The hell of the daily commute

Who put that bloody harbour there?

My first proper grown-up job (actually the only proper grown-up job I’ve ever had, when I come to think about it) involved commuting from Southsea round the top of Portsmoth harbour and down into Gosport. In theory the trip should take half an hour, but I discovered in short order that if I wanted to guarantee timely arrival I was going to have to allow at least an hour and probably longer. All of which meant I had to spend 10 hours of my life every week sitting at traffic lights, looking at the arse-end of buses, breathing exhaust fumes and usually listening to Chris Rea’s ‘Road to Hell’ on the radio, which was appropriate if nothing else.

This isn’t even excessive (thought it was a serious shock to a student used to a 20 minute walk to get to a 10:00 lecture) – there are people out there commuting all the way into London from places like Portsmouth, which must eat up a good two hours by the time they’ve got to the station in the first place, caught the train and then transported themselves to the office at the other end. That’s four hours a day they’re never going to see again. It’s no wonder people spend vast fortunes on Pret a Vomir sandwiches and Starbucks double caffeine skinny mocha frappucinos with added lard – I’m surprised they find a second in which to get dressed in the morning, let alone eat anything.

In theory the rail commute should be better than spending four hours a day behind the wheel of a car – you can at least attempt to deny the soul-destroying futility of it all by reading Ulysses or crocheting a useful dog blanket, and you can sneer at other people’s taste in garden furniture as you go through the suburbs. On the other hand, you’re just as likely not to get a seat and end up spending the journey sardined into the space between two carriages with a bunch of people who ate garlic baked beans the previous evening.

Commuter solutions - the Gosport Ferry

The commuting experience improved beyond measure in a later temping job which didn’t require me to own a car and left me free to cycle across town and hop on the ferry across the harbour mouth. This still involved getting up at birdsqueak in the morning and could be a tad chilly in November, but the exercise was infinitely preferable to sitting in a traffic jam with Chris Rea on the A27, and the harbour offers much more interesing things to look at than the rear end of the 13A on its way down Goldsmith Avenue.

Commuting up and down an alp used to be an activity undertaken twice a year along with several cows, a flock of sheep and children under five tied to the family mule. These days we do it daily, but omit the livestock, if only because getting a flock of sheep into the telecabine poses logistical problems.

Commuting Alpine style

By the time I’ve driven to Venosc, got the cabin up to 2Alpes and then walked the entire length of resort to the ticket office right at the other end (management evidently thinks I’m a lazy porker who needs some exercise but is too polite to say so) the trip probably takes about the same length of time as the old tour of the harbour on the A27, but the difference is that I get paid a mileage allowance of 6€ a day to do it. This doesn’t take very much of the sting out of getting out of bed in the dark in January into an outside-the-duvet temperature barely above zero, mind you.

In winter, the journey frequently turns into a cross-country obstacle course designed to keep the commuter alert and on the ball. Getting the car onto the road in the first place is a challenge when the snow comes half way up the doors. Once out there and on the way you may well discover that the road to Venosc hasn’t been ploughed yet, leaving you to blaze a trail through a metre of fresh powder in your trusty Twingo – all of this accomplished entirely without snowchains, since no-one seems to make any small enough. Not that I’m about to get involved in fitting chains in a metre of snow at seven in the morning anyway – sod that for a game of soldiers.

Doing the snowplough’s job for it isn’t too bad as long as you can keep up a reasonable amount of momentum, but it becomes interesting when you discover that the temperature plummeted like a lemming after last night’s sleet, and the snow (which offers some traction) has fallen on top of a sheet of ice (which doesn’t). One of my colleagues nearly ended up in the river that morning.

Wild boar. Big and fierce, thank you very much.

As if the regular hazards weren’t enough, there are always a few wildcard elements waiting to ambush the intrepid commuter. I can tell you from experience that hitting a wild boar will do your car no good whatsoever. It will also cause you to question the sanity of all your friends, none of whom will think that there might be any practical difficulties involved in getting 200kg of possibly only slightly stunned and in which case certainly enraged wild boar into the back of your car and thence to the butcher.

If the wildlife fails to scupper your chances of getting to work on time you can usually guarantee to find a few tourists messing with snowchains in the middle of the road, Belgian coach drivers panicking because they’ve never seen a bend before and aren’t sure what to do with a steering wheel, and various ditched, jack-knifed or just plain stuck delivery lorries.

On negotiating these further obstacles, you may quite possibly find that half the mountain has fallen on the road, which is cheating, if you ask me. I got half way home sometime in March only to find the road strewn with boulders bigger than the car and the police lining up vehicles in groups of six and scooting them through as fast as possible because the rest of it was likely to come down at any minute. Nothing like a spot of Russian Roulette to enliven that dull journey home.

So there might not be much opportunity to read Ulysses and catch up with my crochet, but the business of getting to work is a whole lot livelier than it ever was in Blighty. I may have to investigate the possibilities of home working while I’m still in one piece.

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About misplacedperson

Camping and snowboarding for a living. It may not be a career, but it's certainly a life.
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11 Responses to The hell of the daily commute

  1. iampisspot says:

    I shall never forget the daily commute up the ‘Hary Scary’ road from Albertville to Notre Dame. One day, sitting in a van laden to the hilts with bunkbeds and teaspoons, what appeared to be a roe deer and her kids leapt out in front of us from the undergrowth at the side of the road. We all marvelled and whooped at such a beautiful sight….

    On closer inspection, however, the ‘kids’ were actually large hunting dogs, and the roe deer had 3 legs (due to ripping the 4th one clean off out of a trap). I promptly leapt out of the van and started whacking the dogs with a stick, whilst screaming at my colleague to run the deer over and put it out of its misery….

    Now, you don’t experience stuff like that on the daily rat race commute to London 🙂

  2. Charlotte says:

    If you insist on reading Ulysses any commute would be interesting by comparision – page 42 was as far as I ever got. 😆

  3. Evan S says:

    No one has ever actually read Ulysses. Or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. They are books kept on shelves so people think other people are educated.

    My daily commute in Utah is a 12-minute walk to the slopes, or two-minute bus if I’m lazy and (as usual) they’ve cleared the roads but not the footpaths – sorry, sidewalks. In London, alas, it’s a 15-minute walk over the Thames (the good bit) and then the Tube … the bad bit. Either way, yours sounds more fun …

  4. It sounds to me as if you have a mini adventure every day! Nothing better to keep things interesting 🙂

    My daily commute is a walk up my stairs – very boring!

  5. flyintheweb says:

    I used to like my commute to and from London…two hours each way in which to read the papers or a book….I was at the end of the line, so no problems getting a seat.
    Not as exciting as yours, though….
    And I’ve read Ulysses…but I struggle with Finnegan’s Wake.

  6. statusviatoris says:

    I used to have an hour’s commute everyday into Monaco (with the other 40,000+ slaves to a decent salary) although the distance was only 17km. By the time I got close to my destination I was usually so enraged that my driving became somewhat erratic and I once very nearly ran over Princess Stephanie (silly moo was jaywalking). I wonder what the butcher would have made of her…

  7. Pingback: Sitting in a hut for a living – summer in the Alps | It's All Downhill From Here

  8. Pingback: I like to ride my bicycle ….. | It's All Downhill From Here

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