One would think that there is nothing simpler than travelling by the tube. The maps are easy to read and the tickets can be bought from the helpful staff who man the booth or from the not so helpful, not-so-fast, coin-swallowing fast ticket machines. However, tube travel seems to really stump some people. So my good deed of the day is to provide some basic tips to make travelling by the underground easy. (Yesterday’s good deed was eating all the chocolate biscuits in the office tea room. There were none left for J who is struggling to stick to her diet and hence the action is labelled ‘good deed’.)
Do not buy tickets in the aforementioned fast machine booth. They are not fast. They will consume all the change that resides in the netherworld that is one’s bag. They will usually be out of order. But there will be no out of order sign. So you’ll carefully count out all the change, put it in one by one and then wait for the better half of a day before a friendly soul will come and tell you – ‘Tha ain’t workin luv’.
So you then stand in queue to buy your ticket from the man at the booth. You wait. And wait… and wait. You wait behind screaming children. You wait behind amorous couples. You wait behind old people. With flatulence. And then finally your turn comes. By then friendly man at the booth has gone for his tea break and the fast tickets machine has been fixed. And not wanting to be left out, it too has a long queue.
Hopefully you’ll be able to purchase a ticket sometime in this century. Next is to find a map. Now London Underground is wonderful. They print these lovely pocket maps with Underground Art on the cover. These maps are free and can be found at every station. Not really. Where they can be found is in the fist of the child who was wailing in the queue. Remember her? The cute little critter who spit on you? In order to shut baby darling up, Mummy dearest has taken all the maps left in the dispenser and given them to her to play with. Try stealing a map from a kid. Candy is easier.
Ticket? Check! Map? Check! Poster of you as a suspected paedophile and map stealer everywhere? Check!
You are now ready to embark on your journey. Walk towards the electronic turnstiles. Put your card through the slot provided and walk through once the gates open. This sounds easy right? However some people find this the most challenging part of tube travel. Their card will go through and proceed to flash a red sign– PLEASE SEEK ASSISTANCE. Now for most of us these words are rather self-explanatory. One must go and seek assistance. Yet some people interpret this statement as PLEASE STAND ROOTED TO THE SPOT WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN AND CREATE ANOTHER QUEUE BEHIND YOU. Which is precisely what they do. They will look up, down, left and right but will be too proud to ask for help. They would prefer it if the next commuter put their card through by mistake so that they can slip through with them. I urge you not to do that. There is nothing worse than being sandwiched in an electronic turnstile in a position that you wouldn’t even get in to with your husband.
So now you’re on platform 5. It’s crowded. People are pushing. An old lady comes and stands next to you. You’d like to do the right thing and let her get on the train first. You need to make enough space to let just her through. An inch more and you’ll have all of platform 5 squeezing past you without a ‘cheers’ or ‘thanks’ in sight.
On the Aldgate fast? Good. If there isn’t a Triwizarding tournament on for a seat and you have a number of them to choose from, choose with care. I once spent half an hour on the train listening to a strange man tell me about the corns on his feet. The only reason the conversation ended was because I got off two stations early. If all the seats are taken avoid standing near the doors. They tend to be crowded and you’re more likely to be elbowed, kneed or the victim of some egregious bodily blow. Someone dropped a bag of heavy books on my feet today morning. One should really practice what one preaches.
Off the train? In one piece? Excellent. Glad to see that you’re doing so well. Now, when exiting, please follow the signs. There will usually be two sets of stairs. One, an exit and the other an entrance. There will be signs saying ENTRY and NO ENTRY. Here again, we find people confused. They think they can use whichever stair they please and that NO ENTRY is some clever guerrilla advertising done by the promoters of the recent Hindi film of the same name. It is not. If you decide to brave the No Entry side (as many people chose to brave the film) be prepared for perambulators gone wild and the opportunity to learn a few new swear words. It’s wonderful to be in a country where education is free for all.
So you’re out in the open now. Take a deep breath! Fresh air! Blue skies! Twittering birds. You deserve a pat on the back. A gold star. A purple heart. Or is it cross? Class dismissed! Walk forward with confidence my friend for… What? You need to catch a bus now you say?
That’s another post for another day. I need to soak my feet in hot water.