Smoothly From Harrow A Compendium For The London Commuter By Chris Moss Blue Guides/Somerset Books – £12.00
As the author and writer Chris Moss has captured time and time again throughout this delightful book on commuting: ”Poets, like millionaires and dancers, may never have to see the dawn,” as ”To slumber is to remain in the realm of the romantic, the poetic.”
Having taken its title from John Betjaman, ye bard of Metro-Land, Smoothly From Harrow – A Compendium For The London Commuter is a profoundly wonderful read from beginning to end. It’s informative and amusing, occasionally poignant, packed with anecdotal references and photographs; and comes replete with a Timeline and countless drop-quotes.
What’s most interesting however, are the many differing, lively angles at which commuting can be approached and written about, especially when written with such zest, such colour and with such unquestionable candour.
In the second chapter (‘Aubade’) for instance, from which the aforementioned, two opening quotes are taken, Moss writes: ”A shower or a bath? Only the modern day Donnes and Pepyses would dare indulge in a bubblesome soak, a commuting sin equivalent to breakfasting on Tokay and brioche. For most of us, the bathroom is a portal – a dreamer goes in, a worker emerges a few minutes later. And the twenty-first century commuter breakfast is rarely Mary Lamb’s ”social table.” It’s more probably food on the hop, panic stricken cereals, burnt toast left to cool down by distractions, orange juice tainted by toothpaste, scalding tea; or a Berocca and, later on, a hung-over ”Cornish” pasty at the terminus and a bucket of beige ersatz coffee.”
As top Swindon beat-combo XTC once sang, ”life” does indeed ”begin at the top,” and this here book is explanatory, quasi-confirmation. Where ”the swan of sleep” is so readily hi-jacked by all and sundry having to make great haste amid the countless platforms of Sex-urbia, Middle England and the commonality of commuteritus: ”people swarming onto this train at London Bridge like its the last chopper out of Saigon (‘Out’).
These 229 pages will undoubtedly help while away the hideous hours spent on trains, coaches, buses and tube trains. Although in so doing, it will invariably remind the everyday commuter and reader alike of just what’s at stake – for which read, hours, if not weeks, if not (possible) years, pissed down the drain of what might have been: ”Meanwhile, every commuter must have a final destination. Not only the daily one – the terminus, the workplace, the descent into the Tube – but the destiny destination.
There are many possibilities. Retirement is one: the least heroic in the popular imagination, but perhaps the bravest. The ex-commuter suddenly finds himself stranded not on the platform but on the patio or in the loft, waiting for the big night train (‘Departures’).