Category Archives: Underground

Off Peak

I am standing in East Acton tube station (I know, I really know how to live, me). I am waiting to get a printout of my last few oyster trips, to remind me where I’ve been. There is me, the ticket office guy, and a woman, standing silently, staring up at the clock.

9:29:30 … 9:29:35 …9:29:40 … 9:29:45 … 9:29:50 … 9:29:55 … 9:30:00

And suddenly she springs into life, puts her oyster card on the reader and bustles off to catch her off-peak train, and the ticket office guy and I, who have been waiting, mesmerised, too, get on with our transaction.

I just hope the gates are synchronised with the station clock…


The Other Reason why I Hate Underground Stations with Lifts

Ah, spring has re-sprung it seems and even though I was going to the Elephant this morning, it was still a lovely day – bright, crisp, breezy and most importantly sunny. Not only that but as I went through the barrier at the station the lift arrived and I could hop straight on and head down to the platform to catch the next train.

Or so you would think.

But no, because this is an underground lift and the rule with underground lifts is that every time the door starts to close, someone else will come through the barrier and try and nip through the door, and the door will open again and the lift will say in its specially pre-programmed annoyed voice ‘Please do not obstruct the door*’, and then the door will try and close again and someone else will come through the barrier and there’s technically no reason why this should ever stop. The first time it happens, it’s understandable – it might even have been you nipping through the closing door. The second time it happens its irritating and the third time downright annoying and the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh times you start to wonder if you will ever get out of the lift or whether you are condemned to stand there forever, you, the annoyed lift voice and a growing number of more and more compressed commuters until you have formed a mass dense enough to create an artificial black hole and the world ends in a gravitational collapse. This morning we got up to nine before someone at the front shouted ‘oh just stop trying to get on the fucking lift’ and someone at the back rejoined, ‘well maybe you could all fucking move up so we can get on’ and the doors finally shut and we all descended into the darkness, the sunshine and spring forgotten.

At this point I should probably insert some sort of plea for more tolerance, understanding and courtesy from everyone, so that some of us can retain our fragile good moods on the rare mornings when we actually have them, but you know what? It’s never going to happen, so I’m going to save my breath.

And how was your day?

* They missed a trick not getting it to sound more and more annoyed, all the way from mildly irritated through to incandescent rage. I’m sure some jobbing actor would love to do that.

Lift and Separate

There seems to be some iron law of underground lift physics that states that, where there are two lifts, both lifts will be together, and in exactly the wrong place – i.e. at the top if you’re underground wanting to get out, and at the bottom if you’re in the lobby wanting to get down (where there are three lifts, of course, two of them will be together and in the wrong place, and the third will be out of order). I have no doubt that some clever mathematician somewhere has a model proving that wherever the lifts start out, by about five minutes into the rush hour, they will be locked in step*. The only variation is if you’re carrying a suitcase, in which case both lifts will just be departing as you arrive, but that’s merely sod’s law and perfectly explicable.

There’s a corollary of course, which states that the time taken for a reasonably fit passenger, i.e. me, to give up on the lift and climb the stairs is exactly the same amount of time it takes for the lift to come down, pick up the less impatient passengers and go back up again, so that they are always smugly emerging from its doors as I come panting up the stairs. This, of course, is irrespective of the amount of time I spent waiting for the lift at the bottom, before cutting my losses and walking up. It’s almost as though they lay in wait. Lift physics is all very well, but there are times when it starts to feel personal…

*See also: Buses, always come in threes.

This Bus is Bound for Glory

I can’t help thinking that if Jesus really loved us, he wouldn’t let his friends make commuting any more painful than it already is. The girl doing the hi-NRG amplified preaching to the captive audience at the bus stop outside the Elephant & Castle was bad enough; having her acolytes blocking every single escape route with their outstretched pamphlets – think freebie paper distributors but hundreds of them and not wearing bright purple so they were harder to avoid – just made the whole thing worse.

If you were planning on making a journey to anywhere but salvation today, can I suggest you avoid the Elephant, at least until the current harvest of souls is over? Or, in fact, this being the Elephant & Castle after all, perhaps best just to avoid it altogether.

