Ian Jones has created a mega blog compiling 150 great things about the Underground as an unofficial birthday salute to our trusty tube. We asked him to share some of his favourite things about the Underground…
The Underground brims with structural delights, some of which have been around for, yes, 150 years. The architecture can be magnificent, the designs inspired, the trains cosy and the maps legendary. But what about those things that are less tangible and more impressionable? I believe there’s equal pleasure to be found in the sensations evoked by the Underground: those feelings and emotions that bubble up among the grand infrastructure and rich history. Here are my favourite tube sensations:
1. Coming out of a tunnel
To fully appreciate how thrilling this can be, you need to be sitting at the rear of a train, facing the direction of travel and looking as far as you can up through the other carriages. As you find yourself being heaved out of the darkness of the tunnel, watch as daylight appears in the distance and darts towards you, illuminating the train as it goes, as if a hundred roller blinds have been suddenly snapped open. It’s like swapping a black-and-white world for one in technicolour.
2. The Underground in snow
A thick coating of flakes takes the hard edges off London and leaves you with a beautifully smooth, silent landscape. Yet through this wintry wonderland comes the Underground, trundling on (almost) regardless, often the last means of transport still running before conditions become impossible, and always the first back on track once the weather starts to improve. Stations become sanctuaries; trains, a reassuring, almost magical means to get home.
3. The sound of a Jubilee line train
There’s something about the noise a Jubilee line train makes as it slows to a stop, pauses for breath, then rouses itself into action again that is strangely appealing. It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s a kind of whirr and a hum and a whoosh and a purr rolled into one. It’s cosy and charming and not a little exciting. It suggests the train has a personality. Above all, it invites you to step on board with the promise of slick, immediate MOTION.
4. The smell of a Piccadilly line train
Some Underground trains have rather disagreeable smells; the Bakerloo, for example, which can reek of damp coats left on radiators, or the Central, which can feel a bit like an examination hall full of adolescents. Piccadilly line trains are different. I’m not entirely sure why, but their smell evokes rather pleasant associations – a cosy hearth, or an airing cupboard full of clean towels. If you think this is far-fetched, open your nostrils the next time you’re riding from, say, Arnos Grove to Russell Square.
5. Watching the sunset
Stations such as Rayners Lane, West Harrow and Greenford are blessed with platforms that, if you’re lucky to stand on them in the right place at the right time of the day, offer remarkable views across the rooftops of London as the sun sinks in the sky. These stations are unexpectedly aligned for what astronomers would call an ‘event’, though in this instance it’s the juxtaposition of light and metal rather than any celestial bodies. An occasional passing human body won’t diminish the effect, mind.
6. Changing directly from one train to another
This is more a sensation of satisfaction than anything more prosaic. Stations where trains from two different lines draw up at adjacent platforms – you can find them at Euston, Finsbury Park and Oxford Circus, for example – afford the opportunity for making a perfectly timed interchange. A feeling of achievement, not to say smugness, can be derived from stepping smartly out of one carriage, walking just a few paces, then stepping directly into a new carriage on a different line. This is especially true if it’s only taken you a matter of seconds.
7. Catching the last train
There’s very little that beats the knowledge that you’ve made it safely on to the last train on your line, and that consequently your night isn’t going to end with a hasty re-arranging of plans involving a bus, a taxi or even a solitary trudge through the streets. Last trains tend to boast an unspoken camaraderie among their occupants. Passengers exude a more relaxed and unselfconscious aura. There’s a reassuring sense of finality and resolution. The day is done, sleep beckons, you’ll soon be home, and all is well with the world. Ian Jones
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