How, you may ask, do I plan on spending an entire blog post talking about the tube and prevent you from falling asleep? Well, I personally think the Tube is a pretty entertaining topic of discussion, so lets see if I can do it justice.
I should start with walking you through a typical day in my relationship with the tube. I leave the house 25 mins before I need to be in the door at work. I don’t even live in central London, so that is a pretty short amount of time, but I have my route down to a fine art which allows for more precious minutes sleeping. I walk out of the front of my house (currently a gorgeous little flat – refurbished Victorian building – in Swiss Cottage – yes, Swiss Cottage is a suburb in London even though it sounds like it’s in the Alps!), and wander down the leafy street. The tube station is two streets away so it’s only a couple of minutes walk. If I happen to be running early (not very often) there is a gorgeous little market that sets up just outside my tube stop. There is a flower stall, a bakery stall, coffee stand, Portuguese food shop, Vintage jewellery stall – so many lovely little offerings! If I haven’t eaten brekkie yet (quite common) I might grab myself a croissant or something to eat at work. Yes, I will be coming back from London 10kgs heavier! They have a term for that here, they call it “The Heathrow Injection” which practically means once you arrive in London you get fat.
I wander down the steps to the underground station, and look up at the big sign that indicates how long until the next train – usually it’s 1 minute! A 4 minute wait is considered long! When I jump on the carriage in the morning I can usually get a seat – this probably because I miss peak hour traffic since I don’t have to start work until 10am (AMAZING I know!). In 5 mins time I change lines and 10 mins later I jump out at Oxford circus. The trains are so fast! Quick, simple, easy – bam! At work. Brilliant!
Interestingly, the Tube seems to be a bane of many a Londoners existence, but I actually think the Tube is pretty darn awesome – but perhaps this is because I come from a city that has a dismal public transport system! If London was a person, the Tube would be like one of its biggest personality traits. You just can’t experience London without experiencing the Tube, and it becomes such a big part of your daily life. Someone is even designing a computer game about it! Check it out here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/patricksmith/theres-a-london-underground-themed-computer-game-on-the-way It was also heavily featured in the first episode of the new season of Sherlock on BBC (L O V E this show – if you haven’t seen it, get on it!)
The Tube has been around for a long time, since the 1900’s so it has a lot of cool history. There are many closed stations hidden around London, and during the War various stations were used as bomb shelters – although not without a bit of drama surrounding this. Back in the day rich people had private bomb shelters, or could get access to bomb shelters in the ritzy hotels of London, but the poor didn’t have access to this kind of safe hold. The lower classes wanted to use the Tube stations as bomb shelters, but the government didn’t want to let them – because they were concerned the lower classes would go down there and never come up again! They thought the poor people would neglect their civic duty to join the war effort and simply live in the tunnels! Obviously this was not popular with the poor, as they were in a lot of danger with no proper shelter, so they devised a cunning plan! They gathered around one of the fancy hotels, and decided to storm the place – they put a pregnant lady at the helm, as they thought no one could say no to helping her! The attempt was successful, and they managed to get into the bomb shelter. But of course, all the rich hotel guests sheltering there were unhappy about mixing with the common people (such was the class divide!) that they complained to the government! They complained so much that the government relented and allowed the masses to shelter in the tube stations. *Note: This story is recounted from one I’ve heard verbally from a number of people, so the exact details may not be 100% accurate but you get the gist!
Now that we have had our little taste of history, I want to talk a little bit about the map of the London underground – most of you would have seen it, it’s a pretty famous image really!
Many travellers buy copies and proudly display it on their walls at home. Another interesting little story here – there was an article in the news last week about “the map that saved the london underground!”. In 1914 they released a map of the Underground which depicted London as a medieval city and included lots of jokes and cartoons – it was so popular that people would miss their train because they were too busy enjoying the map!
Full article here if you are interested: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25551751
I also heard that the London Underground Map was one of the first maps where the designer decided it doesn’t actually need to be completely geographically accurate because it’s underground, so people can’t actually see/know where they are going anywhere. Hence how neat the final map is!
