created by Simon Orriss
The half-baked poems, the dead-eyed stares, there are plenty of reasons to avoid the tube, but one easily outweighs all the others.
Every time I use the tube I remember why I don’t. It’s not the crowds, crushing and contagions that make these tunnels so detestable. It’s also not the worst thing in the world being in close proximity to a balding man with a chesty cough; (if you disagree then I recommend the Central Line at 08:45 as your own personal utopia).
I don’t even mind TFL’s poems.
Instead the tragedy of the underground is that it reduces London to a series of spots on a wall. That famous map simply ignores all the greatness that lies between these junctions of the subterranean world. A series of white dots connected by coloured lines may be a style icon of the modern world but they cannot show the reader why to visit these places or even where these places are.
There was a time before I lived in the capital. I was visiting a friend and on leaving naively asked how to walk to Paddington. My answer was a look of bemused curiosity followed by a mumble that it was three or four tube stops away. I asked how to walk there and there was no answer.
The actual answer was a delightful thirty minute stroll through the broad streets and leafy squares of west London. Ornate churches, shisha shops and a couple of lovely pubs lined a route 5 minutes longer than the tube and degrees of magnitude more pleasant.
That walk connected me to the city in a way that is lost when you travel underground. I was viewing, hearing and reading the world surrounding me rather than avoiding eye contact, listening to some dreary podcast or reading the latest book recommended by the Metro. Although some stations are unique - shoutout to Oval’s book exchange and the Bakerloo Line’s decorative stations - these are all bland cutouts when compared to the streets, shops and colours of the surface world.
London is littered with alleyways, squares, churchyards, markets and a myriad other curiosities. These places each hold secrets. These secrets are too easily missed when rushing through the zones. The signs and signals of the stations omit direction to the smaller attractions and in doing so deprive people of these wonders.
One of the recent gems I discovered by chance is the Watt’s memorial to self-sacrifice in Postman’s Park (St Paul’s tube if you must). This is a wonderful place slotted in between the Barbican Centre and Wren’s cathedral where people who died saving others are remembered. I’d never have found it if I’d used the tube that day.
The tube is a vital part of this city without which it cannot function; it is not a part that should be discarded. However, I urge you to walk, cycle, ride a horse or swing like Spiderman whenever possible. This is how you see a city, how you hear a city - and that is how you actually experience the city rather than merely visiting the destinations within it.
Follow him at @sdorriss