created by Dipo Faloyin
Our editor invites you to imagine a dystopian alternative London, where people actually speak to each other on the tube
During the working week, the great barrier to city life is navigating the people: a never-ending presentation of TM Lewin-decked ambition, free-newspaper dodging aggression (it’s free, chill), and packed bar manoeuvring.
One place seems to define this hive of hostility: The Tube. The underground network works to transport us from one congested environment to another via the most congested container of all. Meander aboard the westbound Central Line in the early afternoon or begin an evening on a stuttering District seemingly losing a battle with the air and you’ll be greeted with the same reception of cold nothing. Darting eyes will land on empty faces not yet shaped by the day ahead. Polite enquiries will be addressed in a tone that reminds you that there are plenty of fish in this vast sea, all of whom are prepared to kill you.
Traditionally, this is interpreted as a sign of how unfriendly we wild locals are, especially compared to our metropolitan cousins across the pond. But delve deep into your greatest desires and ask yourself this: would you really want it any other way?
In an environment over-populated beyond the basic laws of geometry and decency, the subterranean labyrinth grants solitude otherwise unavailable outside your own home. Physical comfort may not be optimal when pressed up against almost every variation of the human experience, but the silence during your daily out and inward-bound journeys creates a short window of opportunity to mentality stack your life together in neat rows; to soak up that new Bieber album in a way that doesn’t involve exercise; to read about your favourite sports teams latest act of betrayal; or to allow TimeOut reinforce all the things you could do with your time if only you had money or money.
Not convinced? Then journey, for a moment, into an alternate version of reality where conversation is not only encouraged, but expected.
Two hours ago, in your boss’s office, a lawyer from a heavily lettered firm combined phrases like ‘equitable merger’ and ‘economic climate’ to form the word ‘redundancy’. Crippled under the psychological weight of uncertainty and the literal pressure of an arm across your face as you stand on a cramped tube, the person behind you feels compelled to lean closer and gauge your opinion on whether Nadia was arguably the greatest Bake Off contestant in the history of the series. As you refuse to engage in conversation, others stare at you with the wide-eyed bemusement usually reserved for those who press the ‘open’ button on the door.
After a Saturday spent viewing overpriced apartments on roads stained with the fallen dreams of once-hopeful graduates, smeared by reality, you remember to hold the door open for your lagging dignity as you step on a train. Opposite, a stranger, high off the fumes of the Columbia Road flower market, wants your advice on Instagram filters for their #DreamHoliday #OnceInALifetime #LondonSmiles creation. You reach to raise the volume on your Spotify playlist, titled ’99 Problems and Life Is One,’ but can’t drown out the distinct sound of fellow passengers fastening their jackets to shield themselves from your cold heart
It’s 7am and you’re late, which is baffling because nothing that early should ever be considered late, but Asian financial markets are Asian financial markets. The only thing that can match your daily tardiness for embarrassing consistency is how incredibly out of shape you are. As your eyes begin to blur with the acute haze of exhaustion and shame from the 30m sprint to catch the Waterloo and City line, you suddenly feel an arm over your soldier as someone begins to explain how your stride length could be improved to ‘maximise your potential’.
I hope you understand how grave things could get. Strangers are strange and a metal contraption with no easy exit routes is no place to make friends, an environment where anger and misunderstandings were born to flourish and I fear such fury would become rampant and widespread. People who live in cities exist on the edge of violence at a place where scientists believe we do our best work – we don’t need mistimed conversations to tip us over the precipice, no matter how well meaning.
Spread thickly across a city is the rich potential to provide thousands of avenues for you to seek engaging conversations, inspiring interactions and disappointing pop-ups soundtracked by equally disappointing indie bands. Perhaps it’s time we valued TFL’s uniquely simple selling point: We will get you where you need to be, at a speed that suits us, in silence; and rid ourselves of the guilt that comes from swiftly glancing away to avoid eye contact with a good friend you happen to come across on your morning commute, because friendship should never disrupt routine. As a frequent costumer of the N25 at 3am, drama on public transport is grossly overrated and reliably leads to screaming and overblown threats.
“But what about New York?” I hear you rudely enquire, assuming I’ve properly thought through my opinion. “They’re a city that mixes efficiency with grace and an All-American humour.” Yes, but their murder rate on public transport is considerably higher than ours. Coincidence, I think not.
I am aware the peace we seek for an hour a day is readily available in the countryside, but Patty & Bun isn’t, and my friends, that’s a deal breaker.
Take comfort in those moments of solitude and please fight for the power of peace. And the next time you walk on to a train after a tough day and the person next to you leaves you in silence to battle your own thoughts, be happy and thank them, but not out-loud, they don’t need your selfish gratitude disturbing their day.
Dipo Faloyin is the editor of Smoke & Tales.
Follow him: @DipoFaloyin