Years and years ago I used to commute from Wokingham to London, first to Shad Thames and then to near Bishopsgate. We used to get on the train at Wokingham (smoking carriage as was back in the day) armed with The Wokingham Times, the Today paper and a book. It was like a travelling library as we all shared books and would ask for recommendations. After the initial morning greetings and bums on seats we’d settle into a routine of working, reading, applying make up, lighting up, chatting and mentally preparing for the jostle at the other end.
Workplaces were varied and some would head off on the tube, drain, bus, walk or (if I was lucky and timed my arrival to coincide with the boss) taxi. Well there had to be some perks to leaving home at 715am! Due to the fact we were smokers (and therefore social pariahs) we would sit in 1 of the 2 smoking carriages on the train and over the years built up quite a rapport, so much so we’d pick up books and belongings if anyone left them behind and would wake fellow commuters up if they fell asleep and were nearing their station.
We knew everyone. Lots of commuters had nicknames. There was Fluffy who was wildly good looking and had curly hair, Captain who was in shipping, looked like Captain Birds Eye and smoked a pipe, Jean who we called Jean Shrimptom for no other reason than we could, Fenchurch Annie who worked in Fenchurch Street, well you get the picture!
Birthdays were always good fun as we would have fizzy intoxicating liqueur on the way to work and then on the way home. If the trains were delayed we’d head to Bonapartes and drink ourselves stupid until the trains behaved. They were sociable days!
Catching the last train home was when we ran for our lives, no one wanted to be stranded at Waterloo! As young twenty something girls we felt safe and looked out for. If some drunken driveller invaded our space there was always someone who would move to our rescu and be a buffer to unwanted beer breath.
Some of the friends from the train are still friends years later, one is Mook’s Fairy Godmother, one had a wedding we all went to – actually her wedding was like a birthday journey minus the ticket collector.
Travelling to London for Gavin Collinson’s book launch on Thursday reminded me of my commuting days and whilst it was lovely to be back in the throb and thrall of a commuter carriage I don’t miss those days, but I’m glad I met the friends I did on the 724.