Don’t conform, make travelling your norm

Opinion

Slaloming and snaking through one of London’s innumerable underground tunnels, I come to a somewhat sobering conclusion as I try to avoid the throngs. On this particular day, I’m one of the worst of all the scurrying rats.

While cursing those who push, shove and fight for an inch of real-estate in the labyrinth of passages people navigate on their daily commutes to work, I realise, at times, it’s hard not to get dragged into the dogged underground tussle.

A few days ago I saw a cumbersome woman racing for a vacant seat on a Piccadilly Line. Despite her tumult and effort she failed to secure a seat and stood disconsolate and visibly dismayed. Anyone who makes the daily commute on the tube can surely relate to her desperate plight.

The winner of the dual wasn’t the least bit concerned about scoring a seat, the Holy Grail of the underground. A sense of satisfaction, like a plume of smoke from a wildfire, emitted from the seat winner.

And while nobody hops out of bed at the crack of dawn and fancies standing all the way to work, so close to a stranger that you can smell his breakfast, the repugnant waft of tuna and eggs filling the air like a toxic gas, is a modicum of civility too much to ask?

Competition starts at the crack of dawn in London and if you’re not willing to battle, scratch and claw for every spare inch of space, you’ll quickly be left in the dust.

Travelling on the London underground can make one feel like sardine, packed in tight.

People compare living and working in London to a “rat race”, summing up perfectly life in the big city. You’ll more likely come across twerking Siamese twins than catching a glimpse of someone smiling on their morning commute. There’s an omnipresent and ubiquitous stoicism on the tube, a sombre aura more suitable for a funeral procession.

Doing my utmost to avoid unleashing devil-like death stare upon fellow commuters, I focus unwaveringly on my iPad. Suffice to say, I’m not immune to the underground blues.

If someone sat smiling opposite me – had I somehow procured a seat – I’d find it somewhat unnerving. We’ve become so used to miserableness pervading that I would perceive a mere smile as eerie, abnormal, even perplexing.

It makes you wonder how many of us our actually happy. I travelled to Asia a few years ago and what struck me most was how incredibly happy, hospitable and accommodating the locals were.

It gives even more credence to the old adage that happiness is not achieved through a wealth of possessions, toys and money but the fulfilment in your heart and soul, the state of mind with which you awake every day.

I dream of escaping the rigid and robotic lifestyle a big city comprises. I yearn to live in a place where the thought of Mondays don’t give me night terrors, filling me with angst, a place where everyone isn’t purely working for the weekend and where smiles replace scowls.

And I’ll sacrifice all the material goods money can buy to feel free, at peace and not only exist, but thrive in a state of tranquillity.

Let your mind do the travelling if your body can’t

Opinion

Driving past Heathrow every day, as a travel addict, has its perks and pitfalls.

Looking up to see the immense body of an Emirates A380 gliding majestically through the sky, my mind wanders to a place far flung. I’m unable to pinpoint the location my mind has travelled, but my thoughts have certainly escaped the confines of my Audi A1, leaving high and dry the parking lot that is the M4.

My eyes naturally follow the beast’s movement as it descends gradually. Its fuselage, like the torso of a steroid junkie, bulges eminently in the London skyline. Odds are this flight has come from Dubai, but what about all the other innumerable flights that descend upon London on a daily basis?

From where do all these passengers come, and why, I ask myself as my car crawls forward like a tortoise in quicksand.

Getting carried away with the limitless possibilities, my imagination sparks like an artist’s on LSD. I feel free, liberated and unrestrained as my mind boards a flight, the destination of which matters little.

As the A380 slips behind the tree line and out of sight, so too does the state of reverie with which I was immersed. Just like that, the perk of driving past Heathrow had come to a crashing end.

One of countless places I'd rather be, Canada's Banff National Park offers up an unparalleled winter wonderland.

One of countless places I’d rather be, Canada’s Banff National Park offers up an unparalleled winter wonderland.

 

I have an inkling – taking into account the state of England’s overcrowded motorways – that subsequent traffic jams aren’t far away, offering more chances for my mind to stray.

I do, however, have to cope with driving on the M4 while going to work so I’ll presume you’re already well aware of the numerous pitfalls.

London’s pigeon problem

Opinion

Pigeons, the dirty vermin that they are, have unquestionably and irrefutably become too comfortable in their surroundings, or more to the point, our surroundings.

I express my escalating discord not purely because, regrettably, I once was open-wing slapped in the face by one of the rats with wings, but more because of their nonchalant, flippant, inconsiderate and blasé attitudes.

Living in London, the unofficial pigeon capital of the world, only exacerbates my disillusionment.

