Becky says things about … commuting

A multiple choice question for you, lovely Listener.

Would you rather:

a) Peel off your own cheek, rub salt into the bloody gaping hole, then staple the skin back to your now irreversibly deformed face;

b) Attempt to crawl inside the anus of an elephant who has just suffered from what his keeper calls ‘a wobbly tummy’; or

c) Stand in a confined space with your face inside the armpit of a stranger, and breathe in not only his gasses and vapours, but the gasses and vapours of a million other people in the same confined space for an indeterminate amount of time, twice a day?


If you have opted for a) or b), you are most likely a commuter. Hello, fellow commuters. My name is Becky, and I am a commuter.

Twice a day, I stand in a train carriage along with approximately 2,450,957 other people. There is nothing pleasant about this.

I am short, Listener. I am 5 foot 4 inches. I therefore spend a great deal of my time standing below the faces of people taller than me, and when I am trying to read my book it is difficult to concentrate when I am caught in the violent torrent of a tall man’s nose breath.


I board the morning train looking like this:


and disembark looking like this:


This is displeasing. It has also taught me that tall men breathe A LOT. More than is probably necessary.

I try to use the commuting time to read a book, in order to edify my mind. However, due to the fact that I am crammed into a small box with those 2,450,957 other people, this doesn’t always work out.

Example of failed reading #1:


Example of failed reading #2:


Oh, the intimate proximity of others, Listener. Faces everywhere. I turn my head to the right and my eyeball brushes against the eyeball of the man next to me. I turn my head to the left, and the girl chewing gum over my shoulder accidentally bites off my nose. I am so trapped I can only stare directly at whatever is straight ahead of me. On a recent journey, this happened to be an old, faded streak of bird poo on the back of a man’s jacket. By the end of the journey I was livid. JUST GET IT DRY CLEANED YOU FILTHY MONSTER. A whole journey staring into the face of another human’s evil disregard for cleanliness. Hellish.


As a commuter, you learn to perform everyday actions at a minute fraction of their normal spatial requirements: sliding an object out of your bag with a movement invisible to the naked eye; holding your phone against your retina in order to text. This doesn’t always work out: last week my headphone wire got caught in the spokes of my umbrella as I was trying to fold it away into my bag, and my head ended up being sucked into my own handbag.


And what if a song that you don’t like comes on your iPod? Or if the volume is UNBELIEVABLY LOUD AND IS LITERALLY RIPPING YOUR EAR DRUMS TO SHREDS AND WILL CAUSE YOU UNTOLD AURAL PROBLEMS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE??? There is nothing you can do about it. One of your arms is wedged against the testicles of an overweight businessman, and the other is pinned to your side by the force of 594 school children. You must spend the journey either being musically abused by the song you don’t like, or being deafened to the point of tears. The only thing you can do is just be brave, Listener. Brave.


I entered a train carriage the other week to be faced with a man’s backpack. It was preventing me from getting my whole body inside the carriage, which is often necessary for a safe journey. I politely asked the man to take off his backpack so there was more room for me.

The man answered me with a cold, hard stare that said ‘When you die, I will not only give an incorrect church address to all your mourners, but I will visit your lonely grave and write in marker-pen on the gravestone: ‘I’ll wear my backpack wherever the f*ck I like”.

I was thus forced to hope that my body was mostly inside the train carriage, and as the doors closed, I was relieved to discover that I had not lost a crucial appendage – until I realised that my hair had become trapped in the door. I realised this because it forced my head to slowly lift towards the ceiling, so I had to spend the entire journey gazing quizzically aloft and pretending I was thinking deeply about something, with this bastard’s backpack wedged against my chin.


Commuting is like being thrown into a Room 101 filled with all the horrendous things about human beings that you already hate. Incessant clearing of throats. Loud breathing. Snorting. Sniffing. Swallowing. Loud chewing. Random and inexplicable grunting. Loud private conversations about Sebastian’s unreliable cornet tutor or Roger’s worsening hernia, or loud business conversations filled with buzzwords and acronyms that make you want to vomit into your own sleeve.



Commuting is the Devil’s journey. Commuting is our penance for all the bad things we have done in our lives. And our reward for our morning’s worth of psychological and physical abuse?




