Monday, 25 March 2013

Observations of London


Right I promised I would write something funny over the Easter break but inspiration is not being kind today so I wanted to share with you some observations I had on a recent trip into London.

It wasn’t a social trip, it was for a job testing day that went as well as I could have done but they still didn’t want me for (oh well). But the point is; it wasn’t a social trip.

Observation number 1: Why does being in London at 1pm mean I have to leave the house at 9? I mean really, I don’t live that far from London, so much so that on the fast train I can go from the station here to central London in less than half an hour. So why does it take 4 hours?! I’ll tell you why: all the other transports.

The buses here are a little temperamental. Last week I was on a bus that was so late, the driver got half way through the route and decided to wait for 5 mins at one stop so he was so late that he became the later bus! So I wanted to be at the bus stop with enough time for a plan B if the bus never showed (15 mins).

I arrived at the bus stop where the bus route starts so had no trouble getting a seat. However, being a bus that goes through campus, it’s rather popular with people getting to lectures. I always walk to campus but there is a certain population of students that insist on avoiding the 20 min walk and spending an extortionate amount of money getting the bus every day. Observation number 2: Why do so many people take the bus to campus? At the student bus stop about 100 students were waiting to get on this single deck bus. Why were they all there? How did they think they were all getting on this bus? What was the point? The bus driver took more passengers than he should have and fitted about two thirds of the students onto the bus. Now I felt like a sardine. These people are just being lazy and I had somewhere important to be that was much too far away to walk to. I needed the bus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more irritated by people that take the 5 min bus drive down the road to the gym. That seems really retarded. You pay money, for the bus to save you the exercise of taking you to the place where you pay more money to exercise!?! Am I the only one that thinks that’s bonkers?

I’m off topic. The bus to get to the station takes about half an hour, and the whole way I was sitting next to a girl who was blasting out angry girl rock music from her standard issue iPod headphones. Which is observation number 3: why do people think it’s acceptable to listen to music so loud that I can learn the lyrics just by sitting next to them? People listen to music in crowded places or while traveling because it increases their personal space and calms them down by being something familiar. More often than not, it’s just so they can zone out and be oblivious to the rest of the world. Unfortunately the rest of the world finds it very irritating and encroaching on their own personal space. So therefore is comfort something that has to be stolen? Like dirt there has to be a certain amount of agitation in a given place and even if you wash off your own anxiety, it goes down the drain and hits the person sitting next to you on the bus. I hope not, but be that as it may I was rather annoyed by the girl listening to angsty teen girl rock.

The bus doesn’t come at a convenient time for me to get the quick train so I have to wait at the station for half an hour after I got off the bus (1h 15 mins). When I went to buy a ticket only the machines were working so I set off to talk to a machine. Observation number 4: Why are ticket machines so unclear? The guy in front of me was having issues getting to the airport so asked me for help and I realised the issue was he didn’t know which airport he was going to. He had his ticket and soon I had shown him how to buy a ticket to Heathrow. So I was feeling smug that I had done a good deed and I was technologically literate. I shouldn’t have thought this. When I tried to buy my ticket I could have sworn there was a way to get a return to London with a combined day pass with zone 1. Could I get this machine to do it? No. after several mins and a queue forming behind me I bought a return to London and had to buy a day pass when I got there.

As I was on the train watching the countryside whoosh by in the sunshine I was struck with observation number 5: It is a beautiful day. It really was! It was blue skies with just the right amount of fluffy white clouds but it was still cold enough to be crisp. I love it when I can wear sunglasses and see my breath. It makes me feel like I can take on the world but I have no idea why.  

