Approaching the station, its hustle and bustle, its people coming, going, pushing against the flow, lost, still, waiting, looking and checking their watches, talking. Sometimes visitors or tourists stand, confused, lost in their own world of timetables, watches and maps, unwittingly becoming little islands of resistance, around which rivers of people, who have to forge new paths, flow, tutting, frowning, glaring and staring in disapproval.
As we approach the exits from the train station on a work day morning, foreigners, diminutive types with plans, Asians, battered looking people, hand out fliers and papers, mobile phones, Lebara, City AM, some enthusiastically, some tired, some silently, some whilst experiencing an inner hell, I imagine.
Back into the station, again people back and forth, people lost, not knowing which direction to turn, coming back, reversing decisions, thinking again, wondering, worrying, have I got it right, meanwhile a small queue of people forms for the ticket office, time ticking, impatient, fucking hell, come on, what are they discussing, what are they talking about, what can be that complicated, oh shit.
Pass through the barriers, time it, time it, smaller steps, then bump, whumph, the beep, and then a millisecond split second decision about when to lunge, spare a second to let it go, or anticipate it, but not too soon, bumping into the barrier looks clumsy, unsophisticated, rushed, desperate. The point is you need to move in a continuous movement, not breaking or hesitating, but timing the walk up to the gate perfectly, timing your oyster card positioning perfectly, so that you can swan through at the same speed, as if the doors were not there, as if you didn’t notice their presence, and yet this has to belie a willingness to apply the breaks within milliseconds, to avoid the embarrassment of smashing into or being squashed by the barriers, were some kind of mechanical error to occur, like the reader not recognising your card. You have to time your step, judge the distance so your next step can be a short one to try your card on the reader again, or a long one to ensure that you can swan through, but you cant step too closely because you will crash into the barriers if it doesn’t read your card, its an embarrassment, so be careful, and be ready to apply the breaks, at a split seconds notice, when you lunge, so you can stop yourself sharpish if the doors don’t seem to open, but be prepared to surge through the gates, like no machine could have stopped you, and when you enter, seemingly timing it to perfection you can separate yourself out from all the others, a true Londoner, against all the pretenders.
Your audience, the minions and their Transport for London Underground coats, blue, red, and white, these cave dwellers, also stand and watch, and dip into help, dip into guide, dip into discipline and tell you ‘you can’t do that’ they are your audience, they’ve seen people dipping in and dipping out for years, they watch you, attentively, as if you’re wildlife, like you’re reaffirming the rules of nature for them.
They’ve seen it all before, they’re connoisseurs of a fine underground tube entrance. They can also spot the ones who care from the ones who don’t, the self-conscious ones from the ones that are hardly aware of their environment or of what other people think of them.
Bustle your way through or take it easy, let people pass, move along slowly, take the initiative, bully, scurry, dive for the gaps, get in there, bump, a meeting of two paths, they cede, you cede, you feel bully, you feel inhibited, on to the escalator, success, its moving, and its a groovin, do I stand with the masses, on the right, do I just wait for fete to take me to the bottom, or am I a mover and a shaker, do I want to move, I move, I move, I walk, on the tips of my toes, feeling fitter than all those to my right, I am moving, thinking about how much time I am saving, that they are not. I get down to the bottom, feeling energised, feeling like I am going somewhere, and get caught in the cross-flows of people, anticipating, stalling, we both stall, we both move, trying to figure each and everyone out, diving for the gap, just getting in there, catching someone, bumping someone, apologizing, silent response, silent acceptance of apology, begrudging acceptance of apology, move on, move on, down the steps, everyone seems to be in a hurry.