Home Again, Home Again

The worst thing about King’s Cross Underground is getting stuck behind some out-of-towner who’s busy experiencing for the first time just how expensive things in London really are. Sadly, this evening, o gentle reader, that out-of-towner was me. I had been thinking all week that four whole Euros for a single ticket into Paris from our outer suburb was a bit steep, even if that did include one trip on the metro too. But then we made the mistake of arriving at St. Pancras with my parents in tow and without our emergency visitors’ oyster cards. I plunged into the fray to buy a couple of zone one singles for them to get them home, knowing that they would be pricey but not prepared for what the ticket machine wanted. Four quid. Four quid! Four whole quid EACH for a single – a single to anywhere in zones one to six, I grant you, but that’s not much good when you’re only going to the Elephant. After I’d finished sharing my incredulity to the gathered queue behind me (sorry), two nice young ladies gave the other half their unwanted travel cards and we were able to go on our way without my treating the assembled ticket hall to a disquisition on the inequities of TfL’s latest pricing policy. Four quid. Four bloody quid. For a single.

According to all the announcements, handing on your travelcards to people who ask for them funds drug dealing, prostitution, organised crime and probably pigeons, and nice young ladies really shouldn’t do it. But in this case it was merely funding getting two blameless visitors from Kings Cross to South London without their daughter having an apoplectic fit on the way. I think that’s probably fair enough, don’t you?

Even so, though. FOUR. QUID.

I’d say I was glad to be back…

Two Turtle Doves

Look – was today international irritating couples day or something? I ask because I was stuck behind not one but two separate pairs of lovebirds billing and cooing in the queue for the quick ticket machine this morning. The whole point about the quick ticket machine is that it’s simple and easy to use, so it doesn’t require two to drive it. Or in one case, one to drive and one to nibble on the driver’s ear. I’m sorry but it was way too early in the morning for that sort of behaviour. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – it’s all the fault of the classical music they play in the underground station, especially the more low-key romantic sort. Less of the Vivaldi, I say, and bring on the Wagner.

And – to the couple I encountered on my way home this evening – that double set of lines painted onto the pavement with the picture of the bike on it? It’s a bike lane. Not an indication that you should stroll romantically along it hand-in-hand. There’s plenty of room on the pavement for that outside the bike lane, thank you very much, and more dimly lit too, should you fancy a canoodle. And, in case you were wondering what I was doing, I was trying to cycle around you, which was quite difficult once you’d both stopped in your tracks and stood and stared blankly at me instead of getting out of my way. Just thought you’d like to know…

A Moral Dilemma

Here’s a question for all you ethicists out there: how wrong does somebody else’s conversation have to be before you will intervene and correct it? I’m not talking abstract philosophical discussions here where the worse thing that can happen is that the interlocutors make a bit of a twat of themselves, but where actual advice is being given, advice that if taken is likely to work out badly.

Take yesterday, when I found myself crammed into a seat next to an American who was asking his British companions the best way for him to get himself and his luggage to Gloucester Road. They, not letting total ignorance of the London Underground system get in the way of their answer, were confidently proposing that he take the Waterloo and City line north east to Bank, before changing onto the Circle line westbound to Gloucester Road. As they then turned to the tricky question of whether it would be quicker to take the Circle line from Bank, rather than walk to Monument to change, (‘Can you actually get the Circle from Bank?’ ‘Oh yes, you can but you have to go up lots of steps and walk a long way. Almost as far as if you walked to Monument instead’) I was having to bite my tongue hard to prevent myself from chipping in and suggesting taking the Northern line up to Embankment and changing there. In the end, having wrestled with my conscience and won, I decided that the fact that his companions would be taking the drain with him and could point him in the right direction (or at least carry his luggage for him while he searched for the mythical Circle line platforms at Bank) probably outweighed the benefit of my intervening. But how wrong would they have to have been before I would have to have spoken out? Sending him via King’s Cross? Via Amersham? Never? Where would you draw the line?