Wednesday 17 June 2009

Millions of people swarming like flies round waterloo underground....

I was in London today, and I really don't know how you people do it. The architecture's alright: St Pancras has improved out of site, of course, and - the monstrous carbuncles around the National Theatre aside - the South Bank is quite pleasant too. Nottingham's not much to look at, truth be told, so a change of scenery is no bad thing. But how on Earth do you cope with all the people? It wasn't even rush hour by the time I arrived, and it's not really all that hot at the moment, but the underground from King's Cross to Waterloo, via Green Park, was horrible: it's dirty, smelly, hot, cramped..... and generally really quite unpleasant. I was certainly very pleased to finally surface into the fresh(-ish) air from a seemingly impenetrable labyrinth of subterranean corridors and endless escalators.

Going home was even worse. We were travelling at the very edge of the evening rush hour, crowds weren't yet really thick, but already people were travelling in that protective bubble that Londoners seem to acquire. Is it acquired, or is it something you have to be born with? That trance-like cocoon that envelops people and protects them from the heat, the dirt and most of all from the crowds. Some people use their books or their newspapers as shields; other people use their iPods; others just stare blankly into space. Everyone seems to avoid eye contact. For an out-of-towner like me, it's like travelling with zombies. Certainly a far cry from the four old dears who joined a nearly deserted train at Leicester on the way down. There were no reservation tickets on the backs of any of the seats, and the carriage was pretty much empty, but they insisted - politely, but they insisted nonetheless - that the people sat at their table moved so that they could sit in their rightfully allocated seats. I'm not sure how they would cope on a tube, to be honest. I doubt that even the full fury of four righteous old ladies would be powerful enough to get past the forcefields on display on the Underground. They'd likely have to stand pressed up against the doors like the rest of us.

Do I sound enough like a provincial ingenue yet? A greenhorn from the sticks with a hayseed hanging from my lips and a corn pipe?

I tell you what......that there London? You can keep it.

Went there. Didn't like it much. Soon came 'ome.


  1. Underground Schmunderground. I don't live in London but my work means I have to travel in once or twice a week.

    The underground strike last week was fantastic: I had a great 20 minute walk across London from Waterloo to near the British Museum. It was a lovely day and a wonderful walk. Travelling on foot through London makes you appreciate the wonderful things it does have to offer.

    The underground is the Devil's pipework.

  2. I don't have to use the tube to commute and if I'm meeting someone I'll just walk across town. Anyway, what are you complaining about, look at all that space you've got up there.

  3. (photo not actually me, but I take the point)

  4. The ability to switch off is something you acquire fairly quickly as a defense mechanism to deal with any potential problematic people you might meet on your journey - homeless people, beggers, buskers, thugs, nutters, hooligans, noisy children, elderly people, students... the list just grows and grows.

    Quite interestingly, divesting yourself of this mechanism is incredibly hard as I discovered when taking a train through West Australia and realised that rather than observe the passing striking landscape outside I had retreated into the shell.

  5. I regularly visit London, usually arriving late Thursday or Friday and returning Monday or Tuesday. So am probably not seeing it in its full glorious horror. Plus I love walking in London and its frequently quicker than the transport system at certain times.

    Nevertheles, I do feel some envy for the tube and bus system. Transport running after 10pm in the provinces? Not that much of it there ain't. (Still you're right ST about the old dears and their allocated seats: they'd never survive!)

  6. As someone who fled Nottingham for the capital 23 years ago, with never the slightest intention of returning, I guess my views on London are fairly predictable.

    Those crowds, that dirt... I love 'em. Eight million people in close physical proximity. Any minor inconveniences are more than made up for by the ramshackle energy and diversity of the place.