John Vane’s London: Travels on rail strike day

John Vane’s London: Travels on rail strike day

I told them I was recording them for posterity, which made them laugh more than I had expected. I didn’t tell them I couldn’t hang about because I had a black cab waiting for me 15 yards away. Perhaps that was because some political reflex told me they wouldn’t approve, although in retrospect they seemed so very cheerful it seems doubtful they’d have cared. “Do you want me talking on the phone?” one of the women quipped, adopting comedy poses as I took my picture and left.

It was lunchtime on Liverpool Street. The roads and pavements round the station felt less hectic than usual, and although the sun was hot, there was no sign of temperatures around this group of RMT workers running high. Maybe national rail strikes, even when, as on this day, combined with Tube strikes, aren’t quite what they used to be, given that, thanks to Covid, so many Londoners and commuters have grown accustomed to working from home. Or maybe the novelty of this industrial action, the biggest of its kind for 30 years, has yet to wear off.

Earlier, mid-morning, the 254 bus route was running smoothly down its dedicated lanes, the New Routemasters, not as roasting inside as they used to be, easing past the cars and vans. Yet even so the main carriageways did not seem all that clogged. The cab ride too was free of snarl-ups. The driver, from “Rainham in Essex” he said – a telling designation, given that Rainham is actually in the London Borough of Havering – said business had been looking up of late.

This news was unexpected, what with all the lamentations about Uber and, you know, things not being what they used to be. The reason, the driver believed, was that a lot of cabbies had packed it in during the pandemic and “gone back to the jobs they used to do” and the same with Uber drivers. With Covid in retreat that now meant more work for those who, like him, had kept going. Supply. Demand. The shifting balance between them. Not everything changes.

“There’s a lot of history in this city, if you know where to look,” the cabbie remarked as we cruised along London Wall. You don’t say, I didn’t say. “Nice talking to you,” he said, when he dropped me off. The feeling was mutual. All seemed calm in London town, though others will have different stories of the day. The next rail strike is on Thursday.

John Vane writes words sketches of London. Sometimes he makes things up. Follow John on Twitter

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