I leave the house right on time at 08:00. It is a short walk to the Limehouse Direct Light Rail (DLR) station. Unlike the tube stations, DLR stops don’t always have barriers. They operate on the honour system and passengers swipe in and out on the Oyster card readers of their own accord. The system works fine on days when I remember to do this – you would think I’d have my daily commute down to an artform by now, but there are bad days when I forget and have to run back down the stairs to swipe in, or worse, find myself at Bank being charged a full day’s price for my ticket.
The DLR comes every five minutes or so. In peak hour it comes regularly, already packed with commuters from the eastern suburbs like Lewisham, Island Gardens, Stratford and Beckton. My regular train is at 08:07 and I always choose the first carriage. This is because it is the closest carriage to the exits at Bank, my interchange station. We pass by towering council flats, hip new container block housing, and the shiny, distinctive shape of the 30 St Mary Axe in the distance, home of the Swiss Re offices and affectionately known as the Gherkin (for obvious reasons). Just after we pass the Shadwell stop, we plunge into underground darkness before arriving at Bank.
A web of tube lines extends out from Bank – it is one of the busiest stops on the London Underground. I usually arrive at about 08:15, and then it’s a short walk up two tube escalators, then down some stairs before I find myself on the Westbound Central line platform.
There is heavy traffic at Bank, so I find myself dodging other commuters and hurrying up the right hand side of the escalators towards the Central line. I needn’t worry, really, because Central line trains come every two minutes – there is one at 08:19, another at 08:21, the next one at 08:23 – but I can’t help trying to keep up with other Londoners.
At St Paul’s and Chancery Lane, the two immediate stops after Bank, the suits and their Blackberries get off. At Holborn, the tourists, bound for the British Museum, alight. At Tottenham Court Road, shopkeepers head for their day’s duties. And finally, four stops after Bank, the train gets to Oxford Circus and I disembark with more than a little relief.