Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Contagious commuters coughing

For years I commuted to-and-fro via the London Underground, squeezing into jam packed carriages, holding a book betwixt myself and the horrid hoards. Too short to steady myself by holding onto the hanging straps, and too mild-mannered to muscle my way to a seat, I generally hogged a position in the doorway, where I could lean against the door and sway with the movement of the tube. At each station stop, I would step backwards off the train and side-step out of the way of those needing to disembark, allowing everyone else to board before once again taking my doorway spot.

There's an art to deciding where on the platform to wait: away from the entrances to the platform, yet close to one of the destination platform's exits, whilst being mindful of which parts of the train would already be crowded on arrival.

There's a joy to deciphering the London Underground map, being able to plot the most efficient route with a single glance. With the map you can work out the various possible routes, and weigh the number of stops versus the number of interchanges for each option, but only experience can inform you of a proposed route's relative merits. At some stations the interchange might be as simple as going from one side of the platform to the other (Victoria-Bakerloo at Oxford Station), whereas the interchange at other stations can be involved to say the least, as this cutaway of Bank shows:

Bank Monument Station Modernisation Cutaway

Eventually my delight in my ability to slide through the Underground as slickly as a silverfish slipped away. Too many trips spent crushed up against sweaty armpits. Too many times trapped in a tin-can with contagious commuters coughing, sniffling and sneezing.

So these days I'm a bigger fan of Harry Beck's iconic Underground map than I am of the Underground itself. It has always seemed to me that Beck's map could never be surpassed, but today I was wooed by Dr Maxwell Roberts curvy version:

It has re-ignited my desire to travel via the Underground. This map makes me want to slide along its sinuous routes and follow its curves from end to end.