Wednesday, 21 June 2006

The London Underground system before 9.30am is a daily source of fascination for me. It is a world governed by its own set of rules and social conventions, a place where people share newspapers, glances, music (unintentionally) but rarely conversation. The Daily Commuters always strike me as sort of an elitest group, one that paying the peak price for travel permits you to join.

When not trying to cram size 14 bodies into size 6 spaces, they can also be found getting highly possessive over copies of The Metro.

Years of travelling on the tube in rush hour have made the rules surrounding this paper clear to me. When its on the stand, above a seat, on the floor, or behind a seat, or has been put down and left untouched for 5 seconds - its yours for the taking. I once made the mistake of picking up what I thought was a spare copy on the tube to London without following these rules and the results were a surprise even to a long time commuter like myself. Before I go on I should explain to those who aren't familiar with the Metro - its a free daily paper that makes it readable in about 20 minutes. Tube Etiquette therefore promotes the idea that when you're finished with it, you leave it for someone else. It's free, after all.

One day I was on the metropolitan line train to baker street and sat, as you do, on the same seat as another man (with the obligatory space left in the middle). He was reading The Daily Mirror, and next to him sat a Metro. I waited the 5 seconds to be sure. Checked for any other Potential Grabbers and laid claim to my prize with a smile.

"That's mine" said the voice next to me.
I looked up in surprise at the balding fat man who had paused reading the Mirror and was now glaring at me with fire in his eyes.
"Yes. That's my Metro."
I stared at him in disbelief.
"Oh right...but its free...and I just thought that..." I trailed off and he took the paper and placed it behind him, before carrying on reading The Mirror.

Needless to say I didn't dare read the paper over his shoulder. That's a move I will never attempt after being on a packed evening tube one day and seeing a bloke innocently taking in the day's news over the shoulder of his neighbouring passenger. Clearly perturbed by having to share his Evening Standard, the man promptly shut the paper, turned to his neighbour and without speaking, thrust the paper towards him. Thankfully the man understood that the gesture was rhetorical and politely declined. Eek. That's awkward.

The amazing thing about the tube is that no one speaks. It doesn't take a song and dance to draw attention to yourself, just start a conversation or laugh out loud and feel 50 pairs of disapproving eyes rest in your direction. That's not to say that they're not a friendly bunch. Oh no, fear not, if you have left your iPod at home, there will always be someone willing to share their music with you. You just won't have the benefit of an earphone.

As I come to the end of today's rant, I'd like to put a question out there. As a tube passenger, we're encouraged to give up our seats to someone who appears to be in greater need of one. By assumption, this would include the elderly, disabled and pregnant women. It is the latter that in my opinion causes the greatest difficulty and, I'm guessing, embarrassment out of them all. A 26 year old friend of mine on a daily commute was once offered a seat on the tube by a young man who thought she was pregnant. Now - in that situation, do you decline and set the man straight, or just take the seat? Answers on a postcard.


Rigmor said...

Ah, the giving seat up debate! I know that one...

cool post about the london tube. Very recognizeable. Very much so!

Daily commuting - not my favourite part of the day!

Kay said...

Brilliant... stumbled across your blog from and I use the met line a lot myself.. 18 year old student, doing some work in london, and finding that travelling for an hour can turn out to be a huge adventure.

I find that the way home is always more difficult than the journey in the morning, seems to take longer when you've already read the metro in the morning, and because trains are never on time.

And I think in reply to the last comment, I'd have to take the seat to avoid having a conversation with the guy explaining the mistake.. hehe.

Very nice to see someone else with the same kind of outlook on the tube.

the boy who likes to... said...

Ahhh, your first post.

I havent got a clue how you could go anywhere near the tube at that hour.
I walk to work just to avoid the tube.

I think the whole not pregnant/offering of seat situation could be very embarrassing. But from what I hear it happens alot.
Id probably take the seat though.


Blog Template by - RSS icons by ComingUpForAir