Scavenging on our scraps, defecating anywhere and everywhere they please and incessantly bobbing their heads as they saunter obliviously along, like a resident DJ is implanted in their tiny bird brains, pigeons have become all-too accustomed to shitting on our parade.

Here the dirty freeloaders fight each other for a piece of bread, which was obviously provided to them by a pigeon enabler.

Here the dirty freeloaders fight each other for a piece of bread, which was obviously provided to them by a pigeon enabler.

And apparently children are the only ones that have switched on to pigeon’s nefarious intentions. They are, without a doubt, the only ones doing anything about it.

Children across the world seem to be on the same strategic wavelength and, like battalions of old, charge toward lingering flocks, making them scamper, scurry and flee. It’s not their playful curiosity coming to the fore, but, in my opinion, their unbridled desire to banish pigeons to an uninhabited swathe of land far, far away.

I lionize children for coming up with such a simple, yet effective plan and carrying it through. At least they are taking a stand.

While somewhat impractical and slightly radical, I assert that all humans should form a unified front and, at least once a week, dash towards an unsuspecting flock with reckless abandon. It wouldn’t take long, if war was waged, for pigeons to think twice before showing up uninvited, lingering and congregating by the masses.

And don’t even get me started on those who opt to feed the repugnant creatures. Thriving on benevolence and weakness, pigeons, like seagulls and vultures, are freeloaders of the bird species.

So join me in scaring a flock a week and there will be no more pigeons of which to speak.

A sunset to behold on the Thames

Travel

Ambling slowly to the bank of London’s Thames at dusk, I become evermore appreciative of my surroundings, cognoscente of the fact that it’s not necessary to gallivant across the globe to enjoy a rewarding travel experience.

I used to think an escape was needed to spearhead inspiration and break free from the restrictive confines of home. But it’s the state of mind that counts and not the destination. And while I realise this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news or an epiphany of monumental proportions, it does bear great importance. Fulfilment comes from an internal satisfaction, which, in my opinion, correlates directly to accomplished work.

Let's capture that bridge when we come to it. ©

Let’s capture that bridge when we come to it. ©

I’m continually fascinated by the innumerable ways to capture sunsets. Whether evincing its powerful and piercing fiery gaze, eminent majesty, or poignant subtlety, the sun’s colourful beauty effortlessly brings to light a photographer’s creative flare.

London's Hammersmith Bridge stands eminently as the sun says goodbye to another day. ©

London’s Hammersmith Bridge stands eminently as the sun says goodbye to another day. ©

Setting on another day, the sun shows off some fiery flare as it reflects off the Thames. ©

Setting on another day, the sun shows off some fiery flare as it reflects off the Thames. ©

Capturing an image of a mate capturing an image at gloaming on London's Thames. ©

Capturing an image of a mate capturing an image at gloaming on London’s Thames. ©

Slipping behind houses and trees, the sun makes an impression before disappearing for the night. ©

Slipping behind houses and trees, the sun makes an emphatic impression before disappearing for the night. ©

Whether it’s hand-in-hand couples walking their spry dogs, families eating at street-side cafes or blokes drinking tea while compiling their latest blog post, Chiswick high street is a strip teeming with activity.

It feels like a city within a city, a self-sustaining, autonomous part of London. I used to have friends that never crossed over into neighbouring suburbs, almost as if it would be perceived as defecting to a foreign land. While that assertion is on the extreme side, I do see the allure of staying put and enjoying the friendly, spirited community vibe that Chiswick encapsulates.

Visited by throngs, Chiswick hosts the Devnoshire Road Street Party.

Visited by throngs, Chiswick hosts the Devnoshire Road Street Party.

It does, however, feel like a territory on its own, an exclusive club whose members are, for the most part, of a higher socioeconomic grouping. To put it quite simply, it’s posh, trendy safe, pleasant and exceedingly expensive.

Reflecting back, I now see why some of my mates never crossed the great divide and entered into nearby communities like the Acton’s. One neighbour, akin to North Korea and South Korea, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the US and Mexico, and maybe soon, Great Britain and Scotland, lives a charmed life while the other toils, barely able to keep its head above water.

Unlikely to ever change, the disparity is palpable and omnipresent. But anyone who says life is fair obviously hasn’t spent enough time with his or her downtrodden neighbour.

Invariably a part of human nature and, unfortunately, not being able to change it on my own, I’m going to enjoy this overpriced pastry and tea amidst the congenial atmosphere for which Chiswick high street is renowned.

I’m sure, begrudgingly so, this moral dilemma will be short-lived.

Photography

Overcast, dreary and drab in London this morning, I thought it best – to avoid the debilitating symptoms of cabin fever – to amble down the street to my local coffee shop for a stimulating brew.

