PERFECTLY ORDINARY JOURNEYS: OXFORD STREET TO LONDON VICTORIA
Print / Magazine
I know I shouldn’t, but I like London Underground. Yes, it can be cramped, whiffy and almost always letting someone down somewhere. But at least it’s still British. Who else would employ people with personality disorders and make them wear jolly blue uniforms.
I’m considering all this because I am currently wedged in a huge crowd on the platform at Oxford Circus (my feet haven’t touched the ground for ages) and appear to have time on my hands. According to the state of the art electronic announcement board bolted to the ceiling, the next train should be here seven minutes ago.
There’s a poor misguided soul a few feet away who is attempting to read his newspaper without sticking his thumb up someone’s nose every time he turns a page. A few experienced commuters are shaking their heads sadly as they watch him. It takes years of practice and a very particular type of mind to achieve that wonderful origami style of tube reading where massive broadsheet pages are effortlessly folded and manipulated into chickens with one hand. If a train doesn’t arrive soon things could get messy.
Two Tannoys have just burst into voice, each telling us something terribly important about our journeys. Unfortunately, they obliterated each other so no one understood a word.
Here’s a thing; did you know that the London Underground covers more than 400 kilometres? Which means it would take around 228571 people lying head to toe, to track the network.
A guard with a serious face has just materialised behind me and is tapping a microphone. Something’s afoot. No. It was a cruel joke. He’s locked the microphone back in its little cubby-hole without saying a word and is obviously waiting for us to look away so he can disappear through the revolving wall again.
Hollybush Hill, Hampstead on the Northern line is 221 feet below ground which makes it the deepest station in the system. That’s roughly 38 people standing on each other’s head deep if anyone’s interested.
A ripple of activity from my left has reached us and the crowd instinctively tries to close ranks like a bunch of emperor penguins. There’s a backpacker among us! Of all the species you’ll encounter down here the backpacker is probably the most curious. On the one hand, you can’t help but admire their baffling lack of sensitivity. On the other the urge to batter someone who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to blunder around in confined spaces carrying a small detached house on his back is difficult to resist. The BP looks like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, only with bits of metal stapled to his face. He’s made it to the very edge of the platform and I don’t think he appreciates the danger.
Suddenly the guard’s Tannoy kicks in. “The next train approaching platform 3 is expected to arrive in 1 minute. London Underground apologise for the delay. This is due to the strong winds.” The guard replaces the mike, sticks his hands into his pockets and tries to avoid eye contact.
Judging by the frowny faces around me I fear this explanation is not going down too well and that there may well be consequences. But the guard is saved this unpleasantness by the sudden whooshing of stale humid air filling the platform. The train is indeed approaching and I like everyone else am suddenly on manoeuvres. Will the doors come to a stop in front of me, to my left or a little further down the platform? Get it wrong and I could end up stuck smack in between carriages and effectively relegated to the back of the queue.
When the train stops the doors are tantalisingly close and after some masterful shoving and elbowing I manage to squeeze myself in behind Shaggy. It’s only when the doors whiz across my bottom and slam shut that I wish I hadn’t. To start with I can’t stand up properly, the sloping roof has forced me into a sleepy Quasi Modo with my face pressed against his backpack, and I can’t breathe very easily. I want to avoid trying to speak from this somewhat compromised position but I am starting to panic.