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What we talk about when we talk about the Tube
March 6, 2013 4:18 AM   Subscribe

The first District line train out of Upminster in the morning is the first train anywhere on the underground network. It leaves the depot at 4.53, the only train anywhere in the system to set out from its base before 5am ... if you catch that train, you might be tempted to say ta-dah!—except you probably wouldn't, because nobody is thinking ta-dah! at seven minutes to five in the morning; certainly nobody on this train. People look barely awake, barely even alive. They feel the same way they look; I know because, this morning, I'm one of them.
John Lanchester on the experience, at once aversive and hypnotic, of catching the London Underground. Lanchester's article is an extract from his forthcoming entry in the new Penguin Lines series of tube-reading-friendly books released to commemorate the Underground's 150th anniversary. Meanwhile, the Guardian have compiled a collaborative Spotify playlist of songs that mention Tube stations, for those so inclined.
posted by Sonny Jim (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also - the 'choob', not the 'toob'. GD&R
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:33 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


So why are there so few cinema tube scenes?

Because you could never feature prams or disabled people in any of them. The London Underground has its history and is a first class tourist attraction, but the lack of modern features and cramped passageways makes riding it a chore for a daily commute. Especially if you push a pram or use crutches or sit in a wheelchair or have trouble getting around on your feet. Or those hot summer days when you can see the smog you're breathing? In terms of modern underground transportation systems it is an embarrassment. I wish they would bang on about that than telling me how romantic it is.
posted by three blind mice at 4:42 AM on March 6, 2013


Londoners treat the underground not as a stage set, a place where we're on display, but as a neutral space, one in which we don't overtly direct our attention at each other.

Thats not unique to Londoners. This is true for most subway commuters on most urban subways around the world.

I suspect the reason films like The Warriors feature the NYC subway is because the NYC subway in that era was a really interesting place. The trains were full of graffiti. You might get knifed by that stranger sitting at the other end. And gangs roved around looking for trouble.

Was the London Tube ever like that? Or has it always been a soulless, rat trap for mid-level executives to commute into the center from their homes in the outlying suburbs. If so, that may be the reason it is not considered cinematic.

As a former Londoner myself, I always preferred the buses.
posted by vacapinta at 4:53 AM on March 6, 2013


Because you could never feature prams or disabled people in any of them.

Yeah. That's why, because virtually every scene of every film has prams or disabled people in it.
posted by atrazine at 4:56 AM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's odd that his rundown of media featuring the London Underground doesn't include Neil Gaiman's tv miniseries-turned-novel Neverwhere -- it was so tube-focused, it was practically a love letter.
posted by rifflesby at 5:09 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"soulless" is a bit unfair, I think - unless you were a regular on the Drain. To me the Underground has a personality and even some nice bits of design. It sort of shares and evokes the same feeling of indefiniteness that London has: a feeling that you're always liable to come across some bit you never quite knew existed. Only underground it's a bit weirder and somewhat scarier. It's not irrelevant that one knows there are whole disused stations and bits of tunnel here and there, dummy houses masking secret vents, and all the rest.

Although I've commuted on the Tube for extended periods in the past I've always felt it was fundamentally about exploring, not commuting. At heart I'm still a tourist, i suppose.
posted by Segundus at 5:28 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Tube always leaves me claustrophobic. It's not just the smallish, low ceilinged 19th century tunnels and the trains that are adapted to them, it's the advertising everywhere, which you just don't see in the Dutch equivalent.

Instead we got this.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:38 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me the Underground has a personality and even some nice bits of design.
posted by Segundus at 1:28 PM


I'll say. My local station.
posted by Decani at 5:41 AM on March 6, 2013


Londoners treat the underground not as a stage set, a place where we're on display, but as a neutral space, one in which we don't overtly direct our attention at each other.