I have to admit, I myself was tempted to fall into the tourist trap of buying a London Underground map – but simply for the fact as it’s a lot easier to plan your journey when you have a poster of it on your wall! On a visit to the National Art Gallery, I saw that they were selling posters of it in the gallery shop, and decided I might buy one to make my life easier since I had limited internet at the time. There were two versions of the map (neither the medieval style version referred to above!). One was white and shiny, and the other was on a nice cream coloured textured paper with a more delicate colour scheme and pretty patterns. Being the aesthetic person I am, I went for the attractive version and pinned it up above my head in my bedroom. I pored over it many a morning when planning my days adventures, until one day I realised there was actually a whole tube line missing form the map! I’d accidentally bought the tube map from 50 years ago!
The great thing about the tube is your barely need a map anyway – everything is so well signed even the extremely navigationally challenged (a.k.a me) can find their way around. I actually really enjoy going on different tube routes, all of the stations all look different and have their own personality which often reflects the suburb in which they reside. One of my favourites is Baker St, which of course has excerpts from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books complete with beautiful sketches.
The tube line names and the station names are also a source of entertainment for me (I seem to be able to find joy in anything in London…)
Here are some of my favourite line names:
Jubilee – Okay, so you have to admit this just sounds regal doesn’t it! Brings to mind images of some kind of royal parade with everyone cheering and smiling. Jubilee is just such a jolly word!
Bakerloo – This one is just funny because it ends in the word “loo”, call me immature but it just brings a little grin to my face. Especially when it gets called out over the loud speakers in a posh English accent!
Waterloo – Every time I see or hear the name of this station, ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’ starts playing in my head. …
“Waterloo – I was defeated, you won the war. Waterloo – Promise to love you for ever more. Waterloo – Couldn’t escape if I wanted to. Waterloo – Knowing my fate is to be with you. Waterloo – Finally facing my Waterloo!”
And now for some of my favourite stations:
Angel – There is actually a place called Angel, and it’s pretty much perfect – just like a place called Angel should be!
Barbican – Every time I see this I just read “Barbarian”. Can’t get over it.
Barkingside – To me this just sounds like there a lot of dogs barking on this side of the city.
Oxford, Bond Street, Marylebone and Leicester Square – Monopoly anyone?!
Cockfosters and Shepherd’s Bush– They are funny. You know they are!
Kentish Town – Okay, so this one is a bit of a personal joke, but it does amuse me. If you are from Adelaide you are probably familiar with Kent Town, and I used to work there. I was dealing with a company who does 35mm film prints in Thailand, and the language barrier was somewhat strong. I often used to get a smile out of emails they would send, but even more so the labelling on the packages they would send. Once they sent a package addressed to my boss whose name was Kate, but they had called her “Kok” instead! They often used to put our address down as “Kentish Town” as well, which at the time I thought was ridiculous, but now I see where they may have got it from!
Knightsbridge – I don’t know the history behind this name, but I like to think that Knights used to stand on it. That’s a pretty cool image.
Manor House and Mansion House – I wonder which is fancier, Manor or Mansion? I wonder if there is actually a Mansion House and a Manor house near those stops that they were named after? Might have to go have a wander.
Tooting Bec – I don’t know why this name just makes me want to giggle.
White City – This just sounds like something out of Lord of the rings.
I’ve developed a bit of an interesting complex since using the tube. I’m sure you are all familiar with mobile phone paranoia? That’s what I call that desire to check your handbag, pat your pocket, glance over at your desk to check that you have your phone. And if you don’t find it within a few seconds that feeling of dread that perhaps you’ve left it at home which would pretty much be the end of the world. Well I’ve got this new version of that and I call it “Oyster Card paranoia”. An oyster card is a card which you put funds on to act as a tube ticket, sort of like the systems they have in most Australian cities now. The card itself cost £5 and then you put money on it to cover your trips. You need to have your Oyster Card in a very accessible spot at all times, because if you arrive at the gate and stop to search your wallet for it, Oyster Card rage will ensue (i.e people behind you get really annoyed!). And if you leave your Oyster card at home, you have to queue up at the machine to get a new one which can take aaaages in peak hour. This also invokes Oyster Card Tourist rage, where Londoners get really annoyed at tourists who take ages at the machine because they don’t understand how it works. So generally I keep my Oyster card in the pocket of my jacket, and on route to the tube station check that its still there on an average about 5 times! I’ve also been wondering if they named the oyster card because of the whole “the world is your oyster” saying… London sure is my Oyster!
