just a northern song

tube sketch

While back in London in December, I spent about six million pounds just on travelling on the tube. Or at least, it felt like it. The Oyster Card was well used. Lots of urban sketchers sketch on their urban transport systems, so I of course had to do some as well. Being a Londoner of course and therefore absolutely terrified at the thought of interaction with any other person, I usually sketched when the tube was near empty. I am from the Northern Line, Edgware Branch, that was my highway. Years ago, before the trains very nicely started telling me where I was, I could tell I was getting closer to home because of the way the stations were painted – Hendon Central was sky blue, Colindale was yellow – ah, red! Burnt Oak. Time to get off and get some fried chicken. They’re all painted the same now, though the signs help.

Trains still stop inexplicably outside Golders Green for like, ten minutes though. “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of the tube stopping for no reason whatsoever outside Golders Green for ages,” as Johnson once said.

luke on the northern line

Someone enjoyed watching those dot matrix displays on the underground train (above). I remember when they brought those in, that was nice, and nowadays they even work! He got to know the voice that announces the stations very well (“this station is Belsize Park. This train terminates at Morden, via Bank“). Best of all though was the ‘Mind the Gap’ announcement, which in many places is a nice gentle FYI, but in others it is still the one I remember as a kid, the booming, authoritative ‘MIND THE GAP’, which I always imagined was the voice of the Supreme Being. Yes, the one from Time Bandits.

more tube sketching

I do miss the Tube sometimes. Even after so many years and years of it annoying the hell out of me, even though certain ticket office staff seem to deliberately make an effort to be unhelpful, even though it’s overcrowded and unreliable and ridiculously expensive…um, sorry I forgot what I was talking about.

9 thoughts on “just a northern song

  1. dinahmow says:

    I’ve just spent 6 weeks in New York and riding the Metro took me back to the good old Tube. Knock it, we do, but by ‘eck! It’s a good way to get around.

  2. Rowland Jones says:

    Many years ago, I was taking the tube to Tottenham Court Road, when the train stopped in Goodge Street. The announcer spoke:

    ‘There will be a slight delay…. ‘ bringing groans and muttering from passengers, which stopped rapidly when he added ‘.. as there is someone with a gun on the platform at Tottenham Court Road station.’ We stood in silence . . . I never found out what it was about. . . .

    PS Amazing how Harry Beck’s map has stood the test of design…. a classic piece of design

    • pete scully says:

      Yes, Harry Beck’s brilliant map has inspired countless others. There’s a great book, Metro Maps of the World, for those of us who love that sort of thing (I certainly do!)

  3. Kurt says:

    The tube stations had a very specific smell when I lived in London in 1984 – I think they still have it. Not a bad smell – just specific to the tube.

    • pete scully says:

      Yes, it’s the Underground smell. That air has been wafting around those tunnels for a century. But I remember my first ever visit to Paris, and the very specific industrial smell of the Paris Metro, I’ll never forget it. Different from the tube, but the same sort of thing.

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