An American in London, Episode 1: The Commutation of the Commute

Two weeks working in London have flown by like an express train from Paddington Station. I am halfway through my work placement with the Theatre and Performance Archives at the V&A and spring has reached England’s green and pleasant land. I do apologise for failing to update last week but I found forming a new routine to be all consuming. It would take far more words than I have time to devote to explain every nuance of the past twelve days or so, so I will provide you, dear Reader, with just the broad strokes. They may seem rather mundane but things like finding your coffee shop, memorising the train schedule, and learning the walking route to and from places takes on such importance when you are starting a new job that they tend to overshadow the more monumental episodes like, oh, I don’t know, working at the V&A? Over the next few weeks I will devote some posts to various elements of my life in London, they will be short, but hopefully interesting.
Today’s episode: The Commutation of the Commute, wherein our heroine is transformed.


I am living outside of London in a village near Maidenhead. You may remember I stayed with friends before Christmas near Windsor. They graciously agreed to host me for the month of my work placement and I have been thrown into the family mix. I must admit that after the confines of my tiny study bedroom in Durham, having a real home to go to every evening has been beyond comforting. Living outside of London does have certain disadvantages though. For one thing, it’s outside of London. I have not, nor will I conceivably have time to see and do things in the city. I am that certain class of Londoner at the moment; not really a Londoner, a Commuter. Commuters are a special breed. They plant themselves outside of major cities in delightful suburbs and villages but always near a rail station. The rail station is to the Commuter what the migration routes are to wildebeests on the African plains. Every morning they are herded onto ridiculously crowded rail carriages and zipped into the city. I had to learn this routine in order to properly blend in with the species.
Commuters in their natural habitat. (Photo by Route79)

It started with a journey to one of those rail stations to obtain that most coveted of Commuter items: a monthly rail pass. This necessary rite of passage does have its costs. I left the station £370.00 lighter, but with the means to travel between Maidenhead and anywhere in London for a month. The next morning I would join the herd to begin my four week placement at the V&A. I was now ready to become a Commuter.
One of the main duties a Commuter has is to learn the railway time table. I had to determine the best trains to take in the morning and again in the evening. I needed to work out the nuances of the Tube and carefully sculpt my journey much like Michelangelo sculpting David. Do I take the District line to the Overground? Do I take the Hammersmith and City line and walk? Or do I take the District line to the Central line to the Overground? The patterns and complexities of the decision were enormously fun; it was like an artistic puzzle to be pondered.


The first decision though had to be which train from Maidenhead. An internet search provides an answer or of course there is an app for that. (Over the past two weeks I have graduated to a higher level of Commuter since I always search for my train’s platform number before I get to the station, saving me from the Junior Commuter mistake of having to actually look at those screens. Noobs). Determining the proper train is not straightforward. Later trains may in fact get you into Paddington earlier than early trains. I blame this seeming disruption in the spacetime continuum on wibbly wobbly timey wimeyness. (It is England after all.) For example, if you take the 17:42 from Paddington (yes, you need to get used to 24 hour time here, it’s used all over the place) you arrive in Maidenhead at 18:13. If you take the 17:49 from Paddington you arrive in Maidenhead at 18:07. (I also think the 17:49 is bigger on the inside.) Either way, both trains will get you to Maidenhead. A Commuter should always know at least two or three trains around the preferred train in case of unforeseen misfortune such as gasp delays!
London Paddington (Photo by El Scrapeo)

Once I had determined my preferred trains and memorised three trains round that one, I was ready. I must say that I have found a rather wonderful rhythm to my commute. I leave early enough to have breakfast in Hammersmith and a leisurely walk to the office and my reverse journey isn’t too taxing on my weary brain.
So there I am. I am Commuter. Ich bin ein Kommuter. (No that is so not the German word for commuter, but it totally should be.)The Cambridge Free Dictionary defines commute as “to change one thing into another.” (How I do love the English language!) I have sculpted my commute and it has in turn sculpted me.

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