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What would we do without the London Underground? Yes, we all complain about how bad it is, but just stop and think – Is it really as bad as it appears?
This review is not about prices or a history of stations or where they are or where they are going to. There is enough information for would be travelers to London from underground stations and the staff are generally very helpful. Yes they are! If you are traveling somewhere you can also telephone 0207 222 1234 – Just say where you are and where you want to go and the operator will be very helpful and will give you the direct route via tube and/or bus. There are generally free tube maps at the stations and maps of local areas. There are signs on the station to say the destination of the trains and in some cases how many minutes they will be. There will be a map on the station platform of the London Underground and good directions at the stations. The map shows stations with lifts for the disabled. As stations are being updated these are being installed. Toilets are very few and far between due to vandalism and other activities that may happen in these places. If the train stops for a while between stations there is often a pleasant voice informing you of the problems. Sometimes these little information snippets are a clear delight, so comical.
This review is my thirty three year experience opinion. Come on now that must count for something.
As an oldie always says, When I was young….. Yes when I was young, mini skirts and hot pants were in fashion, and those escalators at some of the stations are very high, so top points for the designers –who were probably men. For the combination of a mini skirt and an escalator must have made many a weary male traveler quite happy, in fact it probably in some cases left them with the hot pants! When I think I used to make my skirts from half a yard of fabric or less.
The kids loved the escalators in those days, when they could whiz down the center hand rail – they were the days before the adverts and small barriers were put up, now children have to go to theme parks for a decent ride. All the wooden escalators have disappeared due to the fire at Moorgate and they were awful, small things would get lodged in between the wooden slats and woe betide anyone in their high heels, standing tip toe from bottom to top – in a mini skirt as well. This was quite a balancing trick, left hand pull the back of the mini skirt down, right hand hold the rail.
There have always been pick pockets, I remember traveling on the Northern Line with my boss in the 1970’s and she had her purse stolen from her handbag.
I have often seen men with their wallets literally hanging out of their pockets, mainly tourists I may add and I have stopped them and told them to be careful. I have always been thanked; surely they must have the same problem in other countries. I can remember my first wage packet, wicker baskets were very fashionable. I bought a basket for about 5 shillings, that was a lot of money then but I still have it now –thirty three years later! Can you imagine using one of those now by the time you arrive at your destination it would be empty!
Every one complains about the seats and how uncomfortable they are, a few years ago I flew to Egypt and believe me I would rather sit in an underground train for an hour than sit in a confined space for five hours. On the plane I did not have the choice to get off every couple of minutes. Well, maybe I did but they would not open the doors!
When it is hot and my underground train is actually traveling over ground I ensure I sit near a window door, at the far end of the carriage. Then I either sit or stand near that... Not always possible but mostly I have no problems. The trains which travel underground do have air conditioning although I do find them noisy and bumpy. In the old days we would have sat on a horse and carriage/coach and it would have been bumpy, long and smelly. (This was long before I was born – so do not get confused here!) You see there is some improvement; in most cases it is quicker.
Smells, yes, yes, yes, we know the underground train can be very smelly, Ronald McDonald travels every where. There are signs displayed all over the trains to remind people not to eat smelly food. In fact you must have recently read about the Italian people complaining about one of the advertisements showing an Italian man and lots of smelly sausages and other
foods. Apparently London Underground has removed these, although I did see one last week!
Chewing gum, bottles, food wrappers, magazines, newspapers, passports, purses, condoms, umbrella’s, sweet papers, tin cans, cigarette ends, lighters, popcorn, crisps, fish food, pens, knickers, keys, credit cards, money, cameras, jumpers and cannabis butts- if you travel enough and for long enough you could find any of these things and more.
After a tiring day we all like to put our feet up and of course people will, on the underground trains, obviously they cannot read for there are many signs.
Just be careful where you sit. London Underground had to change their rubbish collection ideas dues to the terrorists; at one time there were no bins on the platforms as they had to be removed. Now they do have plastic transparent bags for rubbish on most platforms, so that we can see what rubbish has been thrown away. Good idea I say but just remember to take it off the train with you in the first place.
These bins do help our local tramp who travels every day from somewhere to my local station. He can now see what he has been left for breakfast instead of rummaging through the bins.
Many moons ago I was traveling rather bleary eyed on the Northern Line after a late night/ early morning party! I was dozing in a corner of two seats with the other two seats opposite me. The train was nearly empty and I wandered into the land of nod. My nostrils worked first when they began to twitch, I blearily opened my eyes to find the train packed and looking to the left of me, I realized to my horror that I had the company of a tramp Good cure for a hangover I can tell you, yes it was me who got off that train at lightening speed! I do believe in freedom of travel if you have the money but come on, sorry, the smell and grime and sheer horror of what creatures he carried made me feel sick. The sales of bubble bath and carbolic went up that day!
