As much as we all spend time wishing to be empowered, I think there’s a quieter part of us that prefers the oppositeby Sam Leith / August 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
I had a beautiful moment the other day. It came when I arrived at East Finchley station at about nine o’clock on the morning of the recent Tube strike. I’ve learned to take not much notice of tube strikes, because—at least in recent memory—strike doesn’t generally mean strike strike. It means severe delays on the red and blue and grey lines, the yellow line not working at all (quite to be taken within one’s stride, because it never works anyway) and the black line (my line) chugging erratically along on a reduced service. You know there’ll be a certain amount of ho-humming on platforms, and a bit more close-up armpitage once you’re on the train, but in general the capital remains navigable.
This day was different. The strike was an actual strike. Because I’m dozy and had relied on Google Maps for my travel information, I only knew that the strike was total, the tube service annihilated, when I found the station shuttered and abandoned. No “replacement bus service,” no handy changeover at Camden Town: nothing. As KFC wrappers tumbled past on the wind, I looked about me. At the bus stop opposite, commuters groaned and herded like zombies. Occasionally a packed 263 would sail past, not stopping, faces of the damned crammed up against the windows as if auditioning for places in a late canvas by Francis Bacon. The zombies moaned and shook their fists.
The chances of me getting to work across London, in Westminster, I calculated, were zero. Nil. Diddly. By the time I got there, even if I got there, I would be too late to have a chance—even if I turned round to embark on my return journey without so much as sitting at my desk—of getting back to East Finchley in time for the school run.
It was a sunny day. I breathed the urban air. And I went to get a cup of coffee, light and carefree as a plastic bag in a Sam Mendes film. What I’m trying to get at is not that I’m an awful skiver who loves the chance to take a day off work: rather, it’s how exhilarating the sense of powerlessness really is. When there’s a chance of achieving something—commercial success, romantic fulfilment,…