If there’s one thing that makes London so quintessentially “London”, it’s the Tube. This mode of mass transportation keeps the city ticking. It manages to be simultaneously one of my favourite and one of my most hated things about living here. Each line has its own unique flavour, too (not that I go around licking them or anything. Some people do, I imagine. Not me though). Here are my favourite three.
The Bakerloo line is the granddaddy. It’s the oldest line on the underground and my god does it show. It rocks back and forth so violently you could dislocate your shoulder…assuming you have room to dislocate your shoulder. It is a bit like stepping back in time when you’re down there, though. Some of the stations have a distinctly Victorian feel about them. And many have a distinct odour, too… Between that and the rocking, this is a line best avoided when hungover.
The Northern Line is that little bit meaner and grittier. No seats for you, man on crutches! Back off, 8-month-pregnant woman! That seat shall not be yours unless you’re willing to put in the hard graft, to push yourself that extra inch, to really squeeeeze yourself into any available space and make the most of the opportunities that come your way. And if that means avoiding eye contact with little old ladies (I’m talking to the boys here) who flail and trip they’re way from Camden to King’s Cross, it’s a price you’re willing to pay for those 10 minutes of sitting down. Dignity, pride and decency-these are weaknesses on the tube. You will pay for them with your personal space.
Then there’s the Central Line. Oh yes, the Central Line. Similar to the Northern Line in many ways, the Central takes it another step further by being packed full of people who have no souls and being sweatier than a dart player’s arm pits. Every journey is a gamble on the Central Line. It makes for an interesting, if unpredictable, commute. Will I get on this train? Will I lower myself to attempt to imperceptibly inch that elderly gentleman out of my way, using my shoulder and some ingenuity? Will anyone notice? Will the train door close on my head at every station? Will I have a lost a little bit of my humanity (and a few brain cells) by the time I disembark?
Of course, sometimes, the London Underground and its lines and carriages can be full of little surprises. Am I the only London commuter who has chuckled to herself as a slightly unhinged conductor has eased the tedium of a long day’s driving into the blackness through the medium of inappropriate use of the tandem on the Jubilee? Surely I’m not the only one to be offered a free hug on the District Line? I know I’m not the only one who’s been-ahem!-rubbed up the wrong way at 8.30am on the Northern before she’s even had a coffee… I shouldn’t think so, and yet these are the little curveballs and oddities that make that commute more interesting and, I suppose, more bearable (yeah, you know it, even the rubbing).
Some of my more memorable Encounters of the Tube Kind:
One thing you always hear tell of before you move to a city like London is how many mentally unhinged people live there. For a few days after I became a citizen of this fair city, I was disappointed not to have come across a single one. Then, one wet, miserable day, after getting on the tube at Tottenham Court Road, an elderly man got on just after me. Something about the way he looked (mental) made me think “This guy’s Irish.” He smiled around the carriage, walked down the centre aisle and began to bless people (oh so very Irish!) in the most gentle and lovely manner. He got off at the next stop. I looked up and caught the eye of a woman sitting opposite me and she burst out laughing and roared out “Could have been a lot worse!” This gives me hope for future crazies.
Another time, as I was heading home one day after work, I found myself standing in a completely packed carriage (as usual) beside a buggy. I thought, “If this train jerks at all I’m going to land in that child’s lap.” The only way to avoid this was to try to hold the pole in the middle of the carriage. The main hindrance to the execution of this plan was the man standing directly in between me and the pole. I didn’t really have a choice-I was wearing flats and couldn’t reach the pole above me. I reached around and grabbed the pole, all the while keeping my eyes firmly on the ad for Match.com on the opposite wall. The realisation suddenly dawned on me that a) I was basically embracing this dude and b) he was trying to make conversation with me. On the tube! The audacity! I kept my eyes trained on an ad for some vitamin pills and tried my best to ignore his attempts to make eye contact. Eventually he tired of me and started on some other misfortune. I say misfortune-she actually seemed to enjoy the conversation. Who knows, maybe they went off and had babies.