In February 2013, I visited the UK for the first time in about 25 years. Between 1978 and this most recent visit, I had spent the entirety of my life (not counting short trips within West Africa) in Nigeria- the bulk of that period in the steaming, bustling, high-tension city of Lagos.
Over the course of this period, I had been a student, young(ish) graduate, struggling professional and eventually a fairly established adult male, but at no point was I ever able to ignore the wildly unpredictable nature of public transport in my city. This experience provides the background and the context for the following essay, written on my first train ride from the Heathrow Airport, en route to Romford. I would like to dedicate it to my ever-so-gracious host during that visit, the esteemed Doc. Osh;
“THIS TRAIN IS FOR COCKFOSTERS!” This is the terse declaration of the scrolling digital display in the first train I ride in from Heathrow Airport. Perhaps it is unremarkable to the long-time train users (who huddle in the cold, struggling to avoid eye contact with those seated in their field of vision), but it strikes me as a brutal unrelenting truth!
The display repeats its silent mantra over and over as we proceed from one stop to the next, as if intent on bludgeoning its passengers with that truth; no matter what happens, no matter what you believe, this train is for Cockfosters! Beyond debate; beyond reproach.
I can actually feel the smugness, the confidence the train exudes. It KNOWS that there will be no power failure to halt it in its tracks; KNOWS that it is too well maintained to suffer a technical failure; KNOWS that its operators know their onions and that the route managers are too efficient to allow any incidents that may cause delays. I am infected- I KNOW it too! This train IS FOR FUCKING COCKFOSTERS, whatever exotic location it may be. I didn’t get quite that far myself, but I stepped off that metal snake KNOWING that if I EVER needed to get to Cockfosters, I had better step right back onto it.
It’s a nice feeling, this assurance; one I will have a hard time letting go off when I return to Lagos. I mean, there are no trains like this of course, but it would be nice to have a bus or aeroplane that batters you with the certainty that it will get to its designated destination at all, not to mention on time. Mind you, I cannot lay much blame on these poor, ‘developing-world’ conveyances- who and what can they rely on to foster such confidence? Trained and responsible operators? Adequate maintenance? Availability of fuel? Properly managed routes? In fact, if I could, I would suggest a working holiday for each and every one of them, allowing them to spend a month in London, plug into the system there and proudly wear their digital badges, if only for a short time, just to know what it feels like to be assured, confident in their environment, sure that if every other aspect of their lives lies in ruin, a system exists that they can depend on, align with and exploit without worry. Without worry.
I’m glad to get that chance for 10 days myself.