After Staff College and my MOD appointment, I was posted to Bulford, just north of Salisbury, to be Battery Commander of an Air Defence unit. For domestic reasons, I declined the offer of an Army Married quarter and commuted from my Fleet house, a total distance of some 68 miles. I found out that I could access the M3 motorway through a utilities-only entrance for Fleet Services, so very soon settled into a smooth drive on first the motorway, then the A303. I left home early so was in the barracks about 0745. I had an old dark blue VW Beetle I had bought specifically for the task, but its rusty bodywork meant that when it rained the foot-well filled up with water. I spent my last four months of Army service teaching at the Royal School of Artillery, another mile along the A303; it was the coldest January on record and the water in the foot-well froze!

My sales role at Short Brothers’ London office started in 1986; often the commute was not into the Berkley Square offices but out to Heathrow to catch the British Midland 0700 flight to Belfast’s Aldergrove Airport and a head office Sales Meeting or to some European capital city on a sales trip. I drove from my Rowledge Village home to Farnham Station and caught the train. When my Honda Accord died and I had no way of getting to the station, for three months I caught a coach which came through the village at 0613 and eventually arrived at Hyde Park Corner ay 0840; from there I walked along Piccadilly towards the office. The coach’s interior was poorly lit so reading was difficult; absolute nightmare!

A move to Clapham Common introduced me to the joys of the London Underground’s Northern Line; on a normal day the tube was too warm, on a summer’s day, almost unbearable!  After arriving in Waterloo and walking over the pedestrian bridge, I passed through the Horse Guards Arch, usually getting a salute from the guardsman (Note 2), on up through St James’ Park and into Berkeley Square.

When I first started working for Morgan & Banks, the walk from Charing Cross underground station was up to Trafalgar Square, turn north and up to the bottom of St Martin’s Lane. Two years later an office move found me on the north side of Waterloo Bridge, opposite Somerset House.

Working for myself and running The Yellow Palette gave me my shortest commute – upstairs to the converted loft and my desk – measured in metres as opposed to kilometres!

I read recently that those who used to work in an office after commuting some distance are now restricting their ‘working week’ to three days and are known as TWaTs (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays). (Note 3)

And today? The ‘traffic update’ on the radio about queues on the M25, or train disruption due to leaves on the railway lines is mentally acknowledged and dismissed. More tea vicar?

Richard 15th October 2021


PS My Australian connections gave me insight into the most delightful commute, by ferry across Sydney Harbour to Circular Quay.

Note 1 The term commute actually involves traveling ‘some’ distance between one’s home and place of work on a regular basis, so I am stretching this to mentions short walks!

Note 2 Those of us lucky enough to have undergone some form of military training developed a ‘military bearing’, a certain way of walking, confident and with ‘head in the back of the collar’. Recognised by those on sentry duty at Horseguards even!

Note 3 Twat is a very derogatory term for a stupid or annoying person. It’s also vulgar slang for a vagina. I have no idea why it has such polar-opposite meanings.

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