Thursday, March 11, 2010

Grey Boogers

London is fantastic to get around in. I know most people who live here love griping about the underground, but I think they do it out of some sort of obligation rather than genuine frustration. It's like complaining about the weather. We just do it, but most of the time we're not actually that impassioned about what we're saying.

Admittedly, the tube has managed to stop running at inconvenient times whilst I was on it, but I'm not bothered. Generally all the stops are quite close together and when you come above ground you'll start to see things you've been missing by sitting on a train deep below the surface.

But when they are running, and when I have to catch the Northern Line through to London Bridge or Moorgate, I really enjoy the ride. Public transport is the great equalizer and the London Underground has such high volumes of people on it, one could never get bored with all the people watching to be done.

One day I was riding the train to Borough Market (Which is at the London Bridge Station, not the Borough station, funnily enough.) when a guy accompanied by a young kid came through to the car I was on from the next one over. He was carrying an accordion and I thought to myself, without much foresight, "Ha! Let's hope he doesn't decide to play it!"

Of course, within moments, the young kid had pulled a cup out from beneath his jacket, beamed a smile at the occupants of the car, and as if on cue, the accordion came to life. They slowly made their way down the length of the train, shaking that little cup. I can't imagine anyone would have donated anything to them. The whole incident put me in mind of a delightful collection of jokes, my favourite being: "What are bagpipes best for? Kindling for an Accordion fire."

When I took the train to Heathrow to pick up my delightful kitty I was actually quite excited. Of course, the minute I had her crate to bring back, I began to feel a bit fizzy. She was under great stress from the plane ride and the rattle of the train wasn't helping. I kept a hand just inside her crate, petting her and covering her ears when the train squealed. I could feel my own anxiety rising until, because I was on the faithful Piccadilly line, the friendly English Recording said, "This train terminates at Cockfosters."

Admittedly a lot of the station names do make me giggle. Like Goodge or Tooting. But when I'm not amused by them, I'm usually amazed. Like Liverpool Street Station, which probably sounds familiar even to those who've never been to the UK.

They bustle with the ebb and flow of Londoners going about their day, immigrants trying to make a couple of quid, students heading to uni and tourists getting horribly lost. I avoid certain stations, like Charing Cross, Victoria or King's Cross St. Pancras, as best I can. Tourists are very lovely and so excited, but they miss essential rules like Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left when taking the escalator. Or they step out onto a platform and just...stop, blocking the doorway. Of course, I do my best to help them when I can, or to help anyone who has that look of utter confusion as they furrow their brows at the colourful map of the underground lines.

When I came to visit back in November I remember the feeling of confusion to see the little veins of colour criss-crossing. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it and I wasn't sure I'd ever figure it out. Two days later I was as savvy as anyone could be, having discovered things even some Londoners didn't appear to know. I had been tipped off about where to stand to line up with the doors (Mind the Gap, don't you know?) and that the train for each line was colour coordinated. Catching a District line? Look for the green bars when the train pulls up. Yes, the Northern line does have it's rails painted yellow, but the rails right by the door have little black rubber rings on them, making them distinctly different from the Circle line.

The zones aren't that difficult either and generally zones 1 - 3 have all the places of interest. I've opted out of Pay As You Go, choosing instead to fill my Oyster Card on a monthly basis. 119 quid (Wish I had a pound key on my keyboard) allows me to take all the buses and trains I want in zones 1 - 3. Course, if you're here on a shorter term you can go with a Pay As You Go Oyster Card or just buy a ticket per journey. You'll discover soon enough, what method is best for you.

Oh, and after you've been riding the train all over, having mastered it of course, don't be alarmed. It's dirty down there. When you blow your nose, don't be surprised by your grey boogers.
Sketches from my observations whilst riding the train,collected in my journal.

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