For a writer the tube is a gold mine of human behaviour – a continual Shakespeare play performed for your eyes only, With each stop crassly crashing between romance, tragedy and comedy. All play their parts in Olivier winning form. My favourites are the bard’s fools, in shows that are exclusively for the last….or the very first tube.
I love riding our humble tatty tubes for many of the reasons most don’t.
Once, after finding sanctuary in a sofa bed in the wrong part of town, my host’s need for work superseded mine for sleep. I was dragged to the tube at 8.30 and rapidly discovered I was on the south bound northern line…a time and line so repugnant for traveling that it appears only the repugnant do.
Some had giant coffees clamped to their humourless clammy hands. There were so many Apple products on show, I began to wonder whether I was being subjected to subliminal I-advertising! A large woman with a giant bag, oblivious to all, brazenly watched Eastenders on her tablet. I tried to read my Daily Mail, but ended up folding it into a tiny square. Unsympathetic headphones broke any rare silence with tinny tunes from all angles.
In this giant sardine tin I managed to contort my arm, in ways only Houdini could dream, and read from this tiny corner of news at a 90 degree angle. I turned the page at each stop – using my only spare finger – in between endless passive aggressive screams of “can you move down please”. This type appeared to believe we were a carriage full of roof-climbing monkeys and contortionists, whilst also neglecting to notice that there would be another tube in 2 minutes.
Rush hour is a daily battle between the mad – thankfully I am not a combatant. For a dusty old thing like me, it is not the hours of travel but the seasons that really boil my soup.
The tube in the summer is a dish cruelly cooked by Beelzebub’s chef de patron.
Malaysia is possibly the most humid country I’ve visited – the heat is so close that sweat pours directly from even the finest linen. Somehow, the humidity in an August tube is worse. Capped with breathing the hot sweaty air, there is a palpable tension and a grim proximity of humans like in a caverned French jazz bar.
I try to avoid the two rush hours; these times are best spent in a bed or a bar.
In contrast the ‘out of hours’ tube riders are a delight – I sway to rhythms of the carriage with people the same size and, generally, as relaxed as me. Loud children aside, even in the sweltering heat their is a calm. Most are off for an afternoon sip or shop, as we are folk without cares or deadlines to make.
The other day I wiped my dripping brow with my new yellow hankie and caught an Old Bird telling an Old Cock of her astonishment that “Waitrose had a Facebook page” and “it would show all the food deals.” the Old Cock nodded, in a manner that belied all their years marriage, and slowly returned to his extravagantly unfurled broadsheet.
After a holiday or a day at the races I feel at home as I step onto the dirty platforms. There is something so quintessentially London about a full staccato tube. I love it’s British failings and woeful staff. But many twitchy middle management types rejoice in the the failures – continually checking their watches and tutting. They often turn with a theatrical look to the heavens and proclaim “it’s just not good enough”. These are the same characters that insist on placing their bags on the seat next to them and snarling at you if you dare ask them to move it.
I sincerely worry for this breed’s hearts; surely such stress will lead to a shaft of pain down the left arm and ‘good night Vienna’?.
In fairness the tube highlights each Londoner’s worst habits. It bring out the sad old man in me – I know to the centimetre where to stand to disembark at Parsons Green. The tube carriage is a bizarre sub-sector of London life – perhaps the only place where one is forced to shove one’s face into a sweaty stranger’s armpit.
It’s a kingdom where we all stare and observe the person opposite but as soon as eye contact is made our eyes dart around like a paranoid mental patient at feeding time. The excitement one exudes is second to none if we ever bump into a pal; we forget the austere mood and boom as loud as Pavarotti, sharing stories for all to hear.
Late and delayed it may be but the tube is a delightful and unique Londoners’ treat.