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So Birdsong is over, and the ever-widening middle class of England can settle down, cease eulogising and wait for their next production-lined, pseudo-intellectual period fluff to make them feel more cultured on a Sunday night.

As Downton Abbey managed to successfully convince people a soap opera was some sort of “high art” by sticking the characters in nice dresses, Birdsong too has hypnotised the nation. After the first episode, in which Eddie Remayne sat there pouting at Clemence Poésy for what seemed rather longer than the allocated ninety minutes that the show allegedly ran for, things finally picked up in part two. The horrors of war were laid bare as Redmayne’s Wraysford saw his nearest and dearest knocked off one-by-one. At the climax of the episode, Wraysford himself nearly kicked the bucket, as the tunnel he was in collapsed around him and we were subjected to his personal, claustrophobic nightmare of being trapped underground.

It was cramped. It was dark. It was ghastly. But Wraysford should have been prepared for such horrors, as a decade earlier the Piccadilly Line had opened.

 

I realise that having a pop at the Tube is about as new and original as those tedious people who all decided to jump on the ‘anti-George W. Bush’ bandwagon during his presidency. It became trendy to do so, and as such every arty wanker worth his salt decided to become some sort of unfounded political activist.

“Fuck George Bush. He’s a criminal, man.”

“Really? Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know really, but I saw Thom Yorke or Kevin Spacey or someone say that… And I’m a vacuous, over-impressionable little tosser.”

Anyhow, I digress. It might not be a new concept to have a go at the tube, but I often think that people do it for the wrong reasons. Yes it’s crowded, but then again it does carry an awful lot of people who all seem to start work at the same time. You can’t really complain there. Sometimes lines are closed and services delayed, yet roads are repaired and traffic jams exist and people complain about cars with far less vigour.

No, with the notable exception of the existence of Bob Crow, my problems with the Underground lie less with the quality of the service and more with the quality of the passengers.

My first major issue to these ends is the unbelievable lack of awareness shown by (on the whole) tourists. You get these cretins carrying vast bags that make you wonder (often due to their general appearance) if they have half of the rest of their family contained in them to save on air fares. They trudge around the corridors of the Underground, two or three abreast, blissfully unaware of anyone else being there. From time to time they will stop and gawp at a sign, like a school of lost Guppy fish, as if it was some sort of rare artefact that they have just paid through the nose to view in a museum. Something that should be savoured.

On arrival at platform level, one would imagine that a modicum of common sense might take hold, but no… They stop right in front of the entrance to the platform and set their gargantuan bags down, creating an impenetrable wall between the platform and the seas of irate commuters trying to get their train. If TFL are ever going to offer a solution to this problem, it would presumably involve siege ladders and some kind of trebuchet device for launching you over them and onto the train. A wrecking ball would be more fun, although might not fit in with the tourist-friendly aesthetic we are allegedly trying to convey before the Olympics.

Even once you’ve overcome these obstacles, you’re not safe yet. Because you’ve somehow managed to stand yourself in a group of gawky Spanish teenagers and… guess what… they’ve completely failed to notice you’re there. For the next twenty minutes, you stand there getting gently caked in spit, as these goofy bastards (and is there a race whose youth look as universally goofy as the Spaniards? Or indeed a language with so many flob-dispensing consonants?) shout across you at each other.

Your only respite from this assault is when one of them turns around to phlegm in the direction of one of their other friends. However, out of the frying pan and into the fire, this normally results in you getting floored by their rucksack. Oh to be in the trenches… At least then you’re armed for retaliation. The only way you could get your own back in this scenario is to intermittently blow raspberries and scream in their face for 10 minutes before turning round and hitting them with a frying pan. At least that would carry an element of slapstick. Then they could cherish the memory and take it home with them as an example of “English humour”. 

It’s not just Johnny Foreigner who is to blame when it comes to inappropriate behaviour on the train though. I think it’s fair to say that there are few worse experiences that you can endure in this fair city than standing next to two people just going at each other hammer and tongs in rush-hour.

Watching overly-affectionate couples in public anywhere is bad enough, but the voracity and desperation with which some people decide to display their affection on the Tube denotes that they:

A. Have only just escaped from a monastery

B. Are on a 20 minute R&R break from the Navy

or C. Forgot to have breakfast this morning

Jesus Christ, people. Knock it off. We’re meant to be dependable prudes, not a nation of perverts. You half expect them to burst uncontrollably out the door at the next station and just be done with it right there, in between the news kiosk and the half-mile tailback caused by an Italian family trying to make their way to Heathrow.

It is no coincidence that when Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in 1948 that “Hell is other people”, he had just returned from London. The Underground can break a man’s spirit. With the situation likely to worsen until a nadir in August, there appears to be but one sensible option: Go to Belgium, dig a tunnel and blow yourself up. At least there’s an air of dignity to it.

Thanks for the tip, Eddie.

by Harry Harland

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