Roger Cox: Make the most of your boring commute

Picture: Robert Perry
Picture: Robert Perry
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You’re likely to spend two years of your life simply travelling to and from work – so why not turn that dead time into something fun?

The great American journalist Doug Larson once said, “For disappearing acts, it’s hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work.” Those stats may sound more than a little out of date to the flogged-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives members of today’s workforce, but I have it on good authority that during Larson’s heyday in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, many people really did work for just eight hours a day and often managed to get a full eight hours’ sleep at night, too. How times change. Still, the point Larson was making remains valid, namely: what the hell happens to those precious bits of the day when you’re neither working nor sleeping?

For most, the answer is pretty straightforward: it’s the daily commute, stupid. Sure, there’s breakfast and dinner to factor in, too, but they’re more-or-less compulsory. Ditto personal hygiene tasks like showering and brushing your teeth. Remove all these things from the equation and the biggest time-killer by far is your journey to and from work.

The average UK commute, apparently, is 58 minutes a day. The average person in the UK works for approximately 40 years. That means you’re likely to spend about 14,400 hours, 600 days, or not far off TWO WHOLE YEARS OF YOUR LIFE simply travelling to and from work.

So you’ve got two choices. You can either accept that you’re going to spend a big chunk of your life doing a boring commute and get on with it, or you can come up with ways of turning all that dead time into something fun.

For many years I’ve been a mindless subscriber to option A but about a month ago, after stumbling upon that Larson quote, I’ve had a bit of a re-think.

One of my best ever weeks working for The Scotsman was back in December 2010 when it snowed buckets for days on end and I was able to go snowboarding on Arthur’s Seat every morning before work. Clearly that was a one-off, but was there another way I could work some sideways sliding into my daily routine? I briefly considered skateboarding, but then ruled it out on the grounds that I’m nowhere near good enough at it to be able to guarantee the safety of my fellow pavement users, and I don’t want to be the guy who accidentally knocks somebody’s granny under a bus. One day though, passing a gently-sloping meadow on my way to the office, the penny dropped: could mountain boarding be the solution I was looking for? (A mountain board being a device a lot like a skateboard, only with big, fat off-road tyres.) I could carry it on my back to the top of the slope, I figured, coast downhill for as far as gravity would allow then carry it the rest of the way to the office. Do that every day for 40 years and, who knows? I might even get good at it.

So I had a trawl of the web, did a bit of research, found something that wasn’t going to cost so much that I’d have to work for an extra couple of years before retiring in order to pay for it, thereby defying the point of the whole exercise, and placed an order.

A few days later a large box arrived in the post. Or, I should say, a very large box. Turns out mountain boards are bigger than I’d thought. Heavier too. Still, after a few days of my new, spiced-up commute, I’m having so much fun I hardly notice the extra weight.

Day One was a bit of a let-down, as I realised a slope that would have allowed me to build up a decent head of steam on a snowboard was only ever going to allow me to cruise along relatively sedately on a mountain board. But then on Day Two it rained, and my maximum speed was instantly doubled. Towards the end of my run I fell – hard – and spent the rest of the day (and the next day, and the day after that) with a sore shoulder and a cricked neck. This was more like it. By Day Four I was starting to get a sense of how to use the contours of my little hillock to squeeze ever more speed and distance out of each run. I was hooked.

To the casual, distant observer, I must look like an office drone sliding very slowly downhill on a tea tray, but I don’t care. The way I see it, I’ve just bought two years of my life back.