Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Odyssey to college proves fruitful – in more ways than one

The moment I chose the capital as the location for my postgraduate studies I knew I would soon be doing much more travelling.

Even though I’d never spent more than an afternoon in London (usually for a match at Wembley) the size of the brown blob representing the city on Google maps gave me an accurate impression of its scope.

By bus or by train, by walking or Tubing, I anticipated that ‘getting around’ would take up a lot of my time. What I hadn’t bargained for was just how much.

I live in Brixton and go to Goldsmiths College in New Cross. Two spots in South London which are relatively close in the scheme of things. Yet it still takes me up to an hour and two buses to journey in. (Incidentally, it took me a couple of weeks to work out the most effective route after TfL.com had recommended I take something like three trains, seven buses, five Tube lines and a 30 minute walk to do the same trip. I’m told it has a habit of throwing out such ridiculous suggestions.)

Spending two hours a day sitting in isolation being transported to my destination is something I’ve never had to do before – school, college, and undergrad university were all within easy walking distance. And the prospect of such an arduous daily migration was not an idea I relished.

But rather than eating valuable time out of my week I’ve found the voyage of enforced fixation the perfect opportunity to do a lot of the things I all too often put off when at home with a healthy internet connection. Quite simply, when I had other options.

As an aspiring journalist doing a masters in the subject this list is fairly long. I must read the national and local newspapers everyday; I must practice my shorthand (yes it’s still required, to my delight) everyday; and I must read the assigned text books (including the usual one written by the course leader) everyday.

And if all these practical applications were not enough I have recently discovered that bus journeys are also a fertile ground for blog material.

Take an incident last week. Immersed in the scrawlings of shorthand on the top deck of the 177 at 10 in the morning a voice boomed out behind me: “Oi!”

I ignored it.


I ignored it again.

“Excuse me?” he changed tack.

I turned around to see a clearly inebriated gentleman peering in my direction.

“You got a light?” he asked.

“I don’t smoke, sorry,” came my automatic reply before turning back using the logic that ‘If I can’t see you, I can’t hear you.’

Moments later: “Hold this a second brother.”

The guy had walked over to my seat and was thrusting a recently-opened can of Red Stripe into my hand. Reluctant to share in his pre-noon party, I held back from taking it.

“C’mon man, just one second.” His plea mixed with my conceptions of social politeness convinced; I accepted the lager.

He waddled downstairs while I consulted the text book.

“Yo! Has anyone got a light?” The guy had decided to broaden his quest for cigarette ignition and was now petitioning the poor passengers on the ground floor.

The next ten minutes seemed like an eternity as I tried to distance myself from the can – fearful of its possible illegality – while trying to keep it from spilling – fearful of its intoxicated owner below. I decided the best idea was to delicately balance it between my feet.

Intermittently, I could hear him ask new boarders for a spark and tell the congregation that he had a “mate upstairs keeping his beer safe.” I had hoped he might keep our little arrangement fairly secret.

When my stop finally arrived I made my way downstairs and gestured for the drunkard to take it off me.

“Cheers brother,” he said through a beaming smile. (I could only imagine the looks of disgust on everyone else’s faces.) Then he held out his fist for a parting knuckle touch.

“You’re alright man. ‘Ave a good day,” were his final words in what was the weirdest interchange with a stranger I’ve ever had. It was also the most peculiar - and most guilty - sense of satisfaction I’ve ever gained from giving someone in need a ‘helping hand’.