Etiquette of Fresh Air

train air

As much of the British public may already be aware we have been in the grip of something akin to a heatwave. Or what the more sensible refer to as a proper summer. One that has turned our public spaces in to a sea of giant blistered lobsters and if you were to dip your head beneath the murky waters a plethora of pale pegs would attack your salt stung eyes. Additionally the sun has brought around the unnecessary removal of t-shirts and other upper garments at any given opportunity regardless of surroundings. Such is a British Summer.

Also much of the working British public will also have faced the dire challenge of correctly dressing one’s self for a day in the office. Obviously you need to be smart but above all comfortable. You need something breathable, lightweight, sweat resistant (or at least won’t highlight your stream of perspiration) for your travels but upon arrival you need something warm. Something that covers you, insulates you from the artic temperatures of your overworked office A/C. A conundrum further exasperated for any commuter, in particular of the London commuter. For as with every form of public transport there is no consistency to air temperature. Then one must also consider the time of travel. For instance Thameslink services are wonderfully cool and spacious but jump on a Southeastern train at peak and you’ll wish you had laid your bones down on the roasting tarmac of the station platform awaiting the setting sun.

Following the construction and use of the London underground it was advised that in hot weather one should seek out the comforts of coolness in the chilly pits beneath the city. Now such a suggestion would be equal to lowering your sweat slicked body into a vast vat of boiling honey, one populated by a further hundred or more bodies. All the while you’re wrapped in your childhood winter coat. The kind that was and always was 3 sizes too big. No matter how much your parents promised you you would one day grow into it. With that all nicely pictured now lets consider climbing into a sealed metal tube with another hundred boiled bodies radiating petal-shrivelling heat.

Thankfully of the three trains I take to work none venture to the satanic underside for more than five minutes. Of course such a luxury is counter balanced by my journey aboard the Overground from Stratford to Camden Road. Upon which our only saviour from the heat is the raspy breaths of someone intermittently blowing through a straw (aka their form of A/C). As TFL made the wise and correct decision after much deliberation to seal all the windows and leave our fates to the Gods of manufactured cool breezes.

Amongst all this perspiring madness I was fortuitous enough to bear witness and even play a small part in the great and rare phenomenon of the opening of a train window aboard my second train journey on the DLR. As we stand there sweat bead to sweat bead. Some of us in jumpers and shorts, others in suits with the sleeves rolled up to their armpits, the smart ones adorned with shorts and a tee complete with an oversized bag packed with interchangeable items of clothing. There we stand. Sweltering. Lapping at the air in the hopes of some form of moisture. When a dry mousey voice pipes up, the kind you would imagine a great survivor would have following his emergence from the Sahara desert where they have survived with nothing more then a pack of salted peanuts for sustenance.  “W-ould any one mind opening a window?” 

You can feel the relief filter through the carriage. Thankful someone has spoken up. The passing of the message follows quickly on the tails of our relief, it passes from mouth to mouth, I help it on it’s way just a little, towards our knight in his shinning suit. We all await with baited breath, imagining that glorious blast of fresh air. A hundred eyes watch but hopes dwindle as they fall on the glistening golem, carved from the mud salts of the River Tie, who sits beneath the blessed window. A thin veil of perspiration lines his much furrowed forehead, eyes stare out at you that wouldn’t be amiss on uncle Fester. He is our gate keeper, the choosing of his throne has bequeathed him the window, it is his. Our hopes lie upon our knight of cotton jacket to negotiate the use of the vessel to the freshness outside, to grant us our natural high. The gatekeepers tiny ears are lost in the vastness of his head jut a pair of white headphones signal their exsistence. Our hero, our saviour, clears his throat, the great golems eyes begin to arc their way up, he has his attention. A second throat clearing, a hesitation, a curt or muttered address and all is lost. All is need is a strong but fleeting moment of eye contact, a half smile, we’re all in on the absurdity of this, before delivering a polite directive and all will be ours. And so the battle lines are drawn. We rebait our breaths.

It all happens in a flash. There is a nod of the head. A flick of the wrist. A half smile and an unchanging face. But with it all comes an 8 inch portal to the fresh airs of the real world. Oh the glory. The triumph. Oh it’s sweetness. Oh the relief. We dream. Instead we are met with a warm toxic gust and a loudened rattle of the rails. Ca-chk. Ca-chk Ca-chk. No one says anything. There are no thanks or warm wishes just warm air and no site of relief for our slowly melting forms. Ca-chk. Ca-chk.


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