Trains and national character

Today I was up in London at the office, near Warren Street tube. I had a good day, met lots of people, learned different things, and then in the evening headed down to the Tube to get back to Victoria.

The train jerked to a half five seconds after it began to pull out of the station, waited long enough for everyone to adjust themselves, then trundled off again.

When we got to Oxford Street, there was something quintessentially British going on. Crowds of people were trying to stuff themselves onto already full carriages, and you could clearly make out the sound of a tired London Underground worker, calmly telling everyone not to rush on, because there would be another train along shortly. There wasn’t any hectoring tone to this, just the sound of somebody who wanted everyone to be ok and nobody to get hurt by the sliding doors, or delayed longer than necessary. The train might be stuffed full of people and we might all be a bit late, but it wasn’t anything for anyone to get stressed about. In short, it followed the simple maxim:

Everything’s fucked, but that’s ok.

You don’t give up, you don’t complain. You carry on, like everyone does, through some foggy dream of blundering, which may or may not be partly your fault, but it’s nothing to get upset about.

Possibly, then, with Brexit getting ever closer, we should be optimistic. The British will sigh about the whole catastrophe, and then shrug and fumble onwards.

There’s a greater theory to aim at here, that a country’s public transport system is the best metaphor for that country. The Singaporean MRT is a wonder of efficiency and cleanliness, yet people complain about it. The Tokyo subway requires men in white gloves to shove people around in order to function properly. The Hong Kong MTR is colour-coded so every station is different. Er…

Ever think a metaphor might have been stretched a bit too far?

Anyway, this morning I also achieved the purpose of my trip, by collecting my new passport from the passport office. This was a very efficient process, belying my expectations about all interactions with my government being things to fear and avoid. Of course, it would have been a lot more efficient to not have to fly all the way to London just to get a new travel document, but you can’t have everything, can you?

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