Saturday, 24 July 2010

Rules of the commuter train

With the onset of the school summer holidays, there will inevitably be a few additions to the passengers on the morning commuter trains into London. For those who do not travel on these trains very often, and as a service to those who do, I write here a reminder of the unwritten rules of the commuter train.

Quiet Car
When entering a "quiet car", please ensure that your mobile is set to its "loud" setting, text a friend to call you, and then put the phone on loudspeaker as you discuss your sex life and what you intend to eat that evening. Also, make sure that your MP3 players volume is set high enough to broadcast to the deaf!

Avoid eye contact
If you are not on the quiet car, under no circumstances attempt eye contact or any other form of communication with anyone else on the carriage (except when "sharing the love" (see below!)). This aversion to other people should include the ticket inspector who should never, ever be so much as acknowledged. If at all possible, upon hearing the ticket collector, leave your ticket face up on your knee and stare out of the window as far to the horizon as you can. Do not attempt to talk to, smile at, or admire the shoes of anybody that you don't know.

Share the love
Make sure that you are as close to the person sitting next to you as you could possibly be. If said person begins to creep away from you, you are obliged to turn towards them with the intention of brushing your leg against theirs. On certain seats, this can also mean that your back will be against the shoulder of the person behind. If you find that this is the case, make no attempt to lean forward. Instead, nuzzle into the person behind you.

Gents, keep those knees apart

For the male commuter, it is imperative that your knees remain apart at all times by a distance no less than one and a half times the width of your shoulders. This is particularly important when seated in the middle seat of a three seat block. An effective way to maintain this position is to lean slightly forward and focus on the floor. When performed correctly, this position should be complemented with your forehead being no more than 3 inches above the knee of the person sitting opposite you.

The fuller the better
As is demonstrated by the above video, one should never step onto an empty, or partially empty carriage. Instead, choose the carriage with the most people on it, and offer your services in adding to their cramped discomfort. Crowd surfing is generally frowned upon, mostly due to the amount of fun had in doing so, but always keep the option open for consideration.

Cycle restrictions
The notice "Cycle restrictions apply on this train" means that you must carry at least one bicycle onto the train. If you don't have a bicycle to hand, steal one from the train platform, or borrow one from a friend. Make sure that when placing said bicycle on the carriage, you cover as many seats as possible, and leave it balanced precariously so that it will fall over every time the train hits a bump. Do NOT apologise if the bike falls over and hits somebody on the shin/ankle/foot. Instead, look at them like they stole your last Rolo, and devote your attention to making sure the bike hasn't been fatally wounded!

Germs are everybody's friend
Remember that everybody on the train is curiously fascinated by bacteria and loves to get ill. Therefore, you should never cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. If at all possible, try to direct the flow of sneeze based spittle towards the ear of the person sitting next to you, or to the lap of the person sitting opposite you. Handkerchiefs and tissues are not allowed, so any excess must be wiped either on your hand or on your sleeve.

Leave your litter on the seat
Remember to leave as much rubbish on the seat as possible. Newspapers, Styrofoam cups, sweet wrappers, engine oil, horse manure, anything you can think of. If possible, separate each page of any newspaper, and place separately on the seats and floor around you.

Don't give your seat away

Under no circumstances offer the old person your seat. Instead, focus every fibre of your being on ignoring them as they struggle to stand against the sideways motion of the carriage

