The Joys of Modern Life: 53. Public Transport

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The Independent Culture
DON'T PEOPLE ever get fed up with moaning about expensive trains, unreliable buses and overcrowded Tubes? Of course the recent closure of London's Northern and Circle lines is inconvenient. But really, once you've got your seat (or your face in someone's armpit) and the train moves off, it's not that bad. Temperatures might reach 100C underground, and you'd be prosecuted for keeping a dog in such conditions, but isn't it time to look on the bright side?

Ignore the delays, smells, humidity, irate passengers, talentless buskers, sweaty seats and the travellers with enormous backpacks in your face. Treat public transport as an experience, a social construction. Appreciate your fellow passengers. Learn to love their idiosyncrasies.

On a recent train journey, I found myself with a rat on my lap. It emerged from its owner's jacket pocket to settle on my Joseph trousers. I love animals and found the rat considerably enhanced my journey. I was left with acres of space as hysterical passengers scattered in panic. The rat, its owner and I enjoyed a practically empty carriage during rush hour.

I was sitting on the District line one day, when a Chelsea fan on his way to a game decided to relieve his overtaxed bladder. He meant to fill the empty bottle he'd carefully positioned on the floor. He missed, of course, spraying most of the hapless commuters packed into the carriage. To loud applause, and with a very wet leg, I ejected him from the carriage at the next stop.

For some, public transport is an easily accessible dating agency. I witnessed a young man weave his way across a crowded train carriage to push a note into a girl's hand. As he jumped off at his stop, she read the note, blushing deep red. I like to think it was neither rude nor explicit, but a romantic, tongue-tied gesture.

The positive aspects of public transport are countless. If you don't have time to buy a paper, look over someone's shoulder, or pick up a discarded copy. News is so much more intriguing when it's pilfered.

The most wonderful experience of all, of course, is emerging from public transport. There are few things capable of making city air appear fresh, balmy and soothing.

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