Commuter Critters: Human Wildlife on London Transport

Yago Partal (

Dear friends,

Forgive me. For I am one of those irritating people who does their make-up on the train. I’m not a morning person and over the years I’ve discovered that it’s just far more time efficient to board as Beetlejuice and disembark as Beyonce, for I sure as hell did not wake up like this. The daily commute gives me just enough time to apply just enough Dulux to vaguely resemble a (living) human being.

I know there are those of you out there who silently disapprove of our ways (some of you not so silently). However, I am here to tell you that we Painters & Decorators should be tolerated – just as we have to tolerate the rest of you bugbears. It’s a jungle out there, folks. So next time you raise your eyebrows at the sight of someone drawing theirs on, why don’t you take a minute to consider which of the following Commuter Critters you might actually be. : ) 

1) The Petri Dish

The Petri Dish is a hardened martyr that refuses to stay at home, opting to infect the rest of the pack with its multitude of viruses instead. Harbouring everything from spattergroit to the plague, it prefers to inhabit the most crowded areas of public transport for maximum impact. You will hear its distinctive snuffle from 3ft away, and will inevitably come into contact with its trail of bacteria via handrails and discarded tissues – although its favourite method of annihilation is the sneeze. Averaging speeds of around 40 mph, this critter loves nothing more than jet-spraying an inescapable mist of lurgy-riddled mucus over everything within a five-mile radius.

2) The Snack Attacker

Feasting on the smelliest of snacks, this predator is super easy to track down in the urban jungle. Only the most aggressive of aromas will do – think egg and Stinking Bishop coleslaw on a bed of Kentucky Fried Kippers. For breakfast. This ravenous animal enjoys stunning its fellow passengers first thing in the morning with favourites like the acerbic waft of salt and vinegar crisps (sometimes even salt and vinegar chips), only indulging in the largest portion sizes available in order to stretch the experience out for as long as possible for all concerned.

3) The B.O.mber

With an unswerving aversion to deodorant, this ape-like creature can usually be found swinging from the overhead handrail in an attempt to make its presence felt in all directions, presumably in a bid to attract a mate. It likes to assume this default position in the most crowded of carriages, preferably with a face nestled near each armpit for a direct hit. The stronger the musk, the higher its chances of finding a match (studies are still ongoing to determine its success rate). Other creatures from the same family have been known to emit similar sour aromas from their mouths (particularly in the mornings) and their feet (especially during the warmer months, when they shed their socks).

4) The Silent Ass-assin

A close relative of the B.O.mber and native to the skunk family, the Silent Ass-assin loves to wait until all doors, windows and emergency exits are firmly sealed before secretly emitting its noxious gas. Unlike the somewhat preferable rancid musk of the B.O.mber, the Silent Ass-assin’s scent lies somewhere between hardboiled eggs and fresh cow sh*t. Just one deadly puff of its flavoursome fumes can suffocate an entire carriage in less than 60 seconds, leaving fellow passengers diving for cover inside their jackets and mummifying their mouths with their scarves (drop-down oxygen masks are not provided on public transport to protect us against these predators. Perhaps we should start a crowdfunding campaign). The aroma often swells to an eye-watering crescendo before dying down after around seven, never-ending minutes. Over the years, this creature has developed an impeccable poker face. Save your death stares, folks: you will NEVER spot the Silent Ass-assin.

5) The Spreader

As previously discussed, this specimen loves to take up as much space as it possibly can, with no regard for others around them. The male of the species in particular tends to sit with its legs stretched at least 8ft apart (from this observation we can also deduce that this creature is clearly partial to a spot of yoga), whilst the females inflate themselves to almost twice their size to compete with their male counterparts. Both will eyeball you as if you are attempting to sit in their laps if you dare try and squeeze into the seat next to them.

6) The Chatterbox

An offshoot of the parrot family and seemingly incapable of conversing at anything under 105 decibels, the Chatterbox is often found wittering into a mobile phone, although it may as well be broadcasting over the tannoy. Sharing everything from what it had for dinner last night to who’s bonking who at the office, it lives its life on transmit and needs to make itself heard. It can often be a much welcomed and amusing addition to the morning commute, depending on its subject matter. But whether inane or inappropriate, it’s going to be loud.

7) The Jukebox

Frequently found inhabiting the quietest of carriages, this species is almost definitely hard of hearing. Which is possibly why it’s oblivious to the fact that its ‘personal headphones’ are anything but. Blasting everything from Stormzy to Shakira, its distinctive, yet eclectic call can be heard echoing all over London’s transportation network. Despite the fact that it may as well have a surround-sound system strapped to its head, this timid creature feels completely cocooned from the crowd, safe in the knowledge that nobody knows it’s been listening to Barry Manilow all the way to London Victoria.

8) The Doorstop

For reasons as yet unknown, this lumbering beast seems to think that it’s a cross between Usain Bolt and a springbok. Startled into action by the beeps of the closing doors and believing that it’s sprinting at the speed of light, this creature enjoys the feeling of danger and flight as it launches itself through the air towards the ever-shrinking gap – but it’s always two seconds too late. Wedged firmly in place by its butt/bag/limb/head, the astonished Doorstop is left to wither under the judgemental glares of its fellow passengers, who smugly watch its futile attempts to wriggle free from the vice-like grip. Finally, the driver reopens the doors – just long enough for the humiliated creature to retrieve its aforementioned butt/bag/limb/head, so that everyone can continue on their merry way.

9) The Bagbear

Exhibiting what can only be described as signs of psychosis, this delusional creature seems to be under the distinct impression that its bag is actually a person. A person with a bad back and weary feet, who’s just spent the entire day at work, and really needs to sit down. A person who, on request, would be able to produce their Oyster card, along with the receipt that proves they spend close to £200 a month on travel in order to earn the right to that flea-bitten seat. In fact its belief in this imaginary friend is so strong that when an actual human being dares to ask if they can sit there instead, the Bagbear almost huffs itself to death with indignation at the prospect of having to find somewhere else to put its belongings (I can think of a few suggestions).

10) The Backwhacker

An evolution of the tortoise, the Backwhacker travels everywhere with its rucksack firmly in place. Once attached, the sack cannot, under ANY circumstances, be taken off and placed somewhere more convenient for the timebeing – especially during rush hour. Just as the camel and its hump are one, so is the Backwhacker and its sack – but unlike the camel, the Backwhacker is still in the process of developing spatial awareness. This erratic creature loves nothing more than spinning round to socialise with the person standing next to it every five minutes – taking out everyone on either side of it on the way there, and on the way back. Standing near a Backwhacker is like standing too close to a set of swinging saloon doors: you will get smacked up. Fronthand and backhand. Every. Single. Time.

We’ve all been guilty of being at least one of these critters at some point in our lives, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your own suggestions and experiences of brushes with urban wildlife below.

: )

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