Blitz-flavoured strike couldn't derail induction

24th September 2010 at 01:00

On September 7 1940, the London Blitz began. It was the day the Germans turned the full force of their bombing campaign away from the RAF fighter stations and on to the people of London.

September 7 this year was a big day for me too. Not so much - to mix my Second World War metaphors - D-day as I-day. Student Induction Day: the first time I would meet my new tutees as a group.

At 6am I am awake. Turning on the radio I hear not the droning of a thousand Heinkel and Junkers engines, but the astringent tones of the Today programme presenters. Yes, they are talking about the 70th anniversary of the start of the Blitz, but there is another big story: London's Tube network has been virtually shut down by a strike.

The train drivers, led by the ebullient Bob Crow, have stopped work for 24 hours in protest at threatened job losses. As I live on one side of London and work on the other, this presents something of a challenge.

The surface train into Liverpool Street is packed with people who'd normally be travelling on the Crow-struck Victoria Line. I have to stand, thigh-to-thigh, with my fellow commuters while trying to read my copy of the Metro. It's a sunny day - as was September 7 in 1940 - and I get off the train somewhat damper than I got on it.

Normally I'd be on the Tube for phase two of my journey, so I look for a bus. No chance! The queues stretch halfway round the station. Never mind - spirit of the Blitz - I'll walk to Waterloo instead. This takes 40 minutes: good for the heart; good for the lungs; bad for the armpits! I arrive at work - courtesy of another surface train - more like a sweat ball than a man. And although my working day is yet to begin, I feel like I've done a day's work already.

No matter. We didn't win the war by whingeing. At 9.50am, the new students start trickling in. By 10.10am, most of them have arrived. They look ... terrified! That's probably because they are. As adults returning to learn, for some of them it's the first time they've been in a classroom for 20 years. They sit there, anxiously eying one another, like rats in a Skinner-box waiting for the experiment to begin.

And then it does. What you notice straight away is how nice everyone is. I am nice to them. They are nice to me - and to each other. Even the not-so-nice are nice on Induction Day. This is the phoney war. You hope it will last, but know it won't.

Other people pop into the room and tell them nice things in a nice way: what the college can provide by way of support, advice, counselling and money. They even get a "nice" answer to the question that someone always asks: will I get a student loan even if my credit rating is zero?

The highlight of the day is when some of last year's students stop by. Never mind what Jones and Co have been blabbing on about; we're here to tell you what it's really like to study here. But they are nice too. After all, they are the successful ones; having passed their own access courses, they are about to start the adventure of university.

By mid-afternoon the new students' day is over: 21 out of the 22 enrolled have turned up, despite the strike. But for me there's still plenty more to do. And anyway, there's not much point in trying to leave early on non-existent trains.

When I do turn out, it's around the time that 70 years ago the first bombs were falling on London. Nothing goes bang as I pound the south London pavements, but with traffic tailing back almost to Kent, the metropolitan chaos is evident.

Pulling out of Liverpool Street at 8pm, it seems that everyone else has already gone home, so the train's half empty. Now that really is nice!

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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