And while it sounds like an ordinary run-of-the-mill activity, I cross into a bustling dimension where kids dance merrily in the doorway, music pulsates pleasantly overhead, friends congregate and discuss the week that was, individuals hone in on their laptops or get lost in their latest read while the baristas take pride in consistently producing liquid, arabica inspired, forms of art. 

A model Qantas jet sits imperiously on a stand at the entrance, reflecting the establishment’s Australian roots. Wishing I could shrink to the size of an ant and hop aboard to a destination far flung, I come back down to Earth and settle for a chart topping flat white. 

I’m not coffee connoisseur by any means, but it’s nice to have found Artisan – through a mate’s recommendation (cheers Tonks) – a coffee shop whose lively ambience is trumped only by its barista’s coffee-making skills. 

It’s a far cry better than festering indoors hoping the sun makes its long-awaited cameo, which is a trap I too often fall into. 

For who knows when the temperamental star (by classification and not performance) will extend its warm touch.

But when it does, thanks to the stimulating nature of a triple flat white, I’ll be outside in a flash, like a cheetah ramped up on speed, to welcome the sun’s far-reaching, albeit sporadic, embrace.

Artisan, a coffee shop in West London, teems with activity on an overcast and drizzly Saturday afternoon in London. ©

Artisan, a coffee shop in West London, teems with activity on an overcast and drizzly Saturday afternoon. ©

Photography

London living: Fighting for space

Opinion

Every inch of space is contested and every empty seat fought for. As precious as ivory comprising an elephant’s tusk, personal space is an extremely rare and precious commodity.

This is London.

Crowds start to form as I stand on Maidenhead’s station platform awaiting a train bound for London Paddington. Even with 10 minutes to spare, people mark their spot on the platform and shuffle forward like a herd of sheep in anticipation of the train’s arrival.

People, in the precise spot the train doors will eventually open, amass row on row, all vying for the slim chance at snatching a seat.

Rubbernecking down the tracks as if a train will magically appear, commuters’ eyes are transfixed on an empty spot far into the distance. Only a quick glimpse at a watch or phone breaks the trance with which they are ensnared. Every second counts; every second matters.

Minutes remain until the train is scheduled to arrive when an unexpected – and uniformly unwanted – message is loudly emitted from the public address system. The five-carriage guest of honour is going to be late once more, and not fashionably so.

Overt displays of displeasure rumble across the ever-increasingly frustrated crowd, whose numbers now far exceed what our tardy, five-carriage friend-turned-foe will be able to accommodate. One man spontaneously developed a fierce twitch, his left eyelid quivering, his entire head shaking uncontrollably. His jugular pronounces its intention, bulging like the Hulk’s muscles when agitated.

It’s as if small pockets of the collective have contracted an isolated airborne version of turrets as profanity is being spewed in an unfettered display of contempt.

But the bevy’s annoyance and anger quickly turns to a uniform and robotic-like readiness at first sight of our late foe, which slowly, and painstakingly, approaches from the distance.

Shoulder to shoulder and toe to heel, the herd inches toward the yellow line in unison. So close to one another, you can pinpoint your neighbour’s breakfast of choice. A brazen bloke has the gall to try cut into the queue but is swiftly brushed aside. Competition for poll position is stiff, but holding your ground takes precedence.

The train doors open and, akin to the rapid rate at which Romans flooded into England during their expansive conquest and great reign over Britain, the collective bundle aboard. A few of the lucky ones, like a king eminently taking his seat on the throne for the first time, claimed the remaining vacant seats.

The rest of us, it seemed, had reverted back to the start.

But instead of on an alfresco platform, we stood side by side, shoulder to shoulder and toe to heel fighting for space aboard our stuffy five-carriage foe that showed up late, unapologetic and remorseless.

For all of its commuting downfalls, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It’s a city full of life and replete with enigmatic charm. I just wish trains – and their passengers – during rush hour weren’t so callous, crowded and churlish.

What do I expect. After all, this is London.

Packed in like sardines on London’s underground

Opinion

If you’re claustrophobic or dislike confined areas the following content may render you slightly squeamish. If you’re a Londoner, however, this kind of commute to work, unless you’re one of the highfalutin lucky ones, is commonplace.

People, like rats in a cellar, rush around with indiscriminate abandon and have little consideration for fellow commuters. It’s not a friendly place, nor does it offer safe sanctuary for the timid.

All bets are off once the train doors slide open. Competition is fierce for the one or two available seats and battles are waged to earn a sliver of space to stand.

Smiles are as uncommon as a truthful politician and a there is a chance you may find yourself next to someone emitting a pungent, unpleasant odour which, no matter how hard you try, there is no escape from. You can only hope he or she is disembarking at the next stop.

But for all of its commuting flaws, this is London and, other than the sweaty, rancid-smelling passenger with whom you are forced to share your personal space, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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