Another thing which makes me sick to the stomach is women begging with their babies and young children. I have had notes thrust under my nose – I HAVE NOT ANY MONEY FOR MY BABIES – PLEASE GIVE- This is mainly when I have been on the Piccadilly line. I just pull my disgust and contempt face, for to me these women are using such disgusting and manipulative ways of begging. They all know where the Social Security is, My golly I pay enormous tax bills and National Insurance do they think they will embarrass me on the tube to give them more money?
Busker’s on the tube can be funny or embarrassing it depends on how you look at the situation or perhaps how you feel that day. I have been in a carriage where people have got up and danced with the busker’s friend, all just a laugh. I have been serenaded, very embarrassing but amusing at the same time. There are actually some very good musicians on the tube and in the stations.
Men can be so funny, especially when it is hot and they see some beautiful young girl displaying a curvy body. The naïve think their tongues are hanging out for want of water.
Last week on the tube a young man came and sat next to me, nothing unusual in that, but his thigh was touching mine. I shifted my leg, his thigh was again touching mine, I shifted my leg again, this happened a couple of times more as I thought about the momentum of the train, were we moving so that he could not help it or was he just playing games? I think he was playing games sometimes it is difficult to tell. Still I am in my fifties and if young men……ha ha.
I must say as a woman gets older or maybe it is just in my case I find the men on the tube rather amusing. I suppose in some ways I feel safer now I am older. Naturally not so many men look at me these days although I must admit quite a few do (Yes even the younger ones!) When I was younger I would look away. Now I don’t, sometimes I may even eye them up and down – the golden rule on the tube is never to have eye contact, so I look from the neck down – and when I think they are not looking I will then look at their face. Am I joking? I will let you decide.
Many years ago I was traveling home with the young children when a man sat opposite us. It was a long journey and he kept looking at us, I ignored him as I usually do no eye contact but awareness on ALERT. Further along the line a woman got on the train and noticed the man, she kept looking at us and looking at him, I could see fear in her face. I could have got off and gone into another carriage but with buggies and young children I did not want to do this as it meant getting another train and waiting in an unknown station. All these things went through my mind. Finally I arrived at my destination only to see that he was getting off there too. I remained with the other people who got off and went to the ticket collector and asked him if I could just stay with him for a short while as some man was acting a bit creepy. We waited for five minutes but there was no guarantee that he was not outside. I lived literally five minutes away. I went outside the station and got in a black cab. The man disappeared in the opposite direction.
Ah the old days, traveling on the district line with my young son, having just learned the word -DADDY – He repeated this over and over again and the carriage was packed with Chelsea supporters, mostly men. Embarrassing and amusing at the same time.
Thinking about babies
Are we as a nation so obese that we cannot tell the difference between pregnant women and fat people? Come on if you see a pregnant woman offer your seat. Today most of us can see a pregnant woman as the fashion does seem to be to stick it in your face with naked flesh and possibly a shiny belly ornament just to get your attention.
My friend once arranged for me to go out with her neighbour, apparently he had seen me going to her house and had fallen big time for me. He pestered her for months to arrange a date. She told me his history as she had known him years and he sounded okay. I wanted to go to an art gallery the following week so I thought if he is that keen! He will suffer that! I met him at our local tube station, I won’t go into the details of the date but it was hilarious. However I made a mistake upon choosing my tube seat, I sat by the open window and he sat next to me, now I had only just met him and instead of sitting next to me and just turning his head to talk to me - he turned his whole body facing me, sounds like a contortionist? (He did look like one) But he was literally in my face all the way to the West End. With adoring, searching eyes, like he wanted to get right inside my head, he probably had other ideas as well but we will not go into that! I must have looked like a trapped rabbit stuck between the wall/door/window and him. I remember the funny looks I had from people as I squashed myself up against the wall of the train.
I think that every one thinks why, oh why does it always happen to me? There always appears to be some rather odd person either sitting opposite, next to or standing in front of me. This is not really so but it is just that we remember these people. I think that is why there is always a newsagent at a station. TIP – always take something to hide your face in. Even if you cannot read. There is always the problem of dangerous people and I remember very clearly an incident which really frightened me. A man with a tool kit bag and a tool belt got on the tube. As soon as the doors closed he began to shout Police are Pigs, he started to swear and bang a wooden mallet on the floor. He then got a spray can and sprayed the windows with Police are pigs, they jailed an innocent man. What did I do? Come on what would you do? I am ashamed, yes I hid behind my newspaper, am I a coward? I do not think so, I just wanted to live another day. The rest of the carriage did too. So you hide, pretend to sleep, read the advertisements on the tube or inspect your shoes. At the next station we nearly all got off and he was reported to the transport police
When my children were young I taught them the dangers of strangers and what they should do if they were ever in trouble. One piece of advice was - if you are at or by a station go and tell the station master or failing that one of the employees. I thought they are responsible people who are aware of danger on the underground. My son was attacked one Sunday lunch time and had his £70 coat removed from his back. He was just outside an open fronted station. He immediately reported it to a London Underground worker, naturally my son was scared. The reply “It’s nothing to do with me it did not happen in the station foyer” There was no consideration for my son’s state of unhappiness. We got the coat back through people we knew. We did not contact the police. That SAME Sunday evening my stepson was traveling home from work about 10.30. Four or five youths teased him on the train, a long story but his jewelry and mobile phone was taken from him and they would not let him off at our home station. After banging his head against the door of the train, while everyone sat and watched they let him off at the next stop. He had no money so he walked home. The police arrived three hours later, we discussed both incidents and they asked whether we had reported the lunch time one. Our reply “What is the point” A few weeks later we received a standard letter from the transport police “Sorry to hear about the recent attack… There is a support group….” That was that. What can you do? Sadly today if you stand up to the thugs and bullies you will probably be stabbed to death.