100 thoughts on “Becky says things about … commuting

  1. I love you. This was incredible. I have also experienced the “head being pulled into my purse” phenomenon because I like to keep my phone in there so it doesn’t get stolen. But that means I either a) get my head sucked into my handbag or b) I accidentally rip out the earbuds, forcing everyone around me to listen to something completely horrible like the soundtrack to Frozen.

    1. Haha, I’m so glad other people listen to dodgy soundtracks! I can top that – my headphone wire once got caught by a woman’s arm and she ripped it out of my phone and the whole carriage was treated to the incredibly dramatic soundtrack to ‘The Rock’. Bad times.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. As a commuter of the male species may I just say women too can have a bit of a whiff about them and even worse when they don’t realise their tights are round the ankles! Classy!! Love your blogs hope your next commute is a slight improvement

    1. I totally agree about us women. There was a particuarly smelly woman on my train this morning. Fortunately, the train lurched as she was applying her lipstick and it went all over her cheek so I was quite pleased about that 🙂
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. Once, in the misty recesses of time (i.e. the mid-eighties), I left the wide open vistas of Canada and spent a summer working in London. I lived in Acton Town and worked very near to Piccadilly Circus. The tube was my only reasonable means of getting to work, but, unfortunately, there turned out to be a transit strike that summer. The tube was running, but at an almost impossibly-diminished level of service.

    I simply could not believe the number of people they crushed into the carriages while the strike was on. Sometimes I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking I’m about to suffocate underground — standing upright — and never see the light of day again (but usually only when I eat a large curry before turning in for the night!) And you’re right, the smell was something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And I can’t believe that guy still hasn’t dry cleaned his jacket yet.

    Great post, as always.

    1. I don;t know how more people don’t have panic attacks on the Underground. It must have been quite a shock coming from Canada!
      Tube strikes are just the worst. Fortunately, I don’t have to use the Underground but I know plenty of people who do and they always are always a bit psychologically damaged when there’s a tube strike…
      Thank you for reading!

  4. The London Underground is simultaneously wonderful and horrifying. Wonderful at, for instance, 2pm on a Tuesday when the only people using it are confused tourists doing pointlessly convoluted journeys between Leicester Square and Covent Garden so I feel highly efficient and competent. Horrifying literally any other time when 80% of the population of London are trying to fit into the same square metre of train and I feel like I’m going to explode with panic.

    Unfortunately despite the fact that I have always lived north of London, every train journey I take requires me to either go via the capital or pay through the nose. Birmingham to Cambridge? Via London. Halifax to Birmingham? Via London (that one was my fault though). Cambridge to Leeds? Via bloody London for heaven’s sake why Leeds is north of Cambridge and London is not! This could, on reflection, be the reason the Tube is so crowded.

    1. Soooo true. You’ve got to go into London to get out of London. It’s infuriating.
      But I LOVE the Underground with the confused tourists at 2pm on weekday – how smug does it make you feel??!! You can leave them peering aghast at the incredibly simple and genius tube map while you saunter past with an air of perfect calm and knowledge. Brilliant.

  5. Simply hilarious! and I was a commuter in a former life…I now drive a big a** truck thank you! 😉

  6. You don’t have to tell me about commuting. First it’s a car ride to the bus station. Then, a one hour and ten minute bus ride into Port Authority, the armpit of New York City, then a walk to a subway, then the subway up three stops, then another walk to my building, then the elevator and, finally my desk. Two weeks ago, a man was standing on the staircase leading down into the subway and peeing on the steps.

    My commuting costs are $390/month. That’s like a car payment but no car. And a nice car, too! Not a shitty Geo. You can get a Lexus or something like that for $390/month.

    Every morning I’m like Frodo on my way to Mt. Doom.

    This is the only blog I stop what I’m doing to read when you post.

    1. First of all – your commute is by far the worst commute I have heard of. I’ve been to NYC several times, and Port Authority not only frightened me, but angered and startled me. A horrendous place. I can only thank my lucky stars I’ve not have to witness someone urinating on my way to work (there are some crazy fools in NYC) – but I have had to watch someone two feet away from me blow their nose with such appalling inaccuracy that a web of snot exploded out of his nose and draped down his shirt. I almost threw up in my mouth.
      Second of all – your last comment is the loveliest thing ever, and genuinely means a lot. Thank you 🙂

  7. I chose A and I’ve never had to commute – I get randomly annoyed if I have to drive more than 5 miles to any given destination… And If I was riding in a standing up position, I’d fall over every time the train/subway/bus lurched to a stop. I realized that when I was in SF and DC – I’m a lurcher…and at 5’4″ a short one…

    I think you need an ALONE CONE to put over yourself before you step in to public transportation.

