These days I find, somewhat to my surprise, I have a deep connection with London, and particularly the Tube. It features both love and hate, a suck me in yet spit me out tension, but because I travel on it so infrequently these days, I am more aware of the memories that haunt its subterranean tunnels and chambers. It’s a place where the old and the new, the dead and the living, the fleet and the sloth, are shaken together in an overwhelming sense overload.
It’s a place where chasms open up under your feet ready to swallow you whole; where you can be pulled asunder by fellow man if you founder on rocks between the torrents raging in opposite directions. Keep left, stay right, flow up, flood down…
In the hallowed passenger halls I see apparitions of savage men in bowler hats: tap, tap, tap on the new butter cream tiles. They have room to move and leap and whirl before swinging their briefcases round in a final self-satisfied pas de deux, and boarding the train home to leaden-footed suburban wives in aprons.
Swivelling, they vanish and I am trampled underfoot by consumers travelling home from the decked emporia that ejaculate premature West End festive commerce over the face of the city. The bowler hats need to keep moving, like sharks, and the shoppers are Munchian Workers Returning Home.
Work as death and shopping as work.
There’s a link here to a photographic exhibition from the summer, marking the Underground’s 150th anniversary. The artist is Yangchen Lin. It’s good stuff – I have an idea of my own that I will get around to some day…
Earlier this week the children and I hopped on the pink line from Paddington to Liverpool Street.
We passed easily through the station that was my nemesis in my twenties: Edgware Road.
I well remember repeatedly kicking the metal station sign there in a commuting frustration back in the day.
Nearly twenty years later the Hammersmith & City line looks as down-at-heel as I do. This is not helped, although also curiously enhanced, by taking shots with the no-flash rubbish camera on the Crapberry.
Taking photos of people feels intrusive but not so much when they are through the window, across the line and on the other platform. The Crapberry is so Crap that the potential shot that made my heart race was missed as a train rushed through in the opposite direction, obscuring my view at the crucial moment.
Where rubbish photos can’t go, the words step in. I prefer photos to words sometimes, but they can’t do everything.
Somewhere between Baker Street and Kings Cross a boy gets on with his family, fully in the grip of a panic attack caused by Mind the Gap. He takes a while to stop sobbing, his forehead leaning on his mother’s shoulder. The fear, becalmed, kicks in again as he realises he has to get off the train. His legs, quaking under his emotional overload, look incongruous in the whitest boxfresh trainers. His parents, who look old enough to be his grandparents, treat him with a mixture of sympathy (mother), studied indifference (father), embarassment (both). His mother gives the boy and his sister a Polo Mint each, to help. The sweets are as white as his trainers. His sister wears a hat and no attack of panic.
I cannot help but feel glad that the boy is not getting off at Bank. The gap there is both high and wide, probably because the platform is, unusually, curved. I would ask my grandpa why? if he were alive to ask. I think of the Central Line on the London Underground as his, although he was involved in the extension out further east, past South Woodford. I also think of the time that I nearly lost my youngest down the gap at Bank when she was much younger and smaller.
Yes, Bank is a fearsome station. The trains come roaring in there from the distance, the shiny but furious rails scream in advance of their arrival, the warm wind whooshes in your face.
I am glad that the boy is not going to Bank; riding the Central Line is inclined to make me cry.
For our own journey we have no Polo Mints, wear muddy boots and have no front to maintain. Better to ride the tube like that if you can. There must be many other passengers that want to sob and quake on the trains these days. Who can blame them?