I finally got the train into London (1h 45mins) and then, as a reward, I had to play on the tube. I am one of the rare people that really enjoys taking the tube. Maybe it’s because I don’t actually live in London so on the rare occasion that I have to use the tube it’s because I am going somewhere out of the ordinary. Although my love for underground trains is something that stayed with me while I was living in both Frankfurt and Sydney so maybe it isn’t London specific. Frankfurt was freezing cold though the months I lived there and the underground was always so warm and dry. In Sydney I loved being so independent and that I could just jump on a train and suddenly be at bondi beach or on my way into the mountains. I think I must have built up such a strong association with underground stations and positive things like day trips and warmth that now, even the soft smell of oil on the breeze will make me smile. Wow I really have gone off on one about how much I love the tube, that’s totally not the point here. Anyway, once I had bumbled about on the tube (2h 30 mins) I finally get to the closest tube stop to my testing centre.

This wasn’t a part of town I had been to before and I had assumed that it would have some cute looking places to eat. It didn’t. It had a Starbucks that was heaving with people and it had a privately owned little deli. Not wanting to battle with the Starbucks junkies I took the deli, this was a mistake. It was dark and rather tacky but there was only one guy in front of me so I stood there and chose a chicken and spinach sandwich with a soy latte take away. Now I made a rooky error. I chose from the menu, not by what looked good in the counter. I was expecting chicken and spinach, no; I got white congealed gunge with green strings in it. I presume it was chicken chunks and mayo and spinach but it seemed like someone had eaten it already and although it tasted ok, I wasn’t happy. The coffee was burnt too. So I sat on a bench wondering how best to dispose of this sandwich and mused upon observation number 6: Is it wrong to give a homeless man the half of your sandwich you don't want? There was a guy sitting outside the tube stop when I came out that was clearly homeless. I could go back and give him the half of my vom-wich that was untouched. If it was a whole sandwich then yea of course it would be acceptable but half a sandwich is definitely rubbish and therefore am I implying that the man eats rubbish? I decided I could do with all the good karma I could get that day so I went back to find the man but he was gone so I never really concluded if that’s inappropriate or not (3h 15 mins).

I then set about finding the place I was actually meant to be at. Armed with my smartphone with GPS I wandered around trying to find the street I was looking for. But it wasn’t there. It was a huge great long road according to my phone but all I could find was a little side street that seemed to go nowhere. After 15 mins of exhausting all other options I took a punt at the side street and hoped I could run in my new shoes if I needed to. It turned out that I was meant to be down the side street after all and I found the building with 15 mins to spare! I talked to a lovely security guard, got taken up to the 3rd floor and signed in with some other nervous looking 20 somethings (3h 45 mins).

The testing day was fairly straight forward. There were three tasks each with a 10 min break in between them. There was about 20 of us in a group each working with a computer. One guy had chosen to work with headphones in listening to his own music, however unlike the girl on the bus I could not hear his music but I could hear him muttering and chewing his gum loudly!!!! How obnoxious is that?! I wasn’t the only one who found it so as the guy in between me and obnoxious muttering gum chewer guy asked to be moved as it was too distracting. But in the process of asking to be moved this middle guy brought the issue to the attention of the entire room. You know when you can’t hear anything and then someone goes: can you hear that ticking, suddenly the ticking is all you can think about? Well that’s what the entire room was feeling at this point. Observation number 7: everyone despises the guy who mutters and chews gum. Come on people, don’t be that guy!

The breaks were very brief but as each task was over an hour long they were welcomed with open arms. There was a kitchen with self-serve refreshments of tea, coffee and a big bowl of biscuit packets. Observation number 8: Crappy biscuits are a godsend. Without these biscuits I don’t know what I would have done. I didn’t see them in the first break but noticed a guy with a packet when we got back to the testing room. The next break I was all over the biscuits and so were the other candidates. I wasn’t lucky enough to find a chocolate pack but I did find a jammy pack which was nearly as good.

The testing day ended and everyone dispersed to make their journeys home. I liked that throughout the day no one had made a farce about telling everyone their name, and at the end there was no exchanging of numbers or promises to catch up later. It was professional; everyone got in, did their thing and then got out. I left feeling quite exhausted from the testing and strolled back to the tube. In a rare gap in the tall buildings around me I caught a glimpse of the gherkin all lit up in pinks and purples with the inky blue sky behind it. Which brought me to my final observation of the day: no matter how hard your day is you still have to stop and take a second to look at something beautiful.