Appreciating the London Underground

In the last 10 years of my life, I must have been on the London Underground countless of times. Every time, I never fail to hate travelling in it. The trains are cramped and dirty, the seats threadbare and mouldy, the train tracks look old and worn, and I especially hate the ear-piercing screeches that announce the union of metal wheels and metal rails. I dislike navigating my way through the meandering tunnels leading to the platforms, and I detest the distinct lack of escalators in this city with its travellers galore. Nevertheless, the thing that always leaves me feeling suffocated is the sheer number of people hurrying past you. There are no smiles, no apologies, no thank-yous– just one rude person squeezing past you after another.

However, I seem to have developed an appreciation for this transport system during last week’s trip to London. Despite all its flaws, I actually think that the London Underground is remarkably well-run. The stations are well sign-posted so that it is difficult to get lost despite the maze of tunnels. The trains arrive punctually. And perhaps more importantly, they run frequently– so much so that I have never really had to wait more than 5 minutes to get on the tube, even during peak hours. The number of lines, stations and interchanges are numerous, enabling passengers to get as close to their desired destinations as quickly as possible. Yet, what I appreciate most is the communication between tube staff and their customers. Announcements are constantly blaring through the PA informing people of which train lines are running a good service and which ones are not. When a train stops in the middle of the tunnel, the driver cares enough to inform his passengers of the reason for the wait. The constant communication helps me plan my journeys to travel more efficiently, and even reassures me that I am safe in my travels. The tube system really is a well-run service, and I am learning to appreciate it more than the modern but problematic and unhelpful train system back home.

***

It is always interesting to observe the people around me whilst in the tube. The fat lady in the corner has fallen asleep with her mouth wide open. The middle aged man sitting next to her is oblivious to how hilarious she looks as he concentrates on solving the crossword puzzle in the Metro. There is a white guy sat opposite him flicking through the newspaper, and the lady next to him is surreptitiously peeking over his shoulder to read about why Prince Philip is in the hospital again. The young teenager sat next to her is less interested, and is staring into space with a blank look on his face. Sat right in front of where I am stood is an Asian chap in a suit. He is staring hard at his mobile phone and making flicking motions with his forefinger. I peer over and see that he is playing a racing game on his phone. The man next to me is on his phone too, completely and utterly engrossed in his game of candy crush saga. I look behind me and notice a young man in his late twenties. He is hot!!

And then, there is the elderly gentleman stood next to the door. Time has desiccated his spine, and this, together with  a degenerative kyphosis, left him with a short stature. Time has also proven to be an unforgiving bleach, and it has dyed his now-incomplete head of hair (read: balding) an unflattering silver and white. The man is edentulous, and the skin around his lips is significantly wrinkled. In fact, the years past have all left him with something to remember them by– a criss-cross of lines not unlike the London Underground map, all scored deeply onto his face. I see him staring at his own reflection in the glass window and wonder what it is like for him to see a haggard old person staring right back at him? What is going through his mind? Is he dearly missing the tall, fit and suave young man who used to greet him in the mirror with his silky smooth skin, full head of tousled brown hair, and a charming smile with 2 rows of perfect pearly whites? Or perhaps he is pining for his beautiful wife whom he has recently lost to the dreaded disease that is old age and ill health? What about his children? Have they all grown up, got married, and moved away? Have they left him behind? Or maybe he is considering his achievements in this lifetime. He may have fought in a war, established a business, sang in a rock band. What were his dreams? Which ones have he pursued, which dreams have he forsaken? What are his greatest regrets?

People say that the eyes are the windows into a person’s soul. The brown orbs surrounding his pupils are like guards to this man’s life story. I never got to look deep into them to discover his past, present and future. I guess these are his secrets that I will never know…

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