The London Underground, a.k.a. The Tube, is the world’s oldest subterranean train network and essential for the daily drone-like commute of thousands of unhappy people every day. I say ‘unhappy’ as, despite the many positive aspects of the network of eleven lines and 270 stations, travelling on The Tube can be fraught with perils for unsuspecting tourists.
And I’m not just referring to THE GAP. The most important thing to be aware of before venturing into the depths of the Underground, THE GAP is what most Londoners fear the most. This notorious space between the train and the platform may only be a couple of inches in places, varying up to, er, several inches in other places, but it has mysterious magnetic forces that can catch unsuspecting travellers unaware. In fact many men are lost each year to THE GAP, having underestimated how much two inches actually is. Their girlfriends survive.
Do you have an Oyster Card? Of course not, you have no intention of buying shellfish. But it’s not used for that silly! It’s a swipe card that provides a cheap way to travel. It is designed to malfunction at peak periods for no apparent reason, thus causing commuters to back up behind you thinking you’re too poor to top up the credit. This is normal. Simply rotate the card clockwise, then anti-clockwise… then clockwise again. And take a step back before firmly pushing the card against the sensor. It knows if you are not trying.
What was that you saw scurrying between the rails? That’s right, tiny mice. Whilst it may be amusing seeing them panic when a train arrives and run around in circles, they do actually serve a purpose. Since problems with completion of the last maintenance contract, these mice have provided essential repair work on several lines. Don’t believe me? Well, those in the UK will fondly remember Bagpuss on TV some time ago, with its singing worker mice. They could fix anything. Tube mice are direct descendants.
Free newspapers are given out every morning at Tube stations. Metro is London’s favourite way to read yesterday’s news. About Lady Gaga. It’s designed to be read in full in twenty minutes, either directly or by lip-reading the bloke opposite who hasn’t learnt how to read silently in his head.
You may notice a howling wind at some stations, seemingly sent straight from the bowls of hell. Don’t worry, this isn’t due to some satanic influence. Ken Livingstone is no longer mayor. It is simply recycled hot, moist air being squeezed along the tunnels. You may also notice that you’ve developed a slight, irritable cough. Breathe in! What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?
On your way down to the platforms, you will also find that it is a requirement to stand on the right of the escalators. If you stand on the left you will be committing a crime. People need to rush down the left side. Londoners are busy people, you get me?
Are you givin’ me eyeballs? If you hear this, then you mustn’t think that this irate man is asking to taste a Chinese delicacy; you have just committed the mortal sin of making eye contact with a stranger. You freak. Never do this. Don’t try and come over all ‘friendly’. Londoners know your game. They can see you undressing them with your eyes. Just fix your gaze at the Tube map or your feet, alright sunshine?
As you hopelessly try to find your away around, you will probably find that you are being overtaken by people who look like they are training for the Olympic walking race. That’s because you walk too slowly. No meandering! There are only two permitted speeds: fast and faster. The last thing you’d want is to just miss a train. And have to wait two minutes for another.
The Tube gets very busy at certain stations, so you must understand that your personal space will not just be invaded, but you may also feel that your atoms are being fused with those of your neighbour. If you are small, hold your breath and resign yourself to the inevitable armpit snuggle. If you’re tall expect that you will have to stoop and try not to breathe heavily into your neighbour’s ear. Many Tube trains are small because the network was designed at a time when much of London’s population were hunchbacks.
If you encounter anything that hasn’t been covered in this guide, then look out for the helpful advice on display in the Tube stations, such as: ‘During summer, trains become hot so carry water to stay cool’ and ‘Check front of train for destination’. Invaluable.
Oh, the stations are closed? That must be another strike. Sorry about that. Tube workers need to ensure above inflation pay rises and amazing fringe benefits somehow. Not just anyone can learn to drive a train. It’s highly skilled.