Talking about youths, a group of them can be intimidating, for they can be so rude. One day I was traveling home from the hospital and a group came and sat around me and another man. They were about 18 – 20 years old swearing, showing off and just chatting to one another. The man got up immediately and left the train, the youths insulted him. I was going to get up and thought No! Why should I? Then I thought hang on, my son and step son are their ages, just act like you were sitting with them. So I did, with a bemused look upon my face and it was the most amusing and interesting people experience I have had for a long time. They did not talk or verbally abuse me but were very aware that I was there. One of the young lads was trying to impress me with his recall of his bad habits at home .Every now and then he looked in my direction, his friend noticed what he was doing and started to do the same, only he was talking about when he had stolen something and got caught and all the experiences he had. Then there was talk about drugs, girls and then to cap it all school. When I got off they just said bye! I still laugh at this now, of course we do have to be careful but I suppose experience of people helps you become aware of dangerous situations or just youths showing off. I do love to watch people; these youths were a wonderful mixture of characters, worthy of a film or book. They were all front and bravado.
I always take a bottle or two of water on the tube with me; in fact the advertisements for tube travel recommend this. Only a few months ago a lady alighted from a carriage in front of me and looked a bit wobbly on her feet. I asked her if she was okay and needed help. She said she was fine, but I could see she was not, I suggested she sat down. She did and then took out her asthma pump. I waited with her, it was a hot day, and she was sweating profusely. I told her I had water but I had drunk some already but if she just wanted to put some on her hands and cool her neck and wrists she was welcome to it. She nodded then as I took the water from my bag she grabbed it from my hand and immediately began to gulp half the contents down. Then she said thank you as she pushed it in her bag! When it appeared I could not do any more and she wanted to rest I went to the ticket office and told them about her and they watched her on the CCTV – Okay I admit they are good for some things. CCTV is at all the stations and I do actually think this is an excellent idea –for stations.
As far as I am concerned I think that London Underground has served me extremely well over thirty three years – I do not believe they are the real problem.
The real problem is people – For they are the ones who seem to cause all the problems. They may smell like a glue factory or to the other extreme, the perfumery department at an airport. They are the ones who bring the fleas and bugs on their clothing. Many have no manners what so ever and push and shove people to get out of their way.
Psychological pastimes seem in abundance as people may move their foot two cms forward to gain more space or sneer at you with contempt for carrying a suitcase. They may deliberately put their armpit in your face or some men may even undo their flies or sit and play pocket billiards to while away the time. Children may jump all over the seats and wipe their snotty noses on their hands then wipe them on the seats as well while parents ignore them.
Only yesterday the man sitting next to me was crunching his crisps so loud at 6.45 in the morning and I never realized crisps could smell so foul. Every one was looking at him, I glanced sideways then I realized his walkman was so loud that even I could hear it – It was a golden wonder that he could not hear his own crunching.
If only, if only people would be more considerate, the London Underground would not be half as bad as it appears to be. Then we could really complain about late trains or the wrong kind of snow on the track, or the autumn leaves being the wrong size. Or the rain being wet……
You write beautifully. I really enjoyed this review. (i may be biased as i am one of the nice operators on 0207 222 1234 )!!!!
james564 12.02.2005 19:42
I hate covent garden station, i emailed the customer services place once and they told me that escalators will never be installed and its 0.16km from another station - CLOSE COVENT GARDEN STATION! have you ever noticed that when you see a begger, the child (if its a boy) is always wearing designer + expensive football boots! i have witnessed this tons in the subway to South Kensington station! E review
Reynarda 16.12.2004 20:11
I am relatively new to tube travel - thanks for your review - it was veyr useful! Jo
The seminal and pioneering London Underground is more than a mass transportation network - ... more
it is a style icon, its history involving some of the most important architects and artists of their time. From Frank Pick's vision to Metroland and Holden's innovative designs, David Long expertly weaves the story of the Underground - its abundance of characters (some good, some not so good), design firsts and brand identity - with Jane Magarigal's atmospheric photography. From suburban expansion to Blitz bombings and Soviet adulation, this book celebrates what remains a magnificent engineering and aesthetic achievement while providing an affectionate if slightly elegiac portrait of a London which is now gone for good.