Whilst my station, Ruislip Manor, is being rebuilt, I have to travel onward to Ruislip at night. Then comes the big decision - to catch a train travelling back or to walk? This presents some interesting problems in timing. Let me first explain that there is only one exit at Ruislip. Passengers coming out of London must cross the tracks using the wonderful Victorian bridge - pic thanks to Chris Cobley - and thus emerge on the eastbound platform.
The westbound tracks curve sharply and trains are invisible, and unheard, until just a few seconds before they pull in. It takes exactly as long for the train to stop and open its doors as it does to walk briskly over the bridge. Here then is our first dilemma. If you alight some way from the bridge it is possible for an eastbound train to come and go before you can reach it. This is solved by alighting exactly by the bridge, from the middle carriage of the train. So far so good. But if there is a crowd going up the stairs, one can still be held back and miss a train. Most people leave the station rather than travel back, so it seems legitimate to use a certain energy in getting to the front of the mob and then legging it briskly. Indeed if one is to maximise the chances of getting an eastbound train this strategy is vital. I have had the doors close in my face before now. Yet it seems somewhat indelicate to beat off the old ladies and barge past the women with pushchairs when there is nothing actually in view - people can understand it if they see that you are running for a train but otherwise you stand revealed as an insensitive boor.
Why bother? Why not just stroll over the bridge, go with the flow, get into the groove and chill out (er, is this the right slang?). Because, my dear Watson, as I have demonstrated, it is perfectly possible that a train will come and go before one can get to the eastbound platform, and that is most frustrating. When this happens one must ask oneself, do I feel lucky? Shall I wait here for who knows how long (because London Underground make no information whatsoever available to passengers at this station) or start walking. Should I stay or should I go? (Hmm, sounds like a potentially catchy pop song). The trains do sometimes come through at the rate of one every three minutes. Or there can be a ten to fifteen minute gap. You just don't know. You can try counting the trains between Rayners Lane and Ruislip and estimate if the frequency appears normal but it doesn't mean anything. I know, I've tried. You cannot estimate with any accuracy the probability of the next train arriving soon merely by knowing how many trains have recently preceded it.
The last three nights I have barely had time to cross the bridge before my train has arrived, which is really nice (the lack of delay, not the rush down the steps). There's another four months of rebuilding to go. How many more heart-stopping moments?