Thursday, 13 August 2015

I Commute By Tube

For the past three weeks, my eldest son has been travelling to his work experience placement in Spitalfields from Stockwell and I started him off on this adventure by travelling with him for the first couple of days.

I'd forgotten what a full-on sensory experience travelling on the London underground at 8am is, something I did every day as a schoolgirl.  Back then, my life began when I came across TS Eliot's The Wasteland.  I met a poet (whatever you think of him otherwise) who understood the reality of my daily encounters with the hordes in this unreal city,  Until then, I'd felt very much alone with my discomfort.

On these journeys, what I've found most noticeable is not the famous lack of conversation and eye contact (this I remembered), not even the proximity, in the morning or early evening crush, of alien armpits and buttocks, nor the noise of the trains and escalators, but my re-connection with the fug of bodily and metallic heat.

Each change from the Northern to Central lines at Bank has felt like a premature menopausal episode:  I've endured whorls of heavy warmth, the descent of particles of dirt into every pore, red-faced sweat and the overwhelming desire to return to base for another shower.

The London underground is an amazing feat of public transport, and after twenty or more years in Shropshire, I always enjoy looking around at the diversity of people who use it.  Coming back on the Northern line this afternoon, after treating my son to lunch, a group of eight or so children were in the same carriage, swinging from the bars, dancing to their own music in the aisles, unconcerned about the usual rules of subdued dress code, absolutely no talking or smiling, about the looks of disdain from other passengers.  I thought them wonderful to be so free, so far underground, and I told them so.

I'm glad the tube is no longer part of my daily commute.  There's a madness about it - the multiple streams of people, the ubiquity these days of tiny headphones, and the peculiar need for tall people to bend slightly to fit the shape of the train if they're wedged in too close to the doors.


  1. I feel so much the same satisfaction of no longer using Paris underground and it was one of my motivations to use only buses in London last week.

  2. I much prefer buses too - especially the front seats on the top deck!