One of the cool things about the Tube, is that most stations have free news papers which are distributed morning and evening. At the smaller stations they have racks from which you can just grab one, but right in the city at peak hour they have people handing them out to you as you enter the tube, yellow “Standard” (for The Evening Standard) in their rough British accents as they wave the paper in your face. Now these free newspapers are perhaps not the most newsworthy source of information, but they are free and they do provide entertainment on the tube ride home which is always appreciated. Their readership must be huge just for the pure fact that it’s free and distributed on the tube. I do wonder if this is the most common source of news for the population of London. These papers have their share of celebrity gossip mixed in with some hard news articles both local and international. I remember in my first week in London I got one and opened it up as I sat down on the carriage to be greeted by a huge headline about an incestuous family discovered in rural Australia, and the story sounded like something out of that horror film ‘The Hills Have Eyes’– I decided to try to mute my Australian accent as much as possible that day!
One of the papers also has this hilarious segment called “Rush Hour Crush” where people can send in a message to someone they have seen on the tube. Here are some for your amusement:
Another form of entertainment on the tube is the advertising. I honestly wonder how much it costs to advertise on the tube because it gets SO much exposure. When you are going down the escalators, or sitting waiting for the train there are huge posters and nothing else to look at so pretty much everyone sees them. I actually don’t mind it as a large portion of the advertisements are for shows (plays, musicals, ballet, gigs), so it’s a great way for me to see what is on – although it’s not so good for my budget because my list of things to go to is never ending! That’s one of the greatest things about London is the constant stream of good theatre, music and dance in the West End and beyond. There are always posters for films as well, so my list of movies to see is never ending!
Here are a few highlights of my tube experiences so far.
#35 – You can take dogs on the tube! AMAZING. Always brightens my day when I see a dog on the tube, especially when they are going up the escalators because the owner has to carry the dog – so if you are standing behind them you can pat the dog.
#76 – Random people singing. At Christmas time a bunch of merry (drunken) people with really good voices sang carols to the whole carriage! And sometime you get the odd kooky person who just belts out 80’s tunes at the top of there lungs the whole trip – when this happens I cannot keep the smile from creeping up on my face.
#4 – Buskers in the tunnels. In the bigger stations you often get buskers in the hallways and they are often really good! When I’m not in a hurry I like to stop and listen and throw them all of my spare change. It really brightens my mood when I get to hear a bit of live music on my journey, and the smile you get back when you throw them a few pounds just tops it off!
#102 – Train drivers with a sense of humour: The train drivers can speak to the carriages over the loud speakers, which they usually only have to do in peak hour. Sometimes you get drivers who are cheeky and make funny announcements or tell you that they are going on holiday the next day, which is always cool.
Finally, my last reason for loving the tube so much is that it does (like many things in London) make me feel like I’m in a movie. Sometimes on particular lines the fluro lights will flicker on and off that really causes me to expect something really dramatic to happen – like a massive action sequence where someone gets chased through the carriages, or for someone to get murdered while the lights are out and everyone to not know who did it once the lights come back on. Yes, I do have a fairly vivid imagination! I am also constantly seeing scenes so reminiscent of Sliding Doors every morning where people run for the doors just before they close. I’m always amazed at how people throw themselves in when the doors are already closing, as they close pretty darn fast with a lot of force if you ask me! I’m always worried someone is actually going to get injured when the doors slam on their head, but that never seems to happen! I also find this kind of action particularly amusing since usually the next train is only 1 minute away, but Londoners are in a constant rush so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised!
Well, I think you have been bombarded with enough anecdotes about the Tube for now, so I hope you enjoyed it and I promise to write again soon on something other than an underground train system!
This is me at Tottenham Court Road Station
All my love,