Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A lack of Underground etiquette

Generally I avoid the Tube like the plague; partly as I'm worried one stands a high chance of contracting the plague whilst travelling on it. I find the enforced close proximity to fellow Londoners, the stifling temperature of the carriages, regardless of the external weather, and the odd sensation of being trapped in a jerking, clanking train beneath the ground, deeply unappealing. I am an unashamed bus girl. They are much less uncomfortable, and benefit from more light and air. Who cares if they're slower? I don't feel like a veal calf in transit to an abattoir on a bus.
Although London's Underground system is not a particularly pleasant way to travel, it does offer an extraordinary snapshot of the city's inhabitants. Watching someone pass time on the Tube is both illuminating and rather concerning. Whilst the average Tube rider reads their neighbour's newspaper, or annoys the rest of the carriage by forcing on them their questionable music taste via overloud headphones, occasionally people do the oddest things.
Today, for example, on my way home from university lectures, a woman got on and sat down next to me. She pulled out a shopping list and a biro, and proceeded to colour in the entire piece of paper, all the way from Paddington to Fulham Broadway. Let's be clear - there was no design to the doodling, just slowly turning a white piece of paper to scribbly blue. Why?! Doing su doku or a crossword is pretty common, if you have the space in which to open a newspaper; although a shorter friend of mine has complained she was used as a convenient paper rest for someone doing a crossword once, which she did not appreciate.

People seem to forget whilst travelling that they are still in very public view. They will happily apply make-up, change their clothes, undertake an impromptu handbag or wallet inventory (thus exposing their souls to their follow passengers), even eat their supper. I watched a girl the other day demolish a large cheese and ham baguette, which she constructed herself on her lap between Kings Cross and High Street Kensington, unashamedly sprinkling herself and the carriage with crumbs. The unmistakeable aroma of take-away food wafting down a carriage when someone gets on with a MacDonald's bag, often encourages a mass movement to the opposite end of the car - no one wants to watch anyone pick gherkins out of their Big Mac or hear them slurp up the final dregs of their milkshake.

On the Piccadilly Line I had a particularly surreal experience. The train stopped and on got a man, dressed smartly in a suit, carrying a briefcase, a newspaper, and a two foot high stuffed rat wearing a jaunty hat. Now the train was pretty crowded, but this chap calmly took a seat, placed his rat on his lap, and proceeded to read his paper, around the rat, oblivious to those around him who stared on in incredulity. It was like he was staging a one man production of "Wind in the Underground Willows".

Based on my own experiences therefore I advise anyone who likes their commute undisturbed by drunken rantings (I once had an inebriate stranger give me a total character assassination based on the fact I wouldn't engage with his questions about my personal life), travelling rodents or on-the-go chefs, take the bus! Just watch out for the man on the early morning No. 14 who draws commuters on their way to work; it's like someone snapping your picture when you've just rolled out of bed. But I'll take him over the average Tube-rider any day.


  1. Great post. I love tube tales. I was on the Piccadilly Line one Saturday when a theatre group got on. A guy was wearing nothing but a cape and a pair of really skimpy speedos. He sat next to me and was joking with his friends. Then he put his arm around me and asked where I was from. At that point, it was hard to keep my nose in my book and pretend I didn't notice!

  2. This sort of behaviour is a fantastic prompt to imagination for a writer.

  3. It is indeed, and as a post script I've just had another odd Tube encounter this evening. The man sat next to me was completing a solicitor's police station attendance form with his client's intimate details, including his name, address, his crime (false imprisonment and poisoning) and the fact he was a schizophrenic. Even if you are still aware you're in public on the Tube, others may be being less careful with your personal details.

  4. Hi again,
    I hope you don't mind but I've given you an award

  5. There isn't a better way to travel around London, than via the tube. I love all those crazy charachters, I just wish there was more of them.....

  6. The subway vs bus in Manhattan is the same way! I much rather take the bus over the subway. It's quite comforting to be able to see outside and know that you can't become trapped with a bunch of crazy people! It can be amusing sometimes, but I'd rather take the bus (or walk)!

  7. Definitely - although in Manhattan I find it's even easier to walk everywhere. And it's way more fun, as there's always so much to see!


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