Two British tourists approach a CCTV camera with their heads turned to the right while using a public washroom after the rain at London Bridge on May 21, 2018.
LONDON — Worried that they’ll miss their trains home or be infected with a virus, hundreds of commuters in England and Scotland are packing themselves into stations and buses with water bottles and bathroom breaks with short notice, waving papers and bread, in an all-out lockdown that could continue for days, if not weeks.
“It’s like going back to the Great War,” said one commuter on an overnight London bus. “People are queuing up and standing up.”
The kind of movement from nowhere shows the lengths to which some will go for some simple reason: to protect themselves from sickness, even if it means braving 100-degree heat in subzero temperatures.
Across England and Scotland, some 2,000 people are spending as much as four days away from home in an unprecedented protest by a cold-celled “disruptive passenger movement” that is frustrating train service and trapping some passengers in cars on crowded platforms, or in subsided toilets.
Beyond normal political demands for better health care and cleaner air, some of the 60,000 people descending on London and its commuter areas are taking up a deep well of grievance.
In England, trains that may have been as small as 10 feet long are now measured in footlong cases. On one commuter line in Northern England, the wheel size is now 3 feet long.
In Scotland, a transgender woman’s “transgender night train” raised a major security scare this week. Another group traveled from London to Glasgow on one ferry with a megaphone and tee shirt warning that people were being “swept up in the tidal wave of the xenophobic hate machine.” On Britain’s busiest roads, slowing cars to a crawl and a half-empty bus stranded in the rain or snow on the way to the Continent while the rest of the convoy keeps rolling seems standard practice.
A long-planned strike in London by various subway lines, and talks between British politicians and members of the far-right UK Independence Party, about border arrangements, were taking on greater significance as many consider the early voting to be relatively uncontroversial.
They are angering institutions like Southern Cross Hospital and the public health agency. Arriva, the British rail company, has set up a helpline for “normal citizens” worried that they will miss their return flight home and has closed its website.
“No one likes delays but we are being attacked every day,” one commuter told BBC radio.
“These are industrial disputes and they should settle,” another said. “They should settle it in parliament, not in London, where it is a public transport system.”
There is also some grim, ironic humor in the movement, with the excitement on some trains the equivalent of conquering Mount Everest in the face of 600 pounds of fatigue and 95 degrees of heat.
In Edinburgh, people known as the “Mountain Moths” commandeered taxis and passed out to their passengers, whose faces became brown.
Hundreds of people took part in an earlier green-washing protest in the Scottish capital.
“Pollution and climate change are only getting worse and so is what’s happening in this country,” said Julia Gray, a 23-year-old student from Scotland who is protesting before she has even arrived in London.