The following is an excerpt from The Unknown Commuter, who fought in the legendary Battle of East Croydon, summer 2016. He's currently believed to be somewhere between Clapham Junction and Brighton waiting for a train. The reader is advised that the recollection includes strong opinions expressed robustly.
"Rail chaos. Where am I? My 17:52 from Clapham Junction has just been cancelled. Cancelled because too many drivers and conductors pulled a sickie. Because they can’t be bothered calling a real strike and lose money. So they do this low-down trick.
The petulant bosses cancel trains at the last minute. Twelve car coaches are reduced to four. When they turn up. Standing next to some git's armpit listening to his techno leaking from his headphones. Wanker.
So I stop off at the pub. And have a pint. Hope the chaos has died down. My train app says the train is on time. Run to the station. Go on the platform. My train has been delayed. Doesn’t even merit a revised time. Just delayed. That is ominous. Okay, so no direct train. Recalibrate, so; if the 17:52 has been cancelled I’ll take whatever goes to East Croydon – they all go to East Croydon – and take pot luck there. I jump on the first train arriving at my platform. Travellers swirl around the opened doors. No one tries for a seat – just to get on and then find somewhere to lean that’s not on a fellow passenger. Somewhere to hold on.
The train, almost deliberately, crawls to East Croydon. I mean, I could walk faster than this fucker. It must know there are whispered reports of mythical connecting train that will take me home. Leaving in ten minutes from East Croydon. So my train goes slow. Very slow. Stops at Purley and just chills for ten minutes. The conductor says something about there being congestion which means we’ve missed our slot to get into East Croydon. Fucking comedian. They’ve cancelled half the bloody trains? What congestion can there possibly be? Congestion at the bar in the striking drivers local, perhaps?
A feeling of bleak despair grows in me as I keep checking the time. I know, yes, I know, I’ve missed my connection. Gone like the wind. Unlike every other train tonight, my connecting train will be promptitude itself. Arrive on time. Leave on time. Of course.
So I join the chaos at East Croydon looking for another way home. Need a piss. Hey – I’m at a railway station. Need a piss. I know there is nowhere to go. When did that happen? When I was younger, I can still remember - though it’s pictured in sepia - you could take a piss at railway stations. Where did they all go to, those public conveniences? Maybe it was too many junkies shooting up or too strangers giving each other hand jobs but toilets in stations disappeared. So now what we gonna do? Hold it in while we wait for some fantasy train that will take me home which has fantasy functioning toilets.
The platform signs are in on the great swindle. Part of the con. Constantly changing, they show an ever changing landscape of fuck ups. Seasoned travellers, world weary and pissed off, stand up the stairs ready to run wherever directed. Just cause a train to the South coast is always on platform 2 or 3 doesn’t mean they won’t pull a surprise on you last minute. Platform 5! Leaving now. Run plebs! Too late.
So I stand on the concourse. Bladder full to fuck, ready to run, run wherever the electronic scoreboard predicts a train going my direction might be. Flashed up – it will arrive in ten minutes on platform 3. We all run down there jostling for space, for a place. Then the platform scoreboard flashes up that this train has been cancelled. Lots of shouts and swearing. Some of us go back up again. The scoreboard upstairs still says the cancelled train will arrive, er, well, about three minutes ago.
The station announcer employs a world-weary voice. Fed a diet of bullshit and nonsense by the train companies he reads out the ever changing deployment of fantasy trains he knows won’t make it. His bosses just want us off their platform, out of their station. Pass the problem further down the line. Get East Croydon passenger free, demob the mob on someone else’s patch. So they get the announcer to try and parse our journeys – push us to smaller stations with promises of legendary connecting trains. Some fall for it. We see them hours later, mournfully sat at Balcombe or Three Bridges helplessly watching the non-stopping Brighton trains pass them by. Idiots. Novices!
As to my own train, it’s now got a time, eight minutes hence on Platform 3. Hang on. No, it’s now twelve minutes away. No it’s cancelled. No it’s just late the announcer says. Might be at Clapham Junction. Might be further ahead. Who knows. Information is power.
Silently, below us on platform 2, a train pulls in unannounced. Suspicious, some passengers edge towards that platform. I hear a shout – it’s our train – just as the announcer tells us that it is indeed the train we want but it is now getting ready to depart. Shouts and swearing as three hundred people rush towards platform 2. Exactly ten seconds later an announcement says that we should move away from the doors as the train is preparing to leave.
We rush the train, rush the doors, the rail people on the platform tells us to move away but we’re an unstoppable, feral force of nature. They’re concentration camp guards, and collaborators. Fuck off. To the sword with them!
We storm the train. Push the guy with the folded bike out the way, edge past the confused old couple who had a day’s shopping in London and now rather wish they didn’t. The seats are all taken. Naturally. So we’re packed in, standing, holding onto whatever we can. The LCD sign in the carriage boldly displays that we will be going back up to London Victoria – the wrong way FFS. Can’t these monkeys get anything right? The conductor comes over the tannoy and announces that we should stay away from the doors. Cheers mate, but where are we actually going? This way or that? Not until the doors have shut and we start to crawl away – packed, overweight, angry – and it’s too late to change – does the conductor announce that this train is indeed going south.
And we crawl there. Two toilets out of three are out of action. The one I go in looks blocked. I don’t care. Shut eyes and leave quickly. Ah the relief. My station is announced. As I get off, tired, sweaty, battered, the station tannoy says that the 19:54 train to Brighton is ten minutes late. It’s taken me two hours of stress to get here. Should be fifty minutes.
Wankers. Truly wankers.
The battle begins anew tomorrow."