The London Underground
Ten years shuttling back and forth on the London Underground Network before leaving the city for good.
A weary geography of regular commutes and uncommon journeys.
A mole-like trudge.
Over half of the stations of the network are above ground today. But hinting at it’s origin as the cut and shut Metropolitan Railway, Londoner’s have retained the colloquial slang ‘ the Underground’.
To travel on the Underground is to inhabit an interstitial space. Somewhere in betwixt and in-between. A public space that is intensely private. At once familiar but also foreign.
A non-place. Liminal. Rarely still, nearly always in flux.
The same architecture experienced over and over but each time in the company of a new crowd of strangers.
A vast container of millions of hurrying individuals. Hushed and harried. Everyone an island.
The Underground is ordinary yet also exquisitely strange.
From the surface down into many subterranean layers, the Underground cultivates it’s own sub-set of human behaviours. Not quite pathological but certainly abnormal. A departure from regular civic codes of conduct, bourne of bustle and busyness.
Over many self-absorbed and silent journeys the network began to reveal it’s own language to me. An eccentric slang residing in congestion and dirt.
Nonsensical portmanteaus and frivolous phrases. Hidden in breeches of etiquette. Drifting around. Swirling.
A private lexicon to capture the curious.
Here are thirty favourites of mine:
Boldly standing alone in the centre of the carriage when everyone else is sitting and nearby seats are available.
Spilling coffee on oneself due to a mistimed slurp out of sync with the swaying of the carriage.
Residual greasyness present on all Transport for London handrails.
The revolting assortment of discarded foodstuffs left over from hedonic activities of the prior night’s passengers.
Waiting for most socially acceptable moment to offer your seat to an elderly or infirm passenger.
The act of sneezing loudly in a densely packed carriage during Winter.
The momentary loss of balance and lurch in one’s gut caused by stepping onto the threshold of a static escalator.
Arriving to work smartly dressed but with unsightly, inky fingertips from handling a free newspaper on the tube. Unacceptable before job interviews.
The extreme act of physically manhandling a passenger, usually a tourist, necessary to make an exit from an overcrowded carriage.
Deliberately catching the gaze of an attractive passenger travelling in the opposite direction on an adjacent escalator.
On exiting the carriage being the first passenger to step onto the exit escalator, doing so without the appearence of any special effort.
The glazed over expression caused by mentally listing items, all of which are overpriced, in the Tesco’s Metro or Sainsbury’s Local you visit immediately after leaving your departure station.
Shamelessly abandoning your fellow passengers by switching carriages mid-journey to escape from an unwelcome eccentric traveller joining your original carriage mid-journey.
The dirty, sticky fingers of other passenger’s children.
The awkward, effortful folding of overly complicated modern prams.
A self-appointed honour attained by being the only passenger at the front of the first carriage of the first train of the day.
Mistakenly dropping any coinage upwards of 20p in value onto the platform and then tracks.
The straight line of filth imprinted on your palm that comes from holding open the imminently closing doors for a fellow passenger.
The gratuitous piles of litter caused by the introduction of free newspapers.
Peering into an adjacent passenger’s open book or newspaper.
Keeping your headphones in your ears without music playing in order to subtly eavesdrop on an intriguing nearby conversation.
Standing unassisted with seemingly effortless poise and equilibruim despite an excessively bumpy track. Best shown by confidently reading a paperback book with two hands.
The rare, but awful sensation of needing to vomit whilst travelling on the Underground.
The nauseating aroma of another passenger’s takeaway food.
Giving in to the overwhelming urge to abandon your journey and immediately find somewhere to eat in an unfamilar neighbouthood.
Saying a subdued goodbye to a romantic interest leaving you on a busy carriage.
Shamelessly having a loud conversation to a friend whilst on opposite platforms.
Accidentally tipping another travellers child out of their pram when trying to give assitance on a stairway. Embankment is worst for this.
The supremely annoying sensation of being joshed by backpack wearing passengers.
Losing one’s balance and automatically snatching hold of a nearby passenger to regain composure.