Two weeks after arriving back in London, I’m not in tune with the Tube yet.
Any Londoner knows deep down that to enjoy living here you’ve got to be in tune with the Tube. To understand how it’s feeling today, to take its temperature, feel its pulse so you can take the best route through its arteries – and by association, have the best day in London itself. To tread lightly on the concrete tunnels, so you arrive at work calm and refreshed. Being in tune with the Tube gives you an advantage.
It’s tacit and unconscious, but a raft of little sociological signifiers ‘tell’ you stuff about how the day’s journey will be. You know how it is – one or two extra people on the walk to the station, a couple more kids in school uniform, a suspicious additional delay of a minute or three without explanation… hints and tips that signal something bad’s going to happen. The social signs that denote all the lags and bumps in the system … daisychained and neurally networked ‘happenings’ that sum to compression waves and other negative traffic patterns that can add half an hour to a journey of ten kilometres or less.
Catch these little nuances of the hive mind, sense the eddies in the tapestry of human flotsam that makes up rushhour in the capital of the world, and you can surf this city like a Hawaiian on the perfect wave, ridin’ a choob across the oldest industrial society. You can move effortlessly through crowds, carve your own path through the seething mass of docile bovines, laugh as people gape slackly at your apparent ability to walk between the raindrops. But miss them and you’re toast, just one of those comfortably-numb nobodies going towards oblivion one day at a time, one eye on the clock and the other on their wallet.
And a year out of my natural habitat, I’ve got to relearn those little signifiers again. Because without them I’m at a disadvantage, a blade with a blunted edge.
Yesterday, for example, was sheer, absolute hell. 15 mins held at the barriers deep under Victoria, then squished into Play-Dough for my four stops. An hour and twenty minutes door to door. I had no inkling of how bad things’d be.
Today, however – such immense joy. Seats on the train; a clear waltz along the passageways ‘twixt Victoria and Central, about 45 minutes from lock to unlock. With no feeling for how well it’d go until I was in the thick of it, picking up a few nuances from the paucity of crowds through the ticket gates.
I’m a foreigner in my native land, not speaking the local language yet.