The London Underground is absolutely bloody brilliant. It’s a stupendous, fantastic feat of engineering (and other superlatives) – it’s been around since the late Victorian era, and it still works. It’s the oldest underground system in the world: the first section opened in 1863, on what is now the Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan lines.
It’s actually 55 per cent overground, not entirely underground.
And it’s magical.
I love everything about it. There are around 250 miles of 11 lines, serving 270 stations (260 of which are owned by the Tube), and it sees about 3.5million journeys made every day. Think of it – three and a half million journeys a day!
When you look at how much use it gets, its success rate is phenomenal.
Plus, it’s so cheap to use (at least for visitors like me). I always get a little excited knot in my stomach buying my tickets. Then comes the studying of the Tube Map – I’m at Euston, but I need to get to Greenwich. Which route is best? So I follow the lines around, and sometimes choose my route based upon the station names. That’s true value for money – a complete experience, not just a means of getting from A to B.
The Tube Map itself is a thing of beauty; and there are animals on the underground, hidden in the map. Have you seen the elephant? That was the Tube’s first creature. Or the turtle? Or even the whale?
Yes, it’s crowded and hot; but it’s like another world. The tiled tunnels, with warm air rushing past telling you a train is arriving on a nearby platform; music drifting along the tunnels from the buskers; the station names evoking past lives, that will never be seen again.
And it’s so British. Beautifully, quintessentially, English.
Such a huge variety of people – of all colours, shapes and sizes, from all around the world. And you can’t make eye contact – oh no! You’re either labelled as the nutter, or you attract the nutter. Sometimes people ask you to hold their dog, and you wonder if you now have a dog of your own…
If you concentrate, in a quiet moment, you can hear the Tube as it was in the early days. See the patrons in their bowler hats and long dress coats, rushing around. Not so different from today, really.
And the deserted stations, the ones that are closed and quiet; what of those places? Windows to the past, mostly; populated by rats, ghosts and the things that live in the gaps. I’m planning an expedition to London Below (thanks Neil Gaiman) and wondering what on Earth I’ll find there.