An individual who shall remain anonymous, as we walked together across Waterloo Bridge a few nights ago, had a rant that went something like this:
‘I hate tube strikes day. I hate the way everyone in London talks like its the worst thing in the world, they just moan and moan and it’s like ‘oh god, this is the worst thing ever, Jesus, it’s so unfair’ and everyone becomes like a fascist and goes ‘I hate the tube drivers, they already get 40 grand a year, they should all be put in prison, I can’t believe they’re doing this’ and everyone piles into the buses and all they talk about is the strike and everyone goes home at 4 p.m. to ‘beat the rush’ when what they’re really doing is going home because they don’t like it at work and it’s just an excuse and you can’t move anyway because everyone drives and moans and moans – I hate strike days.’
Or words to that effect. I might have glossed it up a little in the name of narrative zippiness, but the gist remains sound. And while I’d love to disagree just to be annoying, strike mania did indeed have London in its grasp for a good week and a half. Not just the two days during the strike, but for days and days before and probably for a few after as people raved about ridiculous demands, outrage, horror, despair, torment etc.. ‘Strike Chaos!’ was headline banner news across London on the same day that the U.N. declared its first global pandemic since 1968, and Iran voted in a Presidental election. Inside comment pages across every freebie newspaper chucked across the back seats of the buses were pictures of members of the public by statements like ‘The drivers are striking like every other month, I can’t believe it’s happening again’ or ‘They don’t have anything to complain about, not while our soldiers are fighting a war!’ – and so on.
I should admit my own bias. I walk everywhere in London anyway, so when the strike hit, it didn’t really effect me, as I could fairly easily make any distance in 40 minutes on foot that a bus could do in 20. Through unlikely circumstance, I ended up walking from Victoria to Euston to avoid the strike. I walked through Westminster, an area I barely know at all, and navigated by the dodgy expedient of keeping the London Eye to my right and the BT Tower in front and leftish. This precarious wander took me through streets I had never seen before, little markets wedged between fat concrete Ministries and glass-walled office blocks jutted up against pompous Victorian stone. It was an eye-opener, and one I probably wouldn’t have had, if the tube had run.
Ironically, the best way to bypass tube strike chaos was to stay in South London, on the basic principal that South London doesn’t really have much of a tube to be effected by. South Londoners have the just right to complain that they have very few reliable transport options to them; ironically, tube strike days are among a select few where this lack of option becomes an advantage!
Another view, in the interest of balance. The day I was at Victoria, a friend of mine was supposed to meet me . She left her house, between Aldgate and Wapping, at 9.15 a.m., in pouring rain that made every window clatter between Sidcup and Walthamstow, and looked for a bus. 2 hours and a half later, she arrived at Charing Cross Station, five and a half miles away from where she had begun. Bear in mind that average walking speed is around 4 miles an hour, and she walks quickly. Retrospectively, it’s kinda easy to say ‘maybe you should have walked…’ but strangely enough, with the rain pouring off her, the A-Z back in her flat, a deadline of 45 minutes to get to her destination, and a travelcard in her pocket, it becomes easy to imagine why she might be just a little annoyed by the day the tube shut down across London.
As one final thought – crossing the heaving junction at Kings Cross Station, every bus stop bursting with annoyed commuters, a man in a suit proclaimed, ‘curse the tube drivers’! A sentiment I am sure that most travellers in London shared that day. But if the 48 hours of the strike showed us anything at all, it was that the last people in the city we can afford to curse, are the tube drivers…