1985 – UK – “Commuter”

Working in London and travelling each day into Waterloo

4 VEPs at Waterloo / Stephen Rees / Creative Commons 2.0

I made no attempts to find a permanent job during the last few months of university. Most of my friends took part in interviews with the giants of corporate Britain in the hope of getting “graduate” positions as trainee managers. I did nothing. I knew there was no point. I wanted to travel first and see as much of the world as I could.

I bought a book called “Work your way around the world” and I began to study it. It listed the different opportunities that were available around the globe. The Australian working holiday visa system soon caught my eye. It offered the chance to stay and work in Australia for up to 12 months. The visa was easy to get and work in Australia seemed plentiful.  I quickly formulated a plan to travel around the world; I would go west via the USA, down to Australia and then, after a year “down under”, come back to London via a few places in Asia.

I calculated that in order to buy the air tickets and to have enough funds to survive I would need to save about 2,500 pounds. I figured that this would take me about one year to do.   In June 1985, as soon as the graduation ceremony was over, I headed south to London and for the next year I stayed with my uncle near Surbiton.


I quickly found jobs in central London. On weekdays I worked first in a department store, and then later at a temporary position at the House of Commons.


In the evenings I did bar work first at a hotel in central London, and later at a pub in Surbiton.   On Saturdays I worked in a betting shop, and on Sundays in a video rental store. It was quite a heavy schedule. I didn’t keep up working 7 days a week for the whole 12 months, but I certainly endured several weeks of it.


Working in London and living in Surbiton meant commuting into London every day. I got a weekly season ticket and started the daily routine of walking down to the station,  buying a newspaper and then catching the train into Waterloo.

Surbiton actually offered a choice of trains. There was an all-stations service on a brand new train that took longer but usually gave the chance of a seat, or the semi-fast service on an older train (the lovely old 4-VEP)  that took just 17 minutes but meant standing all the way.


In the mornings I would normally catch the fast train and attempt to finish the Guardian quick crossword whilst standing during the journey. In the evenings I would generally catch the slow one and would often finish the Evening Standard crossword before reaching Surbiton.

I didn’t really take to commuting and the novelty of travelling by train every day soon wore off. The effort to save money went well though and by May 1986 I reckoned I had enough funds to start the big trip. I gave in my notice at all the jobs and started my preparations.


I got my Australian work visa and then an American tourist visa. I went to STA, the specialist student travel shop, in London to buy my various tickets. I got a London-to-New York ticket on British Caledonian, a book of 10 vouchers for the trans-continental Trailways bus system in the USA, a ticket on Qantas from San Francisco to Sydney and a ticket back to London on Thai Airways via Bangkok and Delhi.

Finally, I went to the American Express office and converted about 1,000 pounds to US dollar traveller’s cheques.

By mid July 1986 my commuting days were over and I was finally ready to leave.

Categories: UK