I can’t help it, they’re fascinating, and often you can pick them out a mile off.
My tube journey home yesterday evening, sandwiched between walking through the grey, sleet strewn streets of London, took me via the London tube hotspots of Victoria, Oxford Circus, Baker Street and Paddington. I usually have my nose burrowed into a book. I tend to feel quite smug actually, being able to read to the end of my paragraph and arise at the very last moment whilst others hurriedly stagger towards the door before the clunking train pulls to an ungainly halt. (London overground has elegance, the underground has not.) They worry that the doors are unreasonably fast at closing and probably fear getting caught in their unforgiving grip. Though I am not a born and bred Londoner, nor a well versed one, I like to think I know the tube-dance fairly well by now.
That’s why, when I do eventually lift my head from whatever book to hop off the tube and walk (walking whilst reading, not advised, seems to work in a tortured, romantic way in movies, but really, it’s a short road towards a fall, a bump and a bloody nose), I love to observe the fellow tube-goers.
After months studying what I believe to be the Newbie London Tuber (ie, those who are not used to the underground system and tube conditions), this is what I have found, and enjoyed finding…
A Newbie London Tuber might…
- …dust the seat off before sitting down… no dear, the seats are blackened and threadbare, you’re probably doing yourself more harm wiping it with your hand than if you were to just plonk yourself down and not think about it.
- …get up for their stop way too early (as mentioned) and swing through the carriage like apes, clinging to the poles for dear life.
- …watch, baffled, as their ticket actually opens the barriers… sometimes is just gets people when it works… as if by magic!
- …make eye contact, say hello, or attempt momentary inconsequential chit-chat with other tubers. The Londoner is not likely to do this. The tube journey is a kind of Limbo if one is travelling alone. It barely exists in time. It is instead a space in which one travels from A to B in a bubble of suspended inactivity.
- …wait until the ticket barriers have closed completely before scanning your travel card. I cannot help but tap in prematurely, flinging the gates open and hearing them slap with a deafening scream in protest at my impatience. As I’ve said, the underground is a Limbo. I’m an in-out traveller. The quicker the better.
- …stare transfixed at the tube map for the entirety of their journey just in case they miss their stop or, just perhaps, the train suddenly jumps onto another track and becomes a different line altogether and they find they must change tubes.
- …walk flippin’ slowly and suddenly stop right in the middle of an entrance because, I mean, where better!?
- …look incredibly uncomfortable being that close to complete strangers. Yes, it’s unnatural. Yes, it’s probably closer than you get to your own grandmother. No, there’s nothing you can do about it… it’s peak travel in the London underground baby!
- …get excited about seeing the underground wildlife… the tiny, charcoal-black, underground mice which scuttle around completely unperturbed by the ton of metal whooshing above their heads. They’re really cute! I still get excited.
- …somehow manage to bash their suitcase and/or hand bag against the knees of each traveller whilst struggling to get to that seat way over there for what they are unaware will be only a four minute journey. They have not mastered the tube-shuffle… often done delicately on tip-toes so as to not crunch down on someone’s foot. It’s an art.
- …almost fall over as the train comes to a halt because they did not BRACE themselves and so they clatter into the businessman next to them. They giggle embarrassingly and offer a muffled apology, what else can you do? Well, other than… BRACE!
So, these are just a few of my findings. Nothing conclusive. I’m probably just giving everyone a false back story for my own underground Limbo enjoyment. But I think there’s truth in there too. I must have been just the same once… everyone’s a Newbie for a while. And please, if you know of any other tell-tell signs, add them on, I’d love to hear more Newbie-tales.