I am writing this in Cricklewood. At Cricklewood Station, actually. I have been here some time. There is no telling when I might be able to leave. I am sitting on a narrow seat next to a very large but insufficiently-showered gentleman with a moron’s taste in music and ill-fitting headphones. I am having another very special customer experience at the hands of my commuter rail company, First Capital Connect. Send help.
The thing about watching your life slipping away in this manner is the changes which you begin to notice in yourself, like being overtaken by some particularly virulent infection. You become intolerant of noise, hypersensitive to smells and really quite odd about the maintenance of your personal space. I can feel my blood pressure rising, an imminent spasm of Tourette’s and (if only there were room enough for it) the first twitchings of a really decent panic attack. The experience also causes violent mood swings, from thousand-yard stare resignation to homicidal urges, all in a matter of seconds.
This is not a new experience. It both has lasted and can be expected to last over twelve months. The problems strike randomly but with a certain dull inevitability, and they appear to be incurable despite the £millions raised each year from FCC sufferers all across London. Given the substantial adverse impact which commuting by FCC can have upon the day-to-day activity of getting to work on time, it is only a short step to the conclusion that it should probably count as a disability under the Equality Act. Employers would then be obliged to make reasonable adjustments for us, such as overlooking periodic lateness and providing for a short period of quiet decompression (plus tea) on arrival at the office before requiring any inter-action with other staff.
My traditional response to clients’ employees who blame public transport for their time-keeping issues has been to suggest getting up earlier. Sometimes, however, employers simply have to recognise that London’s public transport system operates daily on the finest knife-edge away from collapse and that their staff have no more wish to be marooned indefinitely in North London than does the employer. I do not suppose that FCC or London commuting generally will ever become covered by the Equality Act, but as the clock ticks round here in Cricklewood, I do quite fancy drafting the necessary amendment.