My new commute

My team moved to a new office while I was away on holiday.

They didn’t do it to hide from me. The move was planned and well publicised. I even had the chance to visit to the new office premises before I went on holiday.

Knowing Canary Wharf not at all well, I studied a map and then studied it some more and tried to memorise how to get to the new office from the Elizabeth Line station so I could be on time for the 08:45am start of the tour.

On the day of my visit all went well – I caught the bus that got me to the train that got me to the station where I could catch the Elizabeth Line train that took me to Canary Wharf.

But that’s where the trouble started.

I followed signs for where I thought I needed to go, but it led me on as long walk through an underground shopping centre. When I eventually emerged blinking and panicked into the daylight I had no sense of where I was.

On leaving the building after the tour, one of the building guides gave me simple instructions.

“Elizabeth Line? Easy. Right out of the building and under the DLR bridge. When you see the entrance to the Jubilee Line station turn left but keep walking past it. Keep walking straight and the Elizabeth Line station will be right in front of you.

I followed his instructions and yes I got to the Elizabeth line station in seven minutes.

On my first real working day at the office, I remembered the instructions. I just have to do this in reverse. Easy, I thought.

Except I didn’t and it wasn’t.

I came out of the station at a place that looked a lot like the place I was on my first visit. I studied the maps (happily in plentiful supply) and ended up back in the underground shopping centre again.

I walked and walked in an increasing state of panic. I followed some people up some stairs in the mistaken belief that being on ground level would help me get my bearings. Let me tell you, when you’re in a place you don’t know, you can’t get your bearings.

My phone was no help. The locator beacon kept moving, confused perhaps by so many tall buildings around.

I walked. I walked and walked. I saw a cafe that looked familiar – did I see that last time? I think I’ve been here before. I catch a glimpse of the river and head for that. I know my building is close beside the river. I just hope this isn’t the river on the other side of the Canary Wharf U shape.

Looking up, I see my building. It’s over there! I try to navigate to it but find myself on one side of a canal, my building on the other. But this is good, I’ve been here before. I know there’s a road bridge just over there.

I make it into the building. It’s taken more than 20 minutes of walking and I can feel I am sweating inside my coat from exertion and panic but I made it.

Leaving the office that day, I took photos of my walk to the station. Little visual breadcrumbs that I can follow, Hansel and Gretl-like, to find my way back to the office on another day.

“But if you’re not following that guy through the shopping centre, how will you know where you’re going?” Husband asked.

I worked out that my mistake was getting on the Elizabeth line where I arrive on the platform – at the front of the train. To get to where I need to be at Canary Wharf, I need the exit at the back of the train.

I won’t make that mistake next time.

No, next time I make some other kind of mistake and the whole morning rolls away from me.

What is it I do wrong? Is it because I take time to plug in my fit watch to charge while I’m in the shower? Is it because I put on my boots then decide these boots aren’t made for walking and change into trainers for the commute? Is it because I have to rifle in my shoe box for some non-boot shoes to take with me to wear in the office?

Whatever small delay, it was enough for me to miss a bus by 30 seconds. And because I miss that bus, I have to take a different bus, but that bus isn’t stopping here because it’s full. So by the time the next bus arrives I realise I’ve missed my train. There’s another one in fifteen minutes, and it might just be enough for me to get to the office to start my 9:00am call on time.

I get to the station with plenty of time for the next train, but in the crowd getting off that train, and the delays getting out of one set of ticket barriers and through another set of ticket barriers, and then walking down two sets of escalators to the Elizabeth Line platform, of course I arrive just as the TFL man on the platform announces “Doors closing, stand clear.”

The next train is only five minutes away and that gives me time to walk to the butt end of the train where I need to be for the exit. I’m not going to get confused this time, oh no. I am at the correct end of the train to get the correct exit for the fast track to the office.

I’m looking at the clock and thinking I will just about be on time for my nine o’clock call when the TFL man announces that due to a sick passenger on a train, the train is delayed by some minutes while that passenger is attended to and removed from the train. I consider messaging the person I have the 9am call with but of course there is no signal because I’m two levels underground and despite the promise of free Wi-Fi this seems to be fictional because my phone can’t connect to it.

Good news, the TFL man informs us, the sick passenger has been removed and the train should be with us soon. I see the display telling me the next train is 1 minute away. The it is 2 minutes away. But then it says approaching and I hear the familiar roaring whistling whine of a train.

I’m only going two stops but I’ve been standing on my long train ride and I’ve been standing on the platform at the station so I take a seat. People on this Elizabeth Line train are arseholes I have noticed. The kind of people who sit on the aisle seats leaving the window seats empty so people have to climb over them to get to the empty seat. Most people can’t be bothered. Most window seats remain unoccupied as I think a lot of people are – like me – only travelling two stops.

I take time to take in the people around me. Considering this is the Canary Wharf train, the new financial district, there are not many sharp suited people on this train. There could be a few reasons for this – one, that the sharp suited folks are already at work because they start at 7am or 8am; and two, Covid, people just can’t be bothered with all that anymore.

I check my phone so the train pulls into the station. 08:57. I’m not going to be in the office seated at my desk for this call. Im not even going to be near the office building. As I’m walking up the escalators (because of course, today, the escalators stop working as soon as I step onto them) my phone pings with a message, key information needed for the call just in time.

08:59 and I’m pulling out my headphones and plugging into the call. As I’m walking through the shopping mall and along the street to the office (because today or all days I’ve got my directions right) I’m talking like I know my stuff, because I realise I do know my stuff, even after this morning.

And I also realise I’m one of those people I used to see on the street and wondered how you got to be like that, on an important call, walking along the street with purpose, telling people what needs to happen.

Now me can tell younger me – it happens by accident, it happens gradually, it happens when you’re not looking.

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