This comment strikes me as particularly true given my experience this morning. There was a delay on the Victoria Line which meant we were sitting between stations for a few minutes. The noise of the engine died down and I realised that I was sitting in a train car with at least fifty or more people, all of whom were completely silent. It was eerie. And possibly the best commute I've ever had.
posted by fight or flight at 5:49 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a transplant to London I am ridiculously sentimentally attached to the tube, but then I commute to and from work on buses during off-peak hours.

As for films shot on the tube, Creep takes place almost entirely underground and watching it instilled in me a permanent terror of missing the last train home.
posted by stuck on an island at 5:57 AM on March 6, 2013


Let's play Mornington Crescent.

Because it's the first Wednesday of the month, I'll start at Picadilly Circus.
posted by schmod at 6:31 AM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


The tube 'soulless'? In what sense? Each line has a definite personality, history and mark upon the city, and I've met some fascinating and odd people on my travels. Rush hour is brutal, but that's rush hour everywhere, surely?
posted by toadflax at 6:37 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah. If the Tube were literally "soulless," you'd never get the urban folklore underlying something like this. Tube Gothic, man: it's a thing.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:47 AM on March 6, 2013


Let's play Mornington Crescent.

Which rules?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:55 AM on March 6, 2013


Which rules?

Standard Johnson variation, surely. Much the same, but slightly more expensive.

If so, let's see. Hmm. Maida Vale.
posted by fight or flight at 7:18 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, all right, so long as we're using the Knightsbridge '84 amendments. Otherwise I shudder to think what Mrs. Trellis would say.

North Ealing.
posted by rifflesby at 7:30 AM on March 6, 2013


Has no one yet mentioned Deathline (U.S. title Raw Meat), a rather fine and bizarre horror film which includes Donald Pleasance and Christoper Lee and is set almost entirely on the tube?
posted by rolo at 7:34 AM on March 6, 2013


Lanchester does. From the article: "There's a wonderfully bad Donald Pleasance movie from 1972 called Death Line, set entirely in Russell Square underground station."
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:40 AM on March 6, 2013


Quatermass and the Pit!
posted by Decani at 7:50 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly. You can't go to Maida Vale from Picadilly Circus and then change to North Ealing when it's a even single digit day of the month. Everyone knows that requires a double loop across the river, unless you go to Hammersmith.

And on that note:

Hammersmith.
posted by halcyonday at 8:07 AM on March 6, 2013


Well, why do you think I specified Knightsbridge '84? With the changes to double loop substitution, it's a perfectly viable move so long as your Beck's Coefficient is below 1.0, which this early in the game is a given I should think.
posted by rifflesby at 8:15 AM on March 6, 2013


*checks Beck's Coefficient level and curses* Well, I'm on a backward slide to West Kensington then!
posted by halcyonday at 8:22 AM on March 6, 2013


Ooh, watch it, halcyonday! He'll have you in Nip!
posted by Decani at 9:33 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an aside, here's a transcript of one of my favourite games. Ross Noble really caught on fast here.
posted by Decani at 9:36 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooh, watch it, halcyonday! He'll have you in Nip!

To be honest, and at the risk of showing my hand, I was taking a real chance there -- I don't have my slide rule to hand, so I had no idea what the BC was at. It could've been as high as 1.3, and I was banking that halcyonday wouldn't call my bluff. Guess I got lucky!
posted by rifflesby at 9:45 AM on March 6, 2013


Very lucky, rifflesby! Very clever. Yes. Ok, right.

Putney Bridge.
posted by fight or flight at 9:51 AM on March 6, 2013


West Kensington to Putney Bridge?

That's Bagsby's gambit, isn't it? Not often seen these days in the modern game.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes it is. I've also seen it done with a double remission through Tower Hill and North Kensington, although I understand that's now technically illegal.
posted by fight or flight at 10:13 AM on March 6, 2013


Yes it is. I've also seen it done with a double remission through Tower Hill and North Kensington, although I understand that's now technically illegal.

