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Theatremonkey down the tube

September 29, 2010

It struck me while waiting for a tube yesterday that Londoners just instinctively ‘know’ stuff about getting around their city that visitors don’t. The brilliant www.goingunderground.net has the best collection, but there are more.

For example, I know to the inch where the tube doors will open at my local station – it lines up with a bit of station furniture. Even if I don’t know a station too well, I can still figure out where the doors will open.

How? Read the platform slabs. A slightly worn section of yellow line is part of it, as “Going Underground” say, but the big giveaways for me are the black unmovable globs of ancient chewing gum. Where there are a cluster in the grooves between the yellow and white lines on the platform (Londoners will recognise the spot), you know that the train door will open just to the left or right of them. Intelligent readers will figure out why this is. Eugh.

My active, or rather (since I’d finished reading my “Metro” newspaper) under-occupied mind then went over a few more. The obvious is the old one about where to stand on a tube escalator – right… or risk quicker trip to the bottom than you anticipated.

Free reading material exists not only on the seats – but also in the luggage racks of the old Metropolitan tube trains. Take a look up there when boarding.

Each station has its own quirks regarding those “next train arrives in” indicators. The one at Wembley Park, for example is always a minute slow. A wait of 3 minutes is actually 2 or less there. Oh, and if the station entrance has a display, it won’t always match the one on the platforms. Worth comparing a few times so you know if there is any relationship between the two.

Also worth knowing is that if the time in minutes disappears, it just means they aren’t getting any data from the electric track circuits. It’ll probably come back eventually, or your tube has been cancelled anyway.

If your train finally does show up, the “let the passengers” off first rule DOES apply. Do it. And if the train is crowded, stand between the seats, not in the door space – it’s more comfortable and you will be able to get out at your stop, honest. Better yet, all Londoners know that the back carriage is quietest unless the line has a lot of stations with entrances near there. Then, the front carriage will probably be least busy.

At that point the tube clanged to a halt and I exited (ignoring the exit sign in favour of the opening before it – leads into the same vestibule, without the crush).

Making it into daylight, my final thought was about the green and red “walk / don’t walk” men at pedestrian crossings. Outside London, these are instructions. Inside, they are probability indicators predicting life expectancy should you choose to engage with the facility. The “Pigeon Manoeuvre” is embedded in younger Londoners, and quickly learned by their elders. That little forward neck movement and head twist, like a pigeon examining abandoned kibble on a Trafalgar Square pavement, is an instinct that Londoners develop to peer around stopped traffic for that lawless cyclist coming up on the blind inside.

And all that before you even get near a theatre. Made me wonder, anyway, and filled the blog entry for another week.

One Comment
  1. Alison permalink
    November 12, 2010 3:29 pm

    A very enjoyable post. As someone who uses the Tube about three weeks per year (two visits to London per year), I am somewhere in the middle between “regular Tube rider” and “tourist”. Interesting hints, and a fun topic. Thanks.

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