Another week has flown by. I am currently en route for a head-on collision with some exams at the start of June and am in full revision mode. However, when not confined to my flat in a desperate attempt to do some work, you will likely find me trapped in amongst the seemingly emotionless and disconnected group of London-bound commuters, as I make the journey to and from university. As we glare at the tourist who dares raise his voice above minimum level, reach out our elbows in an effort to prevent occupation of our personal space by other wearied travellers, and avoid eye contact at all costs, we enjoy a shared understanding that cannot be found elsewhere.
In that spirit of solidarity with my fellow commuters, I give you Just for Fun Friday: Ode to the Underground. A literary homage to the wonders of the Tube, with extracts taken from the wonderful Lines on the Underground: An Anthology for London Travellers compiled by Dorothy Meade and Tatiana Wolff:
“I am an old and valuable customer of the Underground. It is by far the quickest and most efficient way of getting around central London, apart from walking, or possibly bicycling. The lines have their familiar idiosyncrasies, from the swift thrust of the Central to the heart of the City, to the perversity of the Northern, which sends six Edgwares when what you want is a High Barnet. The names of the stations are poetry, from Theydon Bois to Cockfosters…
My daily journey to work from Notting Hill Gate to Tower Hill is the farthest you can go on the inner zone, making me feel smug that I am getting value for money. Over the years I have spent hundreds of pounds on the Underground. When it comes to getting around London, I am a mole.”
– Philip Howard, The Times
“Bulletin No. 1: GREETINGS to our nightly companions, our temporary cave dwellers, our sleeping companions, somnambulists, snorers, chatterers and all who inhabit the Swiss Cottage station of the Bakerloo nightly from dusk to dawn. This is the first in a series of announcements, issued in the name of co-operation, so that we may find what comfort and amenities there may be in this nightly place of refuge.
Bulletin No. 2: EXPERT ADVICE: Vibration due to heavy gunfire will be felt much less if you do not lie with your head against the wall.
Bulletin No. 3: …WARBLING NOTE OF VARYING PITCH: One thousand five hundred and three people slept in this station-shelter the other evening. 1,503! 1,650 of whom seemed to be snoring. And the Government is distributing ear-plugs!”
– The Swiss Cottager, De Profundis, Organ of the Air Raid Shelters at Swiss Cottage Station, London NW3, September 1940
“…an elderly lady of ample proportions found it necessary to alight from a narrow 3rd class compartment in reverse, with her back to the platform. The guard saw her in this position, half in and half out of the compartment, and concluded that she was trying to board the train – so he gave her a helping push. It is said that she travelled the whole Inner Circle, being pushed back into the train at each station, before the guard realised his mistake.”
– Henry Howson, London’s Underground, 1951
“Rattling through the tunnel of the Central Line, I look out furtively, affectionately, at my fellow passengers. Some had their eyes closed, some toyed with papers, some looked abstractedly upwards as if they were doing sums in their heads. Walls of black moss streamed past inches from the windows; looped cables, tool boxes. Each time the doors sighed open at a lighted station they let in a gust of subterranean wind. It tasted metallic, of burned carbon and newsprint – a warm, industrial mistral, as particular to the city as Big Ben or red buses….Everyone aboard the carriage had mastered the trick of looking as if they were alone in an empty room. Everyone was travelling under sealed orders to a separate destination. In a fleeting conceit, I saw us all as members of the Underground, moving in secret through Occupied London, and for the first time on the trip, the city felt like home again.”
– Jonathan Raban, Coasting, 1986