Underground: it’s a peculiar word that raises as much disdain for what is cool as it does in fact specify what is cool. Many things are underground: a swick Shoreditch bar with pineapple themed décor; fiber wire that Virgin refuses to connect within a reasonable timeframe; potatoes.
The word brings a multitude of images to mind, but nothing as vivid or terrifying as the blight on man that is the London Underground.*
Grab the lube, this is going to be a squeeze.
You haven’t experienced London until you catch the Tube between 07.45 and 09.15. Flustered and sweaty before the day begins, this is the equivalent to running a marathon before, well, running a marathon.
Everyone is late and thinks they are the only ones who truly need the next train. It’s fine, just step aside, you only have two minutes until the next arrives. Still, when you are finally on, others will always find more room than you thought available. You’d be surprised how your arms can contort when forced into every nook and cranny; of this you have no choice.
Before you ride the tube you need to get into your nearest station – out of interest, mine is the Camden Town Canned Fish Factory.
Blocking the majority of the entrance will be: someone with an umbrella that just won’t go up/down, no matter how they shake it; someone texting and waiting for someone else that is probably at the second entrance feverishly – you guessed it – texting; struggling‑with‑pram person; tentatively‑edging‑their‑way‑to‑help‑struggling‑with‑pram‑person person.
After you triple flip, sidestep and roly-poly around this circus – and exhibit enough manoeuvrability to actually join one – you’ll reach the turnstiles.
Stood there, in the way, is the person who forgot to get their Oyster/contactless card ready. Fumbling through their bottomless bag, they don’t care if you can pass or not, they got there first. Wait. They refuse to move aside. That’s too much. You will question whether they are a tourist, unfamiliar and lacking your wise tube-surfing brain.
Sadly, if you use the tube at a regular time you will eventually realise this person does this same thing every single day, as if they forgot that this was a service that required a payment at all. The length of time it takes to find the card is the worry; maybe their bag is sentient with a penchant for Oyster (cards).
Not an ounce of guilt is felt as you wave your ever-ready pass before them, grinning like a self-righteous A* Tube pupil.
Now we arrive at my favourite part of the journey…
The Canned Fish Factory
The most horrifying fact of all? You pay for this. Every morning you pay to get locked inside a metal box with a bunch of flustered and sweaty folk that you do not know and cannot wait to mentally bid adieu.
You pay to be canned; you pay to be one of the many twats. Aren’t you the catch of the day? Canned twat.
Well, not quite. You’re not out until you’re out. You see, once you reach your stop, the doors open, the automated lady instructs you safely off the tube and everyone rushes with a walk ten times more determined that your fastest run – when did people get so fit?
Worry not, chubby friend, you’re fine. The fast angry people will elbow their way to the escalator and cause a bottleneck situation when they realise it is steeper than expected. They decide that they are entitled to squeeze in front of the queue for the standing side of the escalators, because, you know, they just charged forward. Who can possibly question this right?
I can. The people who just extreme power walked to the front can’t walk up some steps? Fuck ‘em. They aren’t worth your time. Just keep to your queue and wait for these pampered clowns to filter into their lane of indecisive choice. Then, you’re smooth sailing.
But wait, I see turnstiles, cap’n. And like a towering iceberg ahead is one final person, fumbling in their backpack for a goddamned Oyster card.
How it feels underground…
How it looks.
Maybe I should have caveated this article by saying that I am from a valley in which the closest thing to the London Underground was my school bus, which, if unlucky, you would be the one of three standing.
So my wide-eyed country eyes may not be able to endure the city stares and glares. My advice: leave ten minutes early, let the elbowers elbow and the morose be miserable. You cannot save them but you can save yourself. So grab your self, step aside and watch the others go at it. Your mind and sweat glands will thank you. Plus, you get to watch the idiots at work if you take a back seat. Richard Ashcroft’s rise of the idiots happened; problem is, those idiots now where suits.
*Just jesting, the Tube is a marvel.