You can guess by this blog’s title that I am not one of those people who grumbles about changes in the world. I leave that up to my other half who is constantly complaining about the way society has moved on, and moaning that it isn’t like ‘the good old days’.
Usually, when he starts on, I ignore him or make placatory noises, or say that progress has to happen. Just because he doesn’t like technology and thinks Angry Birds is for nitwits, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing for everyone.
Yesterday, I have changed my mind a little. I had the fortune to head off to London for a couple of radio interviews. I haven’t been there for a long time…a very long time actually. In my youth, I worked in the heart of London, as did my parents. Commuting was the norm at one stage. and I loved London. I was looking forward to seeing the place again.
My first shock came when I waited for the train. There were about thirty people waiting with me. The train pulled in. It only consisted of four coaches! Can you imagine the scuffle to get on board to grab a seat? It was like some weird game of Musical Chairs. Seasoned travellers knew exactly where to stand on the platform so they would be facing a door when the train pulled in. I did not.
However, luck was on my side, and as twenty people jostled to clamber aboard and plonk themselves victoriously onto an available seat, I went in a far door, made my way down the filled train and grabbed the last seat in the second compartment. Everyone else had to stand.
What a contrast to life in the ‘good old days’. Unlike those days, corridors and aisles were packed with passengers standing. The second surprise was that every single one of them was either on a phone, or a laptop. Whatever happened to businessmen reading The Financial Times as they rode into town, or a book, as they used to when I commuted?
The man next to me was playing Candy Crush. The one on the other side of the carriage was watching a DVD on a small player. The man next to him was furiously texting status updates on Facebook. No one spoke.
The train arrived at London. I was happy to see that Euston station looked the same as it always had, apart from an extra few dozen eating places. How many eating establishments does a station need? I headed off to grab a taxi from the taxi rank –disappointment number three. The taxis weren’t the traditional black cabs I expected to be waiting. These were sleek, modern people carriers. Taxi drivers pushed unseen buttons on their dashboards and rear doors slid back magically as passengers approached. In days of yore, people would tug at the large metal handle, then bark instructions to a driver while sliding about on worn leather seats.. Somehow, the familiarity and tradition had gone with those big old cabs.
“Where to, Luv?” asked the taxi driver. Great, the traditional London taxi driver was still the same, chirpy sort I knew and loved. I looked forward to hearing what he would talk about and learn which celebrity he had been driving around last week. Alas, no. The driver had an earpiece in and spent the entire journey talking to his mate on the phone, as we sat in endless traffic.
London has always been busy but nowadays there is a huge abundance of bikes to add to the congestion. As I sat staring into space, I observed hundreds of speeding cyclists racing past my taxi. One lady aged about 70, hurtled by in a cycling helmet and tight leggings, deftly manoeuvred around the taxi and the lorry in front and raced through a red light. How times had changed.
My destination was the BBC. That wonderful British Institution had to be the same, I thought. Nothing changes too much at the Beeb. Ha! Wrong again. The old building has been modernised and is now an impressive towering construction and complex.
There were other changes. Oxford Street brimmed with people as always, but every shop now has a ‘bodyguard’ at its entrance, each wearing a dark suit, a headset and looking menacing, even Boots the Chemist. Every person on the street was talking into a mobile phone, oblivious to all around them. That is, apart from the tourists who were busy taking photographs
Waiting back at the station, for the return journey, the tannoy system constantly announced that people should not run at any time in the station. Bored passengers all stood flicking thorough their phones, waiting for platforms to be announced, periodically staring at the giants departures screen. I knew exactly when my train was ready without looking up. One hundred people charged off at breakneck speed toward platform 17 as if participating in The Fast Walk event at the Olympics. I was overtaken by a man with a limp, and a lady wearing six inch heels which she had removed. They were dangling from her hands so she could walk faster. It was a race for seats.
Travelling back home, standing in the corridor, sandwiched between a work-weary man playing Chess on his mobile phone and a woman attempting to text her friends, I thought Hubby was maybe right. In the words of another song Things Ain’t What They Used To Be. Ah well, that’s progress for you. Next time, I’ll be more prepared. I’ll wear running shoes and ensure my phone is charged up.
If you can’t beat them…
The enigmatic and very bubbly, Jo Good, afternoon presenter on BBC Radio London also embraces progress. You can catch my interview with her for the next six days by clicking the link below and listening in at 10 minutes into the show.