      I’m a lurcher as well. And HELLO fellow 5’4” person. You know the pain of lurching into the boobs of tall woman next to you. I say pain – I mean comforting and I never want to leave them.
      I’ve said too much.

  8. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t think I could. “Nose breath” ruined this post for me- that is one thing that drives me to absolute and irreversible rage. I could stand a punch in the face easier than having someone breathe on me with their nostrils. Yet you deal with it every day? Without getting murdery? You’re a saint.

    1. I get murdery (excellent word) pretty much once every 7 seconds on my daily commute. Nose breath is the pits. Particularly when it’s accompanied by a loud PPPSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH sound. WHAT IS THAT SOUND???? MY NOSTRILS DON’T MAKE THAT NOISE. WHAT IS THAT NOISE????

  9. I don’t face commutes like that now, but years ago I was an Au Pair girl in Paris, and I remember those daily Metro trips well. The smells, the sights, the unwanted frotteurism from the men standing behind me. Good times, good times.

    Your blog is wonderful. Glad to have stumbled upon it!

    1. ‘Unwanted frotteurism’ is now my favourite phrase of all time and I will use it in a sentence tomorrow.
      Thanks for your lovely comment – I’m glad to have you stumble upon me!

  10. I’m in Argentina right now and the buses aren’t much better than what you described. The way people drive here is insane, so we get the less punctual roller coaster version of the face-to-armpit experience that comes with riding trains. I’m starting to think I’d prefer the elephant’s anus.

    Brilliant post!

    1. I definitely prefer the elephant’s anus. (I’ve never said that sentence before in my life. Strange, that.)
      However, I do not envy you Argentinean driving… I’ve heard it’s kind of MENTAL.
      Thanks for reading 🙂

  11. Now THAT’s an advertisement for public transportation! Hilarious, as usual. Thanks for making my commute better, even though my arms are also pinned against a man’s testicles. Perhaps we’re on the same train? Left or right?

  12. I have only rarely had to suffer the horrors of a London commute, but if it makes you feel any better I am tall (6’2″) and the experience is still horrifying. I will try to breathe less in future though having read this…

  13. HAHAHA, This was awesome, Made me laugh out loud. I had a similar experiences when I was 12-13, used to go to school by public bus..and public buses in Asia…NOT SO GOOD!
    Loved your post Becky!!!

  14. So hilarious. So true. I commuted when the Harry Potter books were first released, before the days of Kindles and the likes. The whole carriage was rammed full of people desperately trying to read brand new ginormous copies of Harry books. It was most amusing and also made 5 years of sardine hell worth while.

  15. I’ve been on an English train exactly once – from Suffolk into London. Well, I suppose we went home the same way, but that memory isn’t the one that sticks with me. It was going IN. More and more and more people… I’m fairly tall at 5ft8 but I have a pretty big “DO. NOT. TOUCH. ME!” zone. It stems from childhood when I was wedged in behind a very tall man and had his ass in my face. Right there. For an hour. I’ve been claustrophobic in crowds ever since.

    Never have I appreciated being in the west of Ireland more than after reading this- I now really love my car, and my loud tunes, and the crazy-ass narrow death roads I drive on. Whew!

  16. True!! “I am a good person. I am a good person” but once you see the sea of people, you immediately hate them. Anyway, let’s just work hard to buy a car.

  17. Hi Becky! I’m a new reader and enjoyed this post. I do’t us public transit much but I can empathize when I do. I’m 6’3″ / 250 lbs and my biggest concern is hurting others. I do find it jammed but my head is pretty much above the fray. I feel like a ground hog with my head stuck out of his burrow. The other day I was standing in front of the back door, holding onto the overhead bars as the bus came to a stop. I moved my arm down to grasp the door push just as a petite Asian woman tried to duck under my arm and push past me to get out first. My elbow struck the center of her forehead so hard she staggered back with a yelp.I tried to feel sorry for her, but without much success.