Waiting around on the platform
Clip clop clip clop. The train is about to leave, clipperty clop, clipperty clop, people running to get into those open but soon to be closing tube doors, shit, run, shit run for your life, it will be a life threatening experience waiting for the next train, it might never come, it might never come. So run, run, run, a real Indiana Jones moment, those doors are going to fucking close and crush my tiny mind, I don’t want to get sandwiched. This train is about to leave, shit, run like the fucking wind, and a huge leap of faith, a huge leap, as if I have wings, and I take off, and its now out of my control, I no longer know my future, I feel the wind rushing past me, a beep, an engagement of machinery, and God knows what the outcome will be…. And, fuck, I am in there. Hero.
Others get body checked, a lady has her arm trapped in the door, only her hand and handbag make it into the carriage. One guy, small, pretty relaxed, with a bag slung over his shoulder, gets on as the beeps sound, one door smashes him to the left, into another door, which smashes him back to the right, and into the compartment. That’s a Transport for London bodycheck! He falls into the train compartment, composes himself, and turns around, a little disorientated, to watch the train doors as they make a second attempt to close, contemplating how lucky he was to have survived with just superficial bruising.
In the train
Once inside I encounter so many scenarios…. Victoria Line ram packed jam packed…. adults behave like rats… black man dressed like jazz musician at half past eight in the morning traveling from Finsbury Park to Highbury and Islington delivers short sharp toe poke into my heel…. I look down and he kicks me again… I feel fear and anger in equal doses… my rational mind says just leave it, just a mole hill moment, wrestles with my emotional side, speaking of so many mole hills in my life, that have amounted to a mountain of abuse, and that if I don’t smash this this guy in the face its just another straw on my camelian back.. he growls something at me.. self-conscious I look around to see if everyone else is looking at me… confronted by this angry man… I look around for emotional support and sustenance and validation at my predicament… but the carriages’ eyes are looking everywhere and anywhere other than in each others’ eyes and mine… and I tell the man ‘You didn’t have to do that’ but he growls and tells me to get out of his fucking way…. As the train pushes through the tunnel I am seething… deliberating between panic and calm… the train comes to a stop and the man gets up and pushes me, get out of my way, he says again, this guy has mental health problems, I console myself that one day he is gong to kick and push someone like him but bigger (although I have a feeling bullies like him are also cowards by nature and would never try it with someone bigger than themselves) who will mash his face into the floor
Or you are in the standing up bit, near the doors, and you are with a colleague from work, closely pressed to her body, crammed on, you feel her curves, and the shadowy softness of her breasts, and pretending not to notice anything, you both stare in different directions at different points in the ceiling, amazed at this enforced and acceptable physical intimacy, which never speaks its name, and acts as if it doesn’t exist, and whilst wanting to end it as soon as possible, to ease the slightly ‘wrong’ nature of being so close to a married woman’s body, something physical and carnal in you, doesn’t want it to end, wants it to be an everlasting moment, wants as much information as possible, to inspire these deeply subconscious fantasies that you don’t want to speak about too much
So much staring and looking goes on in the tube. That eye staring, domination and sex, attractiveness, connection, a real physical corporal connection, and sometimes the look lingers, and you think, oh and that’s what people call eye sex, and you look, and you think, oh if only this was at a party, you would be mine. I once saw a guy sat a few seats away from a woman, they looked like they were both from the same country, he stared at her, she stared back and smiled, they were both smiling, he then moved up and sat next to her and they kissed, I never could tell whether it was the smoothest subterranean seduction. People who are inhibited, who have had too much of the day or of people, feign sleep, manufacture sleep, or just sleep to avoid the outside world; others play music, loud, pummelled into the ears, and stare at the adverts above everyone’s heads, cleverly placed, conveniently placed, for people to look as if there’s a really good reason for not looking at each other in the eyes. Others tap into their phones transported into a world of texts, photos, books and computer games. I see a Polish builder to one side of me, and a Bengali woman with headdress on the other side, both on the DLR heading towards Shadwell. They’re playing the same game on their respective mobile phones, one involving brightly coloured shapes.
Fascinating bodies, impressive bodies, impressive male bodies, curvy female bodies, odd faces, odd shapes, smelly men, who sit next to you with stained trousers.