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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Commuting?

25/09/2014 16:51 BST | Updated 13/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Yesterday evening, while propping up the bar at my local, I told my good friend and fellow Internet word-wizard Gwyneth Paltrow I was writing a blog about the horrors of commuting. Gwyneth rolled her eyes so hard I feared they'd dislocate, and declared that if people found commuting unpleasant, why didn't they just not commute. God! And then she asked me what commuting actually was. I explained that for Londoners, it was a cramped, sweaty experience in an enclosed space with other cramped, sweaty individuals.

"Oh!" said Gwynnie, laughing expensively, "you mean bikram yoga!" I chuckled at her unique worldview and sipped my real ale, and then we ordered the gluten-free scampi fries and compared thetan levels.

And then I woke up. I was on the Central line, sleep-dribble bubbling from my gaping maw. Again.

I hate commuting. Don't we all! Eh? However, I don't hate the act of travelling from one place to another. I can read a book (retro), I can obsessively play games on my phone, I can snack on stuff I've found in my handbag. If you were doing that at home, with some kind of expensive gloop on your face or feet, that would be classified as 'precious me time'. It'd appear in chocolate adverts, it'd be sold to mums as an expensive pamper package, you'd have hen parties handing over fists of cash to do it as a group. So if that's the case, why do we hate commuting?

Because: strangers.

And lots of them. Getting right up in your grill.

I have a friend who shall remain nameless for legal reasons (let's call him Lindsay Sharman) who had his foot trod on while standing in a tube carriage by a besuited man during morning rush hour. Happens all the time. But this man, the one who had inflicted the pain, then proceeded to tut because of the inconvenience of Lindsay's foot being where he had intended his foot to be. "Tut tut," he tutted, shooting Lindsay a hostile look. In an adrenalised instant, Lindsay saw red and grabbed this man by the lapels before the domesticated part of his brain could interfere.

"WHAT WAS THAT?" Lindsay bellowed, "YOU just stood on MY foot, and you're TUTTING AT ME?!?"

The surrounding throng reacted by studying their phones or gazing blankly into the middle distance. This man would find no help here. Satisfyingly, he stuttered his apologies and spent the rest of the trip staring intently at his own elbow.

Now, Lindsay is not a violent person, but he carried that rage with him for the rest of the day, and was probably a bit of a idiot to his work mates as a result. His workmates, annoyed and upset by his behaviour, then went home and were probably idiots to their partners and children. Those partners and children would then, in turn, be idiots to blah blah blah.

And that's why the world is going to pot.

But I'm not a fan of complaining just for complaining's sake. So, let's solve this. If strangers are at the root of the problem, would it help if everyone were friendlier? Would it help if there were orderly queues at each tube door entrance, and everyone was required to say hello to the people immediately to their left and right, and to enquire after their day? Would it help if the people standing, crushed against each other, smiled and made eye contact with their fellow travellers, and exchanged a few uplifting words that they'd gleaned from Internet philosophy memes? Perhaps a blitz-style singalong would boost spirits?

Of course it wouldn't. Sounds bloody awful.

So the main problem is clearly the physical (rather than emotional) distance between each stranger. It's just a fact that there are too many people on the tube, creating a meatloaf of angry city workers. Too many bodies, pressed unwillingly against each other. There's just too many people in the world, I hear you shout! The only way commuting would be less hideous is if there were less people! So what do we do? Surely you're not going to suggest a euthanasia programme to thin the herd? Surely that's not the logical, and only, conclusion to this?

Of course it isn't. Are you some sort of maniac?

Here's my solution, and it's actually very sensible (compared to what I've written so far.) We need to rearrange working hours. That's all.

We need to rearrange the schedules of all the financial institutions, the shops, the offices, the schools, the factories around the world. They need to be open 24 hours a day. People who like to get up with the birds can take early shifts, and the night owls who can barely function until midday, won't have to function until midday. Those with anti-social hours could get paid a bit more, but they wouldn't be lonely or inconvenienced because the world would still be operating. This would instantly double the size of the workforce: jobs would be created, production would increase, the economy would recover. And there would be less people getting on trains and tubes all at the same time.

Genius. Tell me I'm not a genius.

So all we have to do is work together to create this change. Which is the problem, of course. The only thing that humans hate more than a terrible situation, is the hassle involved in trying to change that terrible situation. I say this as someone who peed and pooed in pitch darkness for several months because the toilet ceiling was, like, way high, and I'd have to purchase a step ladder to change the damn bulb.

But it's a nice thought, eh?