Friday, March 04, 2016

Staying sane on the morning commute

I've had official scientific validation that my morning grumpiness on the commute into Manchester isn't my fault. No, it's not Northern Rail's fault, or my fellow human beings, or the weather. It also explains the almost involuntarily draw towards Rose Hill station, rather than Marple. It's due to my neurological wiring.

I read this piece by Dean Burnett, author of The Idiot Brain, on why commuting is turning you into a bastard.

"The big problem for the brain while commuting is that you’re totally restricted – you can’t change anything. You’re also unstimulated as the journey’s repetitive and monotonous, and you’re trapped in a vehicle. And so, because your brain has no expectation of action, it shuts down. This is why you do stupid things like forgetting to get your ticket out before reaching the gates."

Two months back into the new routine and this all makes astonishing sense.

My ideal commute is a genteel and well timed drive to Rose Hill station. Park up, collect the Metro, sit in forward facing window seat, preference is for a plastic headrest as opposed to metal bus seats, plug in a podcast - New Statesman, Spectator, Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, Thinking Allowed, Media Show or The Bottom Line.

While listening to this I do the easy sudoku by the time we get to Romiley, the moderate before Hyde Central, and the fiendish by the time we roll into Piccadilly. If I don't, then I don't.

There are a number of things that can throw me off that routine that have a massively destabilising effect on the rest of the morning. Traffic in Marple can be periodically horrible and I miss the train and have to go to Marple station instead where there are more trains. This is when I remember why I don't use Marple any more. There are simply too many traps: no parking spaces, it can be busy crossing the road, there may be ticket inspectors, then there's the sharp elbows required to get on the train, which may or may not have enough carriages for the sheer number of commuters on the platform. Getting a seat is then a battle.

There can be train delays, but once I'm in my hermetically sealed hunch I barely notice the rest of the invariable factors (other passengers). I also forget something virtually every day. As long as it isn't my phone, earphones, a pen or my Travelcard then the commute is OK.

So here's another thing. Rose Hill fellow commuters are friends, fellows, companions. We are the pioneers, those at the start. Marple commuters are your rivals - for a seat, for space. Then there are the New Mills lot who've already taken their seats further down the line and earlier. Rose Hill stationmaster Tony Tweedy is your friend, welcoming you. The Marple staff are no less friendly, but less well known, less accessible, the relationship is more transactional.

The green shoots of spring will usher in an added dimension - the bike. But for now it's a matter of getting through these first world problems.


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