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


There are a few things in our driving lives that make the usually pleasurable experience of owning a car tiresome, dull and in some cases infuriating. Be it the days when you are driving through a town and it seems that every single traffic light is has turned their collective attention towards you, and insist on stopping you in your tracks. The learner drivers that insist on taking their first ever lesson during the morning rush hour. The Mercedes drivers who want to know all of the details of the inside of your exhaust pipe, and are getting as close as they possibly can in order to find out. Waiting at the petrol station for the person in front of you to move, only to find they have decided to do their entire weekly shopping in the shop.
All of these things I find grate me a little, but at the same time, I can accept that they are all part and parcel of the driving experience, and take them in my stride. There is one thing, however, that is often a sore subject. It comes around once every year, beginning with hours of misery on the phone or on the internet, and concluding with the blatant throwing away of your hard-earned money. I am, of course, talking about car insurance.
These days, there are two routes to go when looking around for car insurance. The first of these is the old school method of sitting on the phone for countless hours in fifteen minute bursts answering the same questions over and over again, only to discover that the first quote you had wasn’t quite as extortionate as you had first thought. The second, and somewhat preferred method is to go through an online company such as GoCompare (having forgotten the pact made on the third occasion of hearing THAT advert!), where the data can be entered once and fired off to the internet.
At the end of all the searching, I always find myself left with a certain satisfied feeling that I have got the best deal for my insurance. This feeling, however, will only last for about twenty minutes or so before I start wondering if it really is that good a deal after all.
Let’s look at the facts. During my driving career, I have spent an average of around £500 a year on insuring my car. This is money that I will never, ever see again. During these twelve years, I have only had one claim on any of my insurance policies. The claim that I made was that my car had been stolen from outside of my home. The car in question wasn’t worth that much, and at the time, I was glad of the money, which was far more than I would have received for scrapping the car, which had actually been my intention anyway! Lo and behold, when I got around to buying a new car and renewing my insurance, I was informed that because I had made a claim, my insurance was to go up by £150. The suggestion is that it was somehow my fault that the car was stolen in the first place!
Being a man in my late twenties, my car insurance is always heightened, the theory being that I only ever drive at 100 miles an hour, sideways, finishing my journeys in a ditch, covered in petrol, on fire! The fact is that, despite the presence of testicles, I do not drive like that. I have never had reason to believe that my current car would even support the warp factors that the insurance companies deem me capable of. I have a fully clean license, no prior convictions, and although I have been stopped several times by the police, the incidences were never anything more than random checks of the condition of the car and the driver.
So why, then, does my insurance, even now, keep increasing? I know that the £50 or so increase is not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but when I consider that this is an increase of 10% of the policy, I have to start asking questions. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a sudden spate of car crime in the area which would warrant it. I still only do a few thousand miles every year, and I haven’t changed my car.
All in all, I feel that the insurance system that we have is desperately unfair on the clean driver, and it is only because of the legal requirement of having insurance that the companies have been getting away with it for so long. I would be more than happy to pay a slightly higher sum of insurance at the beginning of the term if I knew that in some way, somewhere down the line, I would get the money back. If I drive for an entire year without making a claim (incidentally, I am now into my fifth year without making such a claim!), then why should I not see at least some of the money be returned to me, or have a rolling insurance policy whereby I only pay again if I use it? As I have already said, despite the non-existence of claims against it, the cost of my insurance keeps increasing year-on-year.
That said, what if I were to make a claim? Having read some of the small print in the insurance documents that have previously been sent to me, there is no guarantee that any claim will be met with anything more than a scathing look and a sarcastic “erm, no!” The number of things that one can claim for is far outweighed by the number of things that you can’t claim for. A few examples of the things that would be deemed unclaimable are as follows:
Inviting theft
If I were having that bad a day that I accidentally locked my keys in my car, went home to get my spare set, and upon my return found that my car had been stolen, the likelihood is that my insurance would be null and void. The reason for this is that, since the keys were in the car at the time, the theft would have been invited, even though I had not been able to get to the keys without breaking into the car myself.
The same clause goes for a situation where I left my keys in my front door, with the car keys attached to the door key and some unscrupulous person were to steal both keys.
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but unless I were to physically walk up to an unknown passer-by and ask them in a polite tone if they wouldn’t mind perhaps stealing my car, then I have not invited them to do so. And of course, if I were to do this, I would be sent to jail for insurance fraud, and rightly so!
Act of God
This has to be the insurance companies favourite because if taken to the extreme it can cover pretty much anything and everything. We have all heard of people who have woken up one morning to find that a tree has succumbed to the elements and fallen gracefully through the front window of the car. This is just one of the many so-called acts of God that are not covered by most insurance policies. Some of the other favourites are flood damage, earthquake damage (yes, not very likely on our island, but even so!), and some circumstances of fire damage (in the case of a forest fire that is not caused by arson!).
Alas, dear reader, I shall once again be hitting the web tomorrow with the latest details of my car, my driving habits, how many cups of tea I drink in an average week, the brand of toothpaste I use, and who I was supporting in the Wimbledon final in the hope that I can get my insurance quote down to somewhere in the realm of what could be considered value for money. Wish me luck!