Thanks to the Edinburgh Fringe Diva Gigs was invited by Paul L Martin to partake in February’s Cheese n Crackers, London’s original variety and talent show (a TIMEOUT critics choice no less) which is on the first Thursday of every month. The last week of January I received a ‘this could possibly be bad news’ e mail from Ana-Maria and as I scrolled down I read the fatal words ‘tube strike’. As I pondered the consequences I realised that I have only ever travelled underground in London. I know what each destination looks like but the bit in between is a complete mystery. I’ve sometimes been on a tube and wondered if I’m sitting still and the rest of London is re-arranging itself above me…which, in light of this present event, would have been time better spent working out where I was going.
Wednesday arrived, the strikes were confirmed and it was with more than slight trepidation that I boarded my train from the beautiful art deco Birmingham Moore Street to London Marylebone. Something else was bothering me….something was niggling at the back of my head..what was it….oh yeah, I’m heading into a strike zone inhabited by a society of people who HATE waiting. I remember a friend of mine exclaiming indignantly because we’d missed the tube and now had to wait a full TWO minutes for another one…..yes people, two…whole…freakin’…minutes? Try 17:00 in Brum and the wait can be an hour or missing the bus in the Peak District and discovering the next one is scheduled for tomorrow! That was the niggle… London people do not like waiting and this happy-go-lucky Diva was about to get hit by a storm cloud of bad-tempered, irritable, negativity….you know what..?..I was absolutely wrong!
British people in general are known for sucking it up and getting on with it, albeit with a lot of complaining. I have learned that Londoners are the epitomey of resilience. Tube strike in full swing, everybody suffering an average increased journey time of 100%, I expected to walk into an enormous, every-man-for-themselves, umbrella twirling, bag swinging, bus queue fight! What I was actually confronted with was people having ‘passing the time’ conversations, which was a bit like being back in Brum. There were periodic eye darts towards bus stop signs, presumably checking for digital signage…which didn’t exist…though it happened so frequently that even I glanced at the metal post even though I knew it was impossible for the digital information to suddenly appear (Erving Goffman’d have a field day).
Woman and families were the most overtly worried. It was dark and there was recurrent apologising as ladies, mothers and fathers craned their necks through passengers and towards bus windows and doors, hoping to recognise anything that may signify home. One guy on the train platform took his whistle out of his mouth and ushered people onto the train in a whispered tone so as not to disturb the startled looking baby (way passed its bed time) wrapped up in a blanket, hugged close to its mother’s cooing face (what a hero!). I don’t know why tfl employees decided to strike, but, as I sat on my snail paced bus, I hoped that they had a good reason to justify placing their cities woman, children and families into a vulnerable situation. I wondered how much the economy had suffered yet people had benefitted from London having to work at a pace more akin to Derbyshire. From the outside, London is viewed as cold and unfriendly. But, when faced with something out of it’s control, I didn’t see any fights, I didn’t walk into a cloud of despair, people eventually got home and the on the whole, the city was flooded with understanding and kindness. It took me 4 hours to undertake a 3 hour journey. Me and Ana had a great rehearsal and knowing that our trip to her flat would be delayed, we went to the pub…well, it felt good to do my bit for the London economy……