5 May 2015

The joys of commuting in London (it's all in the subtle detail)

Commuting sucks. Being stuffed under a stranger's armpit in sweltering heat whilst the tannoy crackles with another delay platitude is not fun. Racing down stairs, around corners and cramming onto a train so you're not late for that very important meeting, to only watch the train carriage close and pull out of the station. To be kicked out from a malfunctioning train into the pouring rain on a winter evening. We've all been there.

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

But there is still something quietly adorable about the spider web of train tracks that provides London with commuter lifeblood. You don't believe me, do you? In fact if you're in London you're probably reading this now after getting on at 'your' door, hopefully getting a seat and watching the countryside slowly turn to city towers as you head towards your 9-5.



Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

All I want you to do is to look at the stations a little differently. Open your eyes to the geeky quirks literally set into the walls and floors; tile details on the Central Line and patterns on the Picadilly for the illiterate to know which station they're in, the lifesize TARDIS outside Earl's Court...

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
Doctor Who's TARDIS is closer and more real than you may think...
Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
There's even a fake house hiding an incredibly expensive Tube secret...

...the upholstery moquette featuring London Landmarks on the Central Line, a sound chamber at Tottenham Court Road tube station, the Piccadilly Circus World Clock, tube surfing...

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
District Line, Circle Line, Hammersmith & City Line and the Metropolitan Line - all in one cheeky graphic
 
Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

...the friendly Finchley Road garden statues, Art Deco station architecture, all of Baker Street, the gradual colour change of tiling at the Picadilly & Jubilee Line tunnel to reflect the closest tube line...

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi 
...the iconic tube map that defines the way many Londoners see our city, sunsets, secret shortcuts, Oswald Lawrence's original 'Mind The Gap' recording at Embankment used at the request of his widow so she could hear his voice, the myriad Victoria Line station name mosaics...

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi

...typographical styling, the disagreement of how St James' station should be apostraphied immortalised in tile, viaduct bridges, World War Two bomb shelters, ghost stations, Rivers running overhead at Sloane Square station,

Oh, and it gets millions of commuters from A to Z without the hassle of traffic (just the odd bit of fellow traveller rage!).

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
Some people *ahem* even go to the trouble of dining supperclub style on the tube
Catching a steam train on the London Underground - all aboard!
We even caught a Steam Train on the Underground one day - celebrating Chesham station's 125th birthday
"It is one of the many examples of London's ability to reinvent itself, always updating, while also paying tribute to the days gone by." Ben Pedroche, author 'Do not alight here'

As with anything 150 years old, there are the layers of history that can be found on the myriad lines making up the cantankerous London Underground, with a hidden folklore, mystery and cheeky artwork underlying the most boring commute. It's just looking for them in the right places - all in the design details. Pretty well each tube station and train has a plethora of sneaky in-jokes, iconiclastic iconography and hat tips to local stories.

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
It's not just me, see!?

Trains evoke for me a taste of England; the tolling of church bells, the delicate tinkle of a tea cup, and the chugging whistle of a steam train. It also spins an image of London; the chatter of commuters, splash of a chilled pint and the melodic whoosh of underground doors to a background reminder of 'mind the gap'.

Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
Tube Underground Commuting London Adventures of a London Kiwi
Ben Aaronovitch's fantastic Supernatural/Crime series, Rivers of London
By turn the tube can be a source of utter frustration; delays, cancellations and weird happenings; I've sat next to Russian Generals, Tibetan Monks, a box of kittens and a group of blokes dressed head to toe in fluoro pink.

But then again, that's just life in London (and if you're waiting for a rail delay to clear, let me know how you score on my 10 signs you're becoming a Londoner unofficial quiz...) See, I told you commuting could be fun - you don't even have to tell anybody. It can be our little secret. (For a few tips & tricks, check out How to be London Transport Ninja.)

Have you seen any train or Tube quirks on your travels (London or otherwise)? Monkeys floor tiles, poles painted the colour of local football teams or roundel clocks?

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