    Great post and I love your stick figures!

    1. Hahahahahahaha! You should write a post from the point of view of a tall commuter! That would be hilarious! I bet you get annoyed about all the small people getting under your feet 🙂
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting 🙂

  18. Once again: DYING WITH LAUGHTER. So totally hilarious and so absolutely right on!!!! What about when the guy pressed up behind you when you’re standing there squished together like sardines has a boner? Yeah. Been there. Yuck!!!!

    1. HAHAHAHAA SO HAVE I!!!!! God I totally forgot about that!!!! It was pressing into my hip bone for about 20 minutes, and because the carriage was jolting from side to side I must have inadvertently been massaging his penis. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh transport.
      That’s hilarious. Thank you for reminding me of it, and I’m glad it’s happened to someone else!

      1. Lol Nice, you’re glad! “Thanks.” Baaa. I live in San Francisco and another common annoyance is the beggars who walk through the train during commute and asking for money. They jingle their coin cup right in your face. Usually with a young child walking with them.

  19. UGH commuting! I relate to this post so hard! It is actually the worst.

    The most horrific commuting based-situation for me was when a fellow commuter on the train who was around 2cm away from me started VIOLENTLY throwing up all over his shoes. And none of us could move away because there was no room in sight.

    Ughhh…I still have nightmares about that one!

    1. Oh.
      That is literally my worst nightmare. I’ve always wondered what would happen if that occurred… I think I would start throwing up as well and eventually the whole carriage would be throwing up and we’d all drown in our own sick.
      I can’t imagine the money you’ve had to shell out for therapy over that.

      1. The only good part was watching everyone’s faces as we all tried to resist the urge to start throwing up too. You certainly paint a lovely mental picture of people drowning in their own vomit haha! 😛

  20. can you eat while you commute? Sounds like maybe no if you have negative personal space. One of the very few pluses of suburbia–no public transportation commute. Though there are other issues for sure.

    Anyhoo, hurrah to you and Stick for another top-notch rant. Er, I mean performance.

    1. Liz, I have tried eating SO MANY TIMES. I tried only this morning. The woman in front of me moved backwards in my face and I nearly choked on my peanut bar. And that’s the WORST THING.

  21. I loved this, Becky. Thank you for my first real grin of the day. I may get fired down in flames by saying this, but I work from home so I miss all this fun and games. I take my kids to our local metropolis by bus and tram sometimes, and they behaved like miniature BBC naturalists, reporting in hushed whispers about the wildlife that pushes, shoves, smells, yells, feeds and roars Katy Perry songs into the crowd. Shiver.

    1. Haha, that’s exactly what commuting public are like. You can imagine David Attenborough’s husky voice whispering ‘And here we see…the human race at its most foul and objectionable… on the 08.34 to London Waterloo station….’ 🙂
      Thank you for commenting!

  22. You are the funniest thing since sliced bread (yeah it wasn’t that funny of an invention but a great one that is synonymous with your greatness). Oh, how you make me laugh, I find myself nodding in agreeance, laughing out aloud at your so vivid descriptions, and cringing at the grotesque depictions of tall men and other gross sorts :).

    1. Whilst I myself don’t find sliced bread amusing, I DO agree it’s an excellent invention – and therefore you’re comment is lovely and I thank you very much 🙂

  23. Haha, I actually WISH I had public transportation where I am. But, this reminds me of the few times I rode trains in rush hour back in Japan…and it was awful.

    I can’t believe that guy wouldn’t take off his backpack though. What a jerk.

  24. “A whole journey staring into the face of another human’s evil disregard for cleanliness.” …chuckle and nod…have experienced similar thoughts when squished in with others on the uBahn.

    “I realised this because it forced my head to slowly lift towards the ceiling, so I had to spend the entire journey gazing quizzically aloft and pretending I was thinking deeply about something, with this bastard’s backpack wedged against my chin.” …Now going into fits of laughter, trying to imagine what perfectly done hair looks like after being left out of the tram from stop A to stop B.

    The relief at hearing the “beep beep Mind the Gap” when you realize you are free on the other side.

  25. This brings back so many memories I wanted to repress. Armpit perfume. Cheese breath. Staring into some guy’s crotch. Please make it stop.

