Years after the Spear’s columnist gave up riding the tube, Alessandro Tomé returns to the London Underground for an unforgettable journey to nowhere
A confession: I admit to not having used public transport for years now. Is it a decade? I should say at this point that my longstanding refusal to visit the underground has a history behind it: escaping the tube had long been a motivation for me to work harder. And it is completely coincidental that this decision happened at around the same time of the tragic London attacks in 2005. Completely. Well sort of.
As it happens, I’d never particularly liked riding the tubes to begin with. It wasn’t as if I was jettisoning a habit that made me profoundly happy, or surrendering some special pleasure. This was a vase that was already noticeably if elegantly cracked: all I did was give it that last casual tap. And smash. No more tubes.
When discussing this non-use of public transport with friends and colleagues, I always focused on all the other reasons I stopped using it. I argued vehemently that I would be delighted to use the system if only it worked efficiently. I managed to convince myself – and who knows, maybe a few of my obliging listeners – that this really was the reason for my not doing so.
But then, all at once, my resolve began to waver. After much criticism from several quarters – including Angel Wife who became an overnight proponent of tube use after one pleasant ride – I finally relented one Saturday afternoon. On that otherwise auspicious day, we came across the spanking new – and here was the shock, clean and modern-looking – tube station in Victoria.
Shall I say that I relented? Or is it better to claim that I was emboldened? Or was it Angel Wife who duped me into it all? All I know is that I succumbed to some faint machoism and agreed to grab the tube back to High Street Ken. A quick check on the map inside the still neat station confirmed it was a direct ride on something called the Circle Line, which had a faintly Yellow Brick Road look of golden promise. I observed the Oyster card advertisements, and marvelled inwardly at the stupidity of the name.
As we descended, more like Dainty led by a Virgin than Dante led by Virgil, into the depths, the neat look rapidly transformed into something which still sends shivers down the spine. I duly daintily trembled. The messy, dirty, narrow, semi-built, cables were still there: welcome once more to the dank and damp, the under-maintained and grotty underbelly of London. As we drew down the circles of the Inferno, we found a damned world of closed-off entrances and eternal disruption, of rumoured disaster on impersonal loudspeakers, all like brainwashing leitmotivs in North Korea.
There was no train in view, as we huddled on an overcrowded platform. As I waited, like a soul brooding on damnation, all hope left. The people kept accruing. The announcements wittered on.
All my fears had been confirmed. A growlingly loud argument between passengers tipped me into despair, and I couldn’t take it anymore. There was nothing for it – I fled, taking Angel Wife with me. (And a very nice girl tried to get us a ticket refund – by then, I was wholly dependent on the kindness of strangers, and I shall always remember her fondly.)
The powers that be can try and mess up car transport but I am still going to use it, until the Great British government starts really spending its money wisely on public transport to make it useable by all people rather than just those who have no choice.
But dear reader, there is one virtue to the tube: when you emerge choking from that dust-hole, you know how pleasant the air of the living world, even if London’s polluted version, is after that journey into the eighth circle of Dainty hell. From now on I’m sticking to my or anyone’s car.