On the tube

It’s so long since I last took the tube. The Thursday before I started working from home in response to Covid-19, so my last tube ride would have been March 12th. Exactly a year ago. I’m realising it’s possible to have a degree of nostalgia even for things that previously felt like a necessary evil.

I find it strange – no, inconceivable – to be living in London and to have spent an entire year without taking the tube. To me it is symbolic of London; it is one of the things that stood London apart from any other place I went when growing up. Down to the tube and I knew I was in London. Hot air, blasting through the tunnels, the noise, the smell, the crowds, so many people going who knows where. Symbolic of something completely different. Something almost romantic, exciting, trepidatious. Big city for a little kid. Straight lines and noise, not open space and quiet I was used to. So different. Wondering where the crime was, the drugs, the dark side. Underbelly. Hand on wallet, although I had nothing in it. Couldn’t see it. Didn’t know what to look for. Strangely exciting to imagine it existed nonetheless. Like on a movie set. 

Heading to see family in Shoreditch or Brixton. Later, gazing at sights and searching for records. Soho, that jamboree of sights and sounds and smells that reflected back at me how little I understood about the world. Intoxicating, scary. Years later I would realise I should stay above ground and walk. So much more opportunity to explore and see things. But back then, the tube was the marker. And now, having lived here for a few years, it marks different things. 

During the day, the crush of the commute, the frustration of the delays, melting in summer, the shortcuts and the cut-throughs, the quest for the perfect alignment of carriage and exit or change. Later, darker, the possibility of the evening, places to go, so many people, so many sights. Those outfits! So many different things to do, tribes to find, activities to test your confidence or wit or nerve, to indulge your passions or find new ones.

Never a destination, always transit, heading somewhere, so many possibilities. Liminal space, betwixt and between. Perhaps, too, a reminder that if you’re not doing these things you’re in some way not living London as it is meant to be lived, making the most of its opportunity, exploring the unsure or the unknown. 

People heading home as you head out, people heading out as you head home. Different rhythms, different cycles, different lives, loves, interests, ambitions. Always moving. Never knowing. Wondering. Who, why, where, what? A warren of warmth, refuge, possibility, familiarity. Solitude and distant companionship. Unspoken togetherness. Heading this way or that. To who-knows-where or who-knows-why. We don’t need to know. Just that we are. Doing our thing. Living. London living.   

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