The current London tube strike, expertly scripted as if it is another episode in the hilarious sitcom starring Boris Johnson as the joke Mayor of London, and still rumbling on as we go to press, has brought out the best and the worst in Londoners.
Tales of stoicism and determination were still being recounted as latecomers struggled in to work at 4pm yesterday. One colleague took three hours and 20 minutes to get to the office, carrying an overnight bag and a three-foot fish kettle. Another walked the entire length of the Central Line. Somebody's husband, a builder, was last seen carrying a fireplace from Soho to Islington over his shoulder.
Most people bore a sense that they had beaten the system by managing to come to work at all. People who regularly use overground trains reacted much as Ray Mears would do after the apocalypse.
Transport for London helped out desperate commuters by laying on a handy website about alternative transport around the capital. It comprised a map of London with all the underground routes erased and dozens of helpful icons scattered all over it which could be roughly translated as: "Walk or get a cab". Alternative transport? Alternatives to transport, more like.
The people I felt most sorry for were the tourists. But I always feel sorry for tourists in London. Imagine arriving on your holiday to find it filthy and raining with no instructions in your language at transport hubs and a population that entirely resents you for being there. Then add public transport and the fact that a pint of lager costs as much as your national debt.
The rail replacement bus that I took from Victoria to Kensington was packed to the gunwales: half with folk who were heading for the shops of Belgravia and had never taken a bus before in their lives (who takes a bus to Chanel, for heaven's sake, and please can they not do it again?); half with bemused Japanese visitors who could not understand how to work the ticket machines, or why they were standing among a mob of gnashing people being shouted at in the drizzle.
We loved the old gent who directed the Colombian couple to Harrods. We hated the sharp-elbowed posh ladies who grappled their way on to the bus before complaining that they were jolly upset and that all of this commuting had quite spoiled their morning browse around the V&A. Try having a job. Most embarrassingly, Michelle Obama was in London this week with her children, which has been a little like having a favourite relative to stay in the middle of a petty but vocal family row. A day later and she would have seen this country at its absolute worst, and been lucky to get anywhere near Westminster Abbey without somebody poking her in the eye with a wet umbrella.
Yesterday's papers reported that Indian rickshaw drivers are to be given lessons in being polite and not ripping off tourists in time for next year's Commonwealth Games. Somebody had better start now if we want to teach Londoners' decency before the 2012 Olympics. In the meantime, I salute my friend who stayed home for a sneaky lie-in before hiking into work with his tube strike excuse, only to find that the Northern Line was working all along. Busted – but still in one piece. That's the true London spirit.Reuse content