14 October 2007

Lessons in standing

Although the main aim of this blog is to provide some kind of release from my pent-up commuter rage, an important secondary purpose is to educate the idiots that make London life so difficult for the rest of us. Rather than start with something complicated (like navigating the Underground, or appropriate behaviour in theatres, for example), I thought I'd begin with something that everyone should be able to understand: the long lost art of standing still considerately.

As far as I can tell, almost all adults have developed the skill of standing still: on a daily basis I sometimes see hundreds of people engaging in this activity, whether waiting for a train or a bus, muttering quietly to themselves, or simply watching the world go by. Nevertheless, it never ceases to amaze me just how few of these people have mastered the ability not only to stand still, but to do so in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone else.

My daily commute takes me through the arcade outside South Kensington station: it's always a busy spot due to the station entrance and exit, and also because of the shops and bank machines and the fact that the area is a walk-through between two major roads. Another complicating factor is the presence of a popular bus stop immediately outside the entrance. At times the arcade entrances become jammed with people and almost impassable: getting in and out requires either the diplomatic skills of an UN ambassador or the more muscular presence of a rugby prop forward. This is due to one reason only: the inability of standing people to realise they're blocking public thoroughfares.

On an ordinary day, during rush hour in particular, these blockages are caused by bus queues. Well, I say queues, but use the term loosely. The queues consist of a couple of token people forming a line at the bus stop and a much larger random assortment of knuckle-dragging halfwits standing in the middle of the pavement, against the shop fronts next to the arcade entrance and, critically, in the open arcade entrances. These same people regard requests to move (so that people can get in and out of the station) as entirely unreasonable. This situation is compounded when it rains, as many people shelter in the arcade. For some reason, the arcade entrance seems to be a particularly good place for this, although the reaons for this elude me. The entrances are crowded and open to the elements, so you still get wet (and jostled), whereas if you sheltered further inside the arcade (which is relatively spacious and covered) it would be drier, there'd be more room and you wouldn't be sworn at and elbowed for blocking the entrance. I can only suggest that for many people it's important to be in a position where they can enjoy the great natural spectacle of a British rain shower: after all, this meteorological wonder hardly ever happens in London. Perhaps many people just have a goldfish-like memory and forget what rain looks like.

Anyhow, my message to the arcade blockers of South Kensington (and of all other stations in London) is simple - get out of the damn way moron! If you're stupid and/or selfish enough to block the entrance don't be surprised if people start to push you out of the way, hit you with their bag or call you an idiot.

Comparable situations occur frequently: people standing in shop doorways or pulling up sharply in the middle of the pavement (to gaze sheepishly around for directions or to answer the latest text about Big Brother on a mobile) are two common examples.

So, next time you think about standing still, have a think first. Such action might be potentially difficult for many people, and even tiring, but give it a go. You might be surprised at your new found insight. Are you standing in a open doorway, the middle of a pavement of the road? If so, don't stop, keep moving. Only stop where you can get out of the flow of people so you won't cause a blockage. You'll get jostled less, receive fewer nasty looks and muttered comments, and the rest of us might be able to get around a bit more smoothly. We'll all be happier! Just needs a little more consideration...