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10 REASONS WHY THE LONDON UNDERGROUND IS AWESOME Pt 2 (Collective Joy to Cockfosters & Other Curiosities)

March 15, 2011

So…have I convinced you yet? If you’ve read part one of my post on why the tube is frankly the best thing since the invention of the wheel – that is, if you’ve read about subterranean secrets and tube trains in the sky, flamingos and flirting and poets and puns – and you’re still not convinced (er, whatever), then read on. The tube’s awesomeness has no end…

6. COLLECTIVE JOY!

no trousers flashmob london underground

What a stage of human drama is the tube – from the miserable lows of crushed commuters united only in misanthropy to the gleeful solidarity of flash-mobbing merry-makers, it brings out the best and worst in people.

The best, though, is pretty wonderful – if not weird with it too. Take the annual ‘No Pants Tube Ride’ – one of 40 similar events on metros across the world. You’ve got to hand it to those 100 brave men and women who partook. How this escapes being indecent exposure I do not know…

london underground balloon animals

Other merry gatherings include the annual ‘London Santacon’ which turns the tube festive and red, and guerilla balloon animals. Is there anything more joyous?

It’s not all fun and games, though. When Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, introduced a ban on drinking on the Tube, thousands of people took to the tube to see out their freedom in force – half piss-up, half protest. (Tube workers themselves tend to  harness its political potential through the opposite tactic – staying away.)

In related topics of Underground joie de vivre, the Tube also inspires feats of charitable dedication, such as attempting to run between all the tube stations (400+ miles) in less than 9 months for a miscarriage charity, like this guy. Awww.

7. MUSIC

london underground music busking saxophone tube

And I don’t just mean Baker Street (groan). The buskers are everywhere – well, 39 designated sites apparently – making all kinds of pretty noise until the wee hours. My favourite is the underpass at South Kensington, for the acoustics, and singing into them when it’s too busy to hear. (One day I’ll busk there. One day). But it’s not just live music you might hear on the tube – some stations, like Ravenscourt Park on the District Line, pipe classical music instead.

I’m not sure which is weirder, the fact the scheme was started to discourage loutish behaviour at tube trouble-spots, or that it actually works – reducing crime by 33% in its trial period, apparently. Music, is there anything you can’t do…

8. DECOR

london underground gloucester road tube

Gloucester Road during an 'Art on the Tube' initative in 2006

Tube décor is random and wonderful. I sometimes used to imagine I was walking through the brightly-coloured capillaries of a huge porcelain nervous system. (Judging from this map, I’m not alone).

Some of my favourites:

Tottenham Court Road – shiny psychedelic pixel-vomit

Gloucester Road – soft, suave lowlight. This is basically a lounge bar without the bar.

Charing Cross – medieval-style pictures of historical London things! Like going back in time!

Westminster – the closest you’ll get to the Futuristic Zone on Crystal Maze (unless, like my brother, you got to visit it in your childhood. Lucky bastard.)

9. SLEEP!

london-underground-sleep-tired

Once I found myself near Charing Cross with a few hours to kill and an overwhelming urge to nap. Having scoured the bookshops in the vain hope of finding a SINGLE CHAIR (I know, right?), and for some reason oblivious to the plush leather seats freely accessible at the national gallery a stone’s throw away, my weary soul alighted on an unlikely beacon of somniferous solace: the circle line. Safe in the knowledge that it would just keep going round and round, I napped to my heart’s content. (and then woke up at rush-hour in a packed train, taking up two seats. My bad.)

Though, now the circle line’s a mutilated shadow of its former self (see previous post), who knows if you can still ride right round…

10. COCKFOSTERS AND OTHER CURIOSITIES

At university all our ‘bops’ (sigh) had a fancy dress theme. Once it was ‘The London Underground’. There were some great concepts – not mine, I stuck on some wings and came as ‘Angel’ – the best probably a huge, prehensile penis made out of beer cans.

The station? Cockfosters, of course.

I think this aptly illustrates the hilarity and randomness that pervades tube names. Just – why? What HAPPENED there? Also, what did White City used to look like? Why is there a DLR station called ‘Cyprus’? What the hell is ‘Penge’?

london underground monument building stairs

Ever wonder why Monument Station was so-called? This building is why, and it's awesome. The view is still great 300 years in, PLUS you get a certificate saying you made it to the top! All for about £3. Bargain.

At the other extreme is the reassuringly literal: Marble Arch, Monument, Bank. You know where you are with these. If you’re a tourist looking for St Paul’s, no problem (perhaps not quite so easy if you’re after the V&A…)

The names alone are pretty evocative for history-lovers too. Turnham Green – where the Royalists repelled the Parliamentarians in the Civil War in 1642!!! Monument, where 40 years later the dead king’s son built the then-tallest building in London to crown his post-fire city!!! Charing Cross – or Eleanor’s Cross, where Edward I turned his grief into stone. London Bridge. Victoria. Waterloo. 

And let’s not forget Grange Hill. TV gold.

Wordnerds/quiz fans should take note, too. Apparently only 2 stations contain all five vowels – Mansion House and South Ealing – and there’s only one without any of the letters in ‘mackerel’ (God knows who and how realised this). This is quite a common quiz question, so maybe I shouldn’t tell you… oh, alright then, St John’s Wood.

This is, of course, less about the Tube and more about London, about England, about English. To contemplate these names is to contemplate the richness and long history of the language, etc etc….

…Cockfosters. You’ve gotta laugh.

london underground platform beautiful

Let the music transport you by rd saunders

No Trousers flashmob picture from a great set by Idil Sukan

Balloon animals by Aslef shrugged

Gloucester Road by Tim Carson

Monument stairs by tht studios

Tube tunnel by the amazing MSH*

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. P M permalink
    March 15, 2011 6:32 PM

    the appeal of the classical music is somewhat diluted when you realise they do it to reduce anti-social behaviour, and if they do it at your local tube, that means you live in a hot spot. sadly, this seems to mean anywhere in south london.

  2. March 15, 2011 6:35 PM

    As a student of 5 years at the other end of the Picadilly Line, it still makes me smirk catching a Tube to Cockfosters…

    More word nerdiness: Pimlico is the only station to not contain any letters from the word ‘badger’. Or so they tell me.

    • March 17, 2011 9:02 AM

      ha me too. mature eh…
      hmmm, intriguing. how on earth do they work these things out? xxx

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