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Software error

Late journey today. It was Monday and I was feeling lazy after the weekend.

Looks like the railway was feeling the Monday morning blues as well. Train indicators were non-functional and trains were running very late. I had a 30 minute freeze on the platform.

More freezing weather forecast for the rest of the week. More frozen points and frozen information screens to follow no doubt.

Routemaster buses

Lovely Ken, our Mayor, has waged a war of death against the lovely 40 year old Routemaster bus, a symbol of our fair city.

Ken says the Routemaster is out of date, inaccesible for the disabled, uncomfortable and dangerous. Transport nerds say it's an icon, convenient and efficient.

Ken has a point. However, Ken's idea of a replacement is the horrid bendy-bus, which is uncomfortable, unwieldy, takes up too much road space, a boon to fare dodgers, catches fire and is a menace to cyclists.

Routemasters have now been withdrawn on all but "Hertitage Routes" - i.e. the unlovely 159 to Streatham. So, you will see the odd Routemaster, repainted and rebranded as part of Ken's Master Plan.

We'll mostly miss the Routemaster/ What would make an improvement is sacking most of the maniac bus drivers who have a heavy brake foot.

Metro sexual

A quick trip to Washington DC for business.

It's clean, efficient, well-used, safe, good value for money and fast: London could learn a lot from Washington's Metro system. Ironic that considering the story goes that the designers sought to replicate all the good things about other subway systems around the world.

Built in the 60s and 70s, the system copes well with commuters and tourists. The Metro is a part of the unique Washington fabric of life.

It misses out key neighbourhoods, but that's about the only complaint. Eating and drinking is not allowed to help keep it clean. For the most part people obey that rule, though I saw a few tourists slurping coffee.

I can just about stand the brown and orange colour scheme which was probably chic in 1974. This is Gallery-Chinatown stop, which also serves the MCI Center, home of the Capitals hockey, Wizards basketball and, last week, horse shows.

Number 1 in the series entitled “The Reason I Will One Day Be Arrested For Beating a Complete Stranger Around The Face and Head With My Bag"

Or “Why? Why Would You Do This In Public? Why?”

We are all on the central line at around 5.45pm. We are all squeezed in very close together. We are all trying to pretend this is not happening. We are all studiously avoiding each other’s gaze. But you? You are leaning against the door, and you are reading a book, and you are picking food from your teeth. From your back teeth. You are picking the food from the back of your teeth, and taking that food out of your mouth on your fingers, and inspecting the food particles and then sucking your finger, and the continuing your exploration.

I am trying not to be sick.

Another day. We are all on the central line at around 9.10am. We are all squeezed in very close together. We are all trying to pretend this is not happening. We are all studiously reading our free racist newspapers. But you? You are sitting in a seat and you are chewing your fingernails. You have no fingernails to chew. I don’t mean that they are bitten down quite short. Your fingernails are bitten right down to the quick, so that you actually, literally, have no fingernails to bite. You are essentially chewing on your fingers as if desperate to get to the bone underneath. You chew on the finger, you remove the finger from your mouth and inspect the not-nail, you chew on the finger, you remove the finger from your mouth and inspect the not-nail, you keep doing this over and over again.

I am trying not to be sick.

Another day. We are all on the central line at about 5.35pm. We are all squeezed in very close together. We are all trying to pretend this is not happening. We are all considering killing you. You are standing, happy as you like, in the aisle between the seats and you are picking at your nose, rolling what you find between your fingers, sometimes wiping the debris on your trousers, but more often than not putting what you find in your mouth and making a satisfied sucking sound. You then return once more to your explorations.

We are all trying not to be sick.

Gatwick Distress

Today's Southern Railway commuter challenge: broken down Gatwick Express train at Wandsworth Common.

A shiny new Gatwick train disgorged bemused American tourists and jet lagged business travellers at one of London's less salubrious stations. Some tried to squeeze on to the West Norwood-Victoria stopping service; others took pictures on the platform. We struggled into Victoria 30 minutes late.

Good news: the Wimbledon-Edgware Road branch of the District Line is running again as is the full Hammersmith & City Line. Can't be long before the Circle Line returns and helps with congestion on the District Line between South Ken and Aldgate East.