Not while Venus is ascendant, it's not.
posted by atrazine at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2013


Yeah, the '10 Convention outlawed double remissions inside Zone 1, because the opening of Woolwich Arsenal in 2009 made it impossible to play anything but a double remission through Holborn and Regent's Park once the north end of the Metropolitan gets pegged. Well, impossible if you're playing to win, anyway, and you know how the IMCS hates it when match after match are being won with the exact same gambits every time.

On preview: I haven't played with planetary alignments in ages. They're interesting and add a lot of color to the game, but when the guy before you takes a good ten minutes to take his turn because he's fiddling with his astrolabe, it puts a sour taste in your mouth, yknow?
posted by rifflesby at 11:26 AM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've just been handed a letter from a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales. The letter Q. Having recieved no further instructions, I'll press on.

The last play was Putney Bridge?

Bagsby be damned, I'm compelled to go with Wimbledon, knowing full well where that puts me (re: nip) but setting up a nice sacrifice play.

I predict MC within three moves, barring someone playing it sooner.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2013


Oh, I don't know, Shutterbun. Wimbledon does slot nicely with clapham junction and once you do a clapham junction, the new overground loop - seen we're playing standard Johnson rules - means one can loop right up to London bridge, which means MC is now only two moves away unless someone fumbles.

London bridge.
posted by halcyonday at 3:35 PM on March 6, 2013


Christ, the tension.
posted by Kinbote at 3:42 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I spent an entire morning in London once reading Neverwhere going up and down the Tube, trying as much as possible to be in the exact spots the novel mentions.

For the spots that I couldn't reach - like the old British Museum station that closed in the 30's, or Blackfriars station that was closed for renovation when I was there - I discovered newer spots: there's this park near King's Cross where you can *barely* peek and see the original metro lines and the original King's Cross platform, but now double up as the National Rail tracks to Gatwick. The park had a perfect mixture of tube-nostalgia, Dickensian pathos and gothic intrigue; while you're removed from the yuppie-fied Starbucks/ Pret-a-Mangers-focussed commuter crowd, you can still see St Pancras' clock-tower, there is this set of Dickensian gullies right across, and in a cold London winter morning, the only people you see there are pensioners or kids taking their dogs for a walk.

And you can hear the "real" metro every few minutes; I don't know which line it is - probably the Metropolitan - but each time the train rumbles, you get this shiver, this chill, and you get transported into the magic magic land of what's underneath London. And there was a lot underneath and above that spot; not only did six metro lines converge there, but the spot masks the old Post Office Railway (because it is close to Mount Pleasant) and the River Fleet. As always, it's never about the actual experience of using the Tube is it, it's always about what goes around it.

(I haven't played this in a while, and I haven't kept up with the '10 convention, but wouldn't the next be "Farringdon"? Northern has that double line thing going on at Euston there that could complicate things.)
posted by the cydonian at 6:47 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Farringdon is an excellent play, insofar as it's the only legal play that won't land you in Nip. The downside is of course that it leaves your laterals almost completely exposed.

Another interesting consideration is that since we're playing Knightsbridge '84 and allowing planetary alignment bonuses, I will (you saw this coming) respond with:

Farringdon! Thus earning myself two bonus turns, as well as trebles on my current turn.

The score is now 000 to nil. I will yield my bonus turn to a succeding player, assuming someone succeeds.
posted by ShutterBun at 7:53 PM on March 6, 2013


So why are there so few cinema tube scenes?

I would imagine a) because it costs a lot to film on the Underground for a large, professional crew b) the network is open from five to 1am each day, so the logistics of getting a crew and enough time to film without actually shutting parts of the network down would be near-impossible c) a lot of things are restricted to protect the image of the Tube.

I believe a lot of 'Tube' scenes are filmed at the closed station of Aldwych, which has been maintained partly for this purpose.
posted by mippy at 3:05 AM on March 7, 2013


An American Werewolf in London Tube scene.
Q's workshop inside the fictional Vauxhall Cross tube station in Die Another Day.
The Jam, "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight"
posted by kirkaracha at 9:03 AM on March 7, 2013


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