  26. Ok, I just had to re-blog this one on my page. The first time I’ve ever done that!! Thank you again for your brilliant humor and ever-so-hilarious Stick Man.

  27. When I next come up to London from deepest Devon and get the tube to Piccadilly, I’ll make sure I’ve rolled in cow dung and I’m carrying a vat of clotted cream.That should make ’em think twice about taking any more underground journeys don’t ee think? You stretch my imagination hehehe!

  28. But if your nose was bitten off by the gum-chewer over your shoulder, what have you to fear from Option #3? In the land of the armpits, the no-nosed girl is queen…

  29. Oh Becky – you are HILARIOUS! I would pay to see you, I really would. Loving what I have heard so far. Keep up the fabulous work!

  30. I am short too, 5ft2 and I agree….tall men breathe FAR more than is really necessary. And WHY WHY WHY do they feel the need to propel the air from their noses with such a violent force?!?!
    I’m sorry for your trauma…perhaps start showering at work rather than before so they give you more room…or if you need more help carry a skunk or a small tramp?

      1. You’re most certainly welcome. I think I either put too many words in, or left a few words out, in the beginning of my last comment – sorry, it should have been prettier.
        However it appears, I meant it all 🙂

  31. But then, out of clear blue nowhere, is the one trip that could never be classified as “The Voyage of the Damned,” but rather “The Journey of the Usually Damned, But On This Day Turned Very Lovely Due To Harsh Circumstances.”
    It was in the olden days, on a metro bus, in a snow storm. It was the days of smaller buses, pre-iPods (Walkmans), pre-cell phones, (no one talking) pre-tablets (books, newspapers or staring blankly out the window). The forecast said the storm would pass through barely noticed, leaving behind only a trace of snow. Instead, it sat right down and, I don’t know, took a dump, I guess would be the phrase: 2-feet in 30 minutes.
    My ride, typically 20-ish minutes, was 12 hours. I’d have walked if it weren’t for the dress, hose and heels and the 3 miles of freeway. No option but to stay on board.
    What was a dreaded endeavor turned, in the face of disaster, into a great camaraderie. While stuck for long stretches of time, one guy would jump off and survey the immediate neighborhood to find out what establishments would let us use their restrooms and phones. The driver let a few stranded car drivers on at first, charge free, but after a while he denied any more riders because he felt it was unfair to overcrowd the bus. We took turns standing and sitting. Somebody asked the driver to estimate how many riders he had and stepped out to purchase all sorts of junk food at a nearby food mart to distribute to us. I wasn’t using my Walkman, so I lent it to the guy next to me who happened to have an extra set of batteries in his backpack and replaced mine when they died. Pleasant and convivial conversations started to spring up. I’m pretty sure I saw one couple exchange numbers. When the bus got stuck on the freeway entry ramp, all those in flat shoes hopped out to help get us on our way. They even stopped what little traffic was able to get by just so the driver had enough room to maneuver. Once on the freeway the road was clear and we were well on our way. The bus exploded with cheers and a full round of “Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round,” as well as “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” which we all, frankly, were desperate to enjoy by the end of our ordeal.

    1. That just sounds like the best thing ever. It’s the war spirit!! LET’S JUST GET THE HELL ON WITH IT. No use in moaning. Snow over here makes people do that, as well. Everyone pulls together and helps out. That sounds like the most fun bus journey in the world. 🙂

  32. This was amazing. Although there should really be a warning not to try reading this on your commute, or you risk having to hide laughter/crying in a carriage (over)full of people who start to look at you funny. As a fellow commuter, I hear you!

  33. This is too funny. I don’t live in a public transportation area, and so I drive everywhere. Ugh. For me, that’s misery. When I was studying in England one of my favorite parts of the day were the train and bus rides. I longed to hop on a bus to go to the city when I returned, but I couldn’t. I still have fond memories of my commuter moments, but it isn’t my everyday existence. It was a novelty.

  34. Hahahahaha. So fun the pictures! So true the commuting journey! What a great idea that “commuting is our penance for all the bad things we have done in our lives.” When commuting, it’s hard to move a step, let alone text, read, or change the volume of iPod. And being “squeezed” between taller people, or who have a big backpack, are kind of torture. As the weather becomes hot, the smell in the train… sucks. However, if living in the crowded cities, it is inevitable to experience commuting. May all of us have a relatively pleasant journey!

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