Police Presence

I can certainly vouch for this story as hurled about in the news all day today. This morning, there were two shiny faced infant policemen standing outside the train station. I noticed them particularly today (1) because of their extreme youth (they couldn’t have been more than 21) and (2) because one of them seemed to be extremely hungover and was clutching a can of red bull to himself like his life depended on it. I enjoyed the fact that my life depended on him being alert enough to spot a man walking on a train with a giant rucksack emblazoned with the word “BOMB” across it, because I’m not sure he was capable this morning.

When I got to Liverpool Street there seemed to be three times as many police around as usual, and there’s been quite a few in the station ever since the 7th. I was checking the back of their jackets, because I assumed at least half of them would be pretend policemen, or “community officers” as they’re labelled, but each and every one of the pairs of luminous patrollers were your actual police man. There’s even policemen patrolling the station platform in each of the tube stations. It doesn’t provide me with any kind of feeling of comfort.

Our driver today on the Central line was one of those who insist on making an announcement in each and every station. I’m not sure if this is policy any more, since not all drivers do this, but this fella was determined to have his say.
On the official Underground announcements, what happened in London three weeks ago today are “the events of 7th July”. On the official notices asking for donations to the charity, they are “the London Bombings”. According to our driver this morning they were variously “the suicide attacks”, “the suicide bombings” and “the explosions”. I’m glad I only had three stops to go, I think he was about to wax lyrical with details of the nail bombs as sprawled all over the tawdry papers this morning. My paranoia, I’m ashamed to say, reached some new depths when I changed where I was standing, just to move away from a man who would match a certain description, but I blame all the newspapers around me screaming the fact that everyone expects the bombers to strike again.

Last night I got the bus back to Liverpool Street, rather than the tube. I don’t know why, I just made that decision. The bus was full when it pulled up, so I was surprised that it stopped to let us on. The driver was shouting at everyone standing in the aisle to go upstairs. Most of the people standing in the aisle were ignoring him, but me and some other brave souls went upstairs. To reiterate – downstairs it was heaving. More people were crowded on to that bus than the tube at rush hour. Upstairs, there were about three other people. I looked around, wondering what had spooked everyone in to staying downstairs, but I couldn’t see it. No young man of a certain description. No big rucksack. No suspect packages. Nothing. Did they all know something I didn’t?

I stayed sitting upstairs and buried my head in Harry Potter, but was so relieved when we got to Liverpool Street and I could get off the Top Deck Of Death.

Some of us ARE afraid

One week later, and everything seems to be going back to whatever passes as normal in London. We've all finally stopped staring at each other on the tubes, returning to studying our feet and rustling our newspapers, but new behaviour is beginning to creep through. There seems to be an understanding that the people who are left to crowd in the doorways and at the ends of the carriages carry the responsibility to "vet" everyone who gets on and off the train, watching bags and studying faces for religious rapture. I would suspect that the underground are experiencing a severe drop in the number of commuters at the moment too, since I keep having the strange of experience of sitting down while travelling. This morning, in fact, the carriage was half empty. Which is unnerving during rush hour, like you've missed an announcement that everyone else heard.

Otherwise, life trundles on as usual, although I have started to take extra care not to rush goodbyes, and to answer text messages and emails as much as possible. The idea that four young men were willing to strap explosives to themselves and look directly at the faces of strangers they were about to murder is one that I can't seem to shake, particularly when I'm going through the rituals of getting on the tube. Everything I do, I can't help but reflect that they did exactly the same. They bought travel cards. They put them through the machines. They went down the escalators, possibly standing to the right to let other commuters pass them by. They stood on the platform. They chose their carriage. They boarded the train. They stood in the gangway, holding on to the rails. They knew that they, and many of the people around them, were about to die in an incredibly horrific manner.

These are my thoughts. This is what I'm dwelling on. And I'm getting increasingly irritated by the continued insistence in the press that we're not afraid and we're all defiant and we're all carrying on as usual. Patronising rubbish like can go swing, as far as I'm concerned. I am afraid, and I don't mind admitting it. I refuse to be pressurised to laugh in the face of danger. I'd rather avoid danger if at all possible, please, and if it's not possible, I'd like to be allowed the indulgence of feeling the fear that these four men have inspired in me. What's wrong with admitting to being afraid? It won't make them more powerful. It won't mean I'm going to lock myself in the house and never go out again. It doesn't mean anything's changed, for the better or the worse. I would just like to say for the record, here and now, that they've frightened me and I do still feel scared. My response is not inappropriate. My response is not un-defiant. My response is not giving in to the terrorists. My response, I feel, is one shared by so many people here and everywhere else.

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