I wrote an article last year on queue-jumping, and the struggles we deal with every day as Brits. While it’s true that queuing is virtually a national obsession here, that doesn’t get anywhere close to the most British thing there is: The London Underground.
The best part of the Underground is on the escalator. If Britishness can essentially be summed up as a set of rigidly followed social agreements with strangers (and it totally is), then the escalators ferrying commuters to and from the platforms is the centre of British society.
This might be news to tourists, but standing to the right and walking on the left is more than just a rule here. It’s a way of life. Some people may view this as a suggestion, but man, are those guys in for a surprise. I mean, no-one will actually do anything about it, but the scowls those people will get will be insane.
There’s nothing better than to watch a rogue person standing to the left, allowing a queue of people to mount up behind them. With each additional person joining the queue, the anxious glances only grow. Everyone tries to work out what is going on, exchanging looks with their fellow commuters and rolling their eyes so hard they become legally blind, unable to believe that someone is stood half a foot to the wrong side of a moving staircase. You can’t say anything, of course, because that would be awkward. But you will sniff and snort with pure, unadulterated by God anger until you reach the bottom and can move on the platform. Scum. Subhuman scum.
If there is anything more “British” than getting angry in silence, then being forced in to a confined space and acting like nothing has happened must be it. “Yes, my face is rammed in to your armpit, I’m pretty sure someone just pickpocketed me, my face is blood-red and I’m going to pass out from oxygen depravation, but I MUSTN’T let anyone know this is an inconvenience for me”.
And then someone comes on with a giant bag. Holy motherf*cking sh*t.
When the train part of the journey begins, you automatically have one of two thoughts, dependent on where you are stood:
- “Look at those bastards not moving further down inside the carriage. Don’t they know how tightly packed in we are?”
- “Look at those bastards giving me the eye for not moving further down the carriage. Don’t they know there’s no more room down here?”
The stand off continues, with everyone feeling about as awkward as they can.
“Can you move down the carriage?” yells a voice from the back.
Nope, I was wrong. This is more awkward.
Everyone makes the gesture of shuffling forwards, each adding a further 2mm of space. But it adds up! If everyone on the carriage did that, a 20cm person could fit on. Small margins, people. Small margins.
Finally, finally, you reach your destination. The doors open, and a cool gust of wind rushes through the carriage. Between you and freedom are just 200, heavily sweating bodies. You reach your arm out and try to push your way through, forcing yourself past people as if you’re building the Pyramids and fighting over the last drop of water.
“Hang on, is that person trying to get on BEFORE we’ve got off?”
Obviously, you can’t stand for this, and start pushing even harder, if only to shove that person back off again. It’s about principle. Suddenly, a person tugs at your shoulder, trying to edge past.
“Yes, I’m trying to get off too. F*ck off” you say. To yourself.
And then it hits you. What if I don’t get off? What if I’m stuck on the Tube? The next stop isn’t for another THREE MINUTES. What if I can’t get off at that one? Or the next? Or the… oh never mind. I got off.
Despite the fact that we do this twice a day, five days a week, for FORTY YEARS (in conditions that would be deemed unethical in prison) we finish our journeys and move on as if nothing happened. All we are left with a slight bitterness towards our fellow commuters, each one of them equally responsible for the sh*tty end to the day we’ve just experienced.
London Underground Commuters Rating: Go to hell, fellow tube users.
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