“It’s accompanied me on countless mornings after the night before, bleary-eyed on a bus through Zone 6, smelling of garlic mayonnaise and vodka-induced regret.”
2016 is my 23rd year on the planet. It’s also the fifth anniversary of my Oyster card.
I still remember the moment I purchased it at Tottenham Hale Tube station. I was on my way back to Kingston from visiting my boyfriend in his new uni halls, all shaky from our emotional goodbye at the station steps, but high on endorphins from our weekend of snogging, binge eating, pillow talk, and pretending that 18-year-old love was enough to keep us together despite our new lives being so separate… Fast forward a few years and that relationship has long disintegrated, but my Oyster card never did. That humble blue plastic has accompanied me on some of my greatest physical and metaphorical journeys.
It enabled me to take my first ever London bus journey, and embarrass myself by saying thank you to the driver (lesson learned: Londoners hate each other and will do anything to avoid speaking). It’s accompanied me on countless mornings after the night before, bleary-eyed on a bus through Zone 6, smelling of garlic mayonnaise and vodka-induced regret. It came with me on my first day of my first ever internship in a real life office, and watched me in sheer panic scrubbing chewing gum off my shabbiest Chelsea boots as I rolled into Waterloo. It’s since been a part of every job interview – stepping into fancy new buildings in glamorous London Bridge, a tiny studio in Earlsfield, and the pitiful five hour shift I lasted as a shop assistant in Sloane Square.
It’s been there on the dreaded N87 from Charing Cross to Kingston, when we’d use the dregs of our student bursaries to play adults in Mayfair clubs with extravagant cocktails – that 90 minute journey that more often than not resulted in holding hands, flirting, or talking to strangers. My Oyster has come on multiple first dates. Some good; many awful – but thank god I always had my blue get-out-of-jail free card to get me home safely. It was there for me on one memorable (and final) Number 19 bus journey, sobbing my eyes out on the phone to my dad when my most life-changing relationship yet fell apart at the bus stop. In that moment, on that last date night pilgrimage between Battersea and Islington, I thought life was truly over (plot spoiler: it’s definitely not).
It’s been dropped on ticket hall floors, Tube floors and under bus seats, and somehow, always found its way back to me. It’s lived inside an array of card holders – each one more grown-up than the next (I started with Primark, and I now have Radley). It’s been forlorn and forgotten in many a handbag, but has always come back when needed most. It’s lived with me in every chapter of my London life, and all the many moves from one mouldy flat share to the next – starting in Zone 6 Kingston, catapulting to Zone 1 Chelsea, and finally happily settling in Zone 3 Tooting.
Far from its beginnings in Tottenham Hale’s ticket hall, and the love bites, mascara-stained cheeks and clueless Tube geography that came with our first encounter, my Oyster now lives an altogether less exciting life – serving mostly as a vessel for that sacred Zone 1-3 travel card and its role as supporting actor in my very own commuter rat race. But its presence is as undeniable as ever. I don’t know if my love affair with London will survive the next five years, but I have no doubt that my beaten up, abused, well-travelled, haggered but still functioning Oyster card will.