Ladies and Gentlemen: the most dissatisfied passenger on the Central Line, or maybe the re-incarnation of a certain resident of St Petersburg, 1864.
As an undergraduate with an unpaid internship, my position in the obscure hierarchy of the London Underground is truly that of the wretched. A place where Darwinian laws prevail, I am as good as an insect – a penniless insect, with lungs eroded by the city’s polluted air.
I have gained one small insight: on the Central line a single waft of money, like putrid breath, can cause crowds to part – as if a crowd can be blinded by a pair of polished shoes, or believe that pandering to the spatial needs of the rich will inadvertently give them better luck in amassing their own fortune. Oh yes, the indisputable law of money. At its most brutal in the city’s entrails! The wealthy will be the ones to arrive on time.
Occasionally I am rude, and enjoy being so. Oh Crystal Palace, how I detest that stop!
My refined artistic sensibilities are not even satisfied by the underground. It is too dirty to be as slick as the U-bahn (yes, I have travelled far) or dirty enough to be as grungy as the New York subway. I have travelled so far! But still this gives me no advantage among these seasoned Londoners. They continue to stand as if asleep, without a second thought fitting into whatever corner or seat or pole they decide to covet.
I envy and despise their lack of consciousness, their dead eyes! The only way to pass those insufferable twenty minutes into play at waking them up. Success is intermittent – tactics vary from a persistent glare to an action more direct… to see them shudder into something resembling consciousness, oh what JOY! What ELATION!
But it is not all fun and games – there is also the fear. The fear that billowing white-orange fire will fill the tunnel, swallowing everything in its path. Thirty seconds before there would have been a rumble somewhere in the distance. Some passengers would have wondered about it, others would not have. Those wearing hi-fi head phones would not have even felt it. But then poof! We would all be gone. Turned into fire – our stupid faces eaten by an insatiable ball of flame.
Ladies and gentleman, if you are thinking my cynicism better fits a forty year old man, you are not far off the mark! Although I am not old yet, I can vividly picture my face wrinkling, my chin protruding and the skin on my neck softening. It will not be too long now. By then the indisputable laws of the underground will have taken me one way or the other – either I will be floating with the class of businessmen or have sunk truly to the substratum, doomed to fight like a salmon swimming upstream.
Today I chose to play by the undergrounds loathsome rules: to wear my mother’s Vivian Westwood shirt. The logo is in the centre of my chest. Perhaps a solution. Will the crowd part for me? Ladies and gentleman, we will see.
For a parallel account of the Jubilee line, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYnEYKvCu7A