(original edit of article for CallOver magazine).
The Christmas and New Year period is one where you think of others as well as yourself. So, while stressing about working the festive period, I’ve also reflected on the plight of those equally stressed people struggling to get around, and out of, London during this strange period of the year.
Work levels in December are erratic, but I did a bit better than last year. The run-up to Christmas passed off without incident. Three days off, then back on Saturday December 27th. Not a lot of action, so I spent some time on the ranks listening to the radio while the travel mayhem unfolded. Engineering works had over-run and no trains were running in or out of King’s Cross. Some passengers had to get themselves to Letchworth or Welwyn Garden City to catch trains, while others were offered trains running out of Finsbury Park. Finsbury Park might be an important transport hub for North London, but it didn’t prove large enough to handle re-routed inter-city trains to the north and Scotland. Chaos reigned, with quarter mile queues to get into the station. It was an exceptionally cold day and the station was closed on a few occasions due to the inevitable overcrowding. A cab driver friend of mine drove some people up to Finsbury Park, only to be directed back to their West End hotel once they saw the situation. I hope they got a receipt and put in a claim. Over-running engineering works happen, but the bosses were rightly criticised for having no contingency plan in place. Some of these train customers are now facing a 2.2% fare rise. Happy New Year!
The train network is bad enough on regular weekends. You always need to check your journey won’t be disrupted by engineering works and you need to take the dreaded replacement bus service. Engineering works disrupts the tube system at the weekend too. Surely it’ll be worse when they’re running trains all night?
I’d worked the last few New Year’s Eves. I couldn’t work it this year, as my high-mileage Elegance was back in the garage for emergency work. It’s not a particularly busy day, but there’s a jolly atmosphere. When people get drunker and the roads start to get closed for the fireworks, it’s time to go home. Normally I’d be finished by about 6pm. It seems New Year’s Eve is getting more difficult though, because the road closures are expanding. This year some of the closures started earlier, at 2pm. Maybe it would have been too much hassle anyway?
I’d found the last two New Year’s Days quite busy. Again, there’s a good atmosphere and on New Year’s Day the traffic tends to be light, away from the major shopping areas anyway. This year business was slow. There wasn’t much work in the City so I was forced west. I suspect the road closures put in this time had expanded, and I found trying to work around the West End and Westminster thoroughly frustrating and stressful. And it lasted until 6pm. There’s not a lot you can do when Shaftesbury Avenue, Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, and many surrounding roads are closed. Picking up in Cranbourn Street I was forced to take an American couple to Knightsbridge via Westminster and Lambeth Bridges. The bloke wasn’t pleased and I heard him asking his hotel linkman whether a fare of £43 is normal. No, £43 is not normal for a run from Covent Garden to Knightsbridge, but that sort of money is normal for a run that lasts over half an hour in heavy traffic on a public holiday. I have sympathy, but getting around a closed off city on New Year’s Day is always going to be expensive, if you can find someone to take you at all. In the 24-hour society it’s easy to forget that some people are being forced to work. Those who work should be adequately compensated. I worked voluntarily, but only because of the £4 extras, and because I know that after today, things are going to be as flat as a kipper for about two months. In this case, the man’s wife, and the linkman knew the score, but I suspect the man held me responsible for his credit card taking a bit of kicking on the first day of the year. It’s not nice to benefit from others’ misfortune, it feels like cheating. Some people think we enjoy taking the scenic route and bumping up the fare, but little stresses me more. I made a mental note not to work this day next year. I felt like I’d aged a year.
It can’t be nice getting around London when it’s so congested. I can only imagine what it’s like late on New Year’s Eve. I’m at home with my warm milk and teddy bear by midnight. The tube trains run, but it must be a thoroughly unpleasant experience. Sometimes we hear people complain that there are no cabs around. The fact is, they’ve made driving so difficult that more and more drivers will stay at home when major road closures are implemented. I can’t imagine myself working the next New Year period, though I shall be around on December 27th to take stranded train passengers to Welwyn Garden City should I be called upon to do so. I’ll also go to Letchworth if I can find it.