Category Archives: transport

5 Ways to Tell That You’re a Londoner- The Transport Edition

Five ways to tell that you lived in London too long:

  1. You’re annoyed rather than horrified when you hear ‘there is a delay due to person under the train’ during rush hour.
  2. You become slightly enraged when tourists stand on the wrong side of the escalator (there are signs!)
  3. Your sense of time changes- it is now entirely reasonable that it takes up to two hours to get across town, whereas two hours used to mean that you were able to drive into another state or two.
  4. As long as there’s a night bus, there is a way to get home. It will probably take 3 hours.
  5. You express your frustration with obnoxious people on public transportation by furiously not making eye contact and pretending they’re not there.

London Links- The Underground Edition

Going Underground, Pt 1

As 2013 quickly approaches, I’ve decided to write this post in honour of the one day of the year when trains run 24 hours in order to help tired revellers return to their edge of the city. I’ve grown up with both a deep respect and fear of trains. My father was a train conductor and I have many half-remembered memories of gaily swinging around handrails in empty carriages and fearfully following my parents between cars in the New York subway.

There is something that I continue to find completely astounding about these behemoths, their quaintness and continuing technological advancement, the community and alienation that can easily be found in each carriage. It is completely true that Londoners expect a certain level of quiet on the train (though this can be adjusted for area, time of day and closeness to a holiday), and that any acts that stray too far from this generally accepted social contract will cause most in the vicinity to become aggrieved, furiously placing their noses closer to their newspaper of book, or turning their headphones up whilst pointedly looking off into the distance (of course, this changes depending on age or alcohol consumed). Despite this contract of solitude, there are still instances when friendships are forged and love is found. Its interiors act as an extension of the city, a social and historical map, forever being adjusted, improved, forgotten.

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Urban Somnambulism

A small pleasure of mine involves riding the night bus around London. Most people look at me disbelievingly when I say this, since night buses in London tend to host the worst of citizens, where drunkenness and rabble-rousing are par for the course. Despite the numerous problems that may occur during a night journey (though to be honest, they don’t happen that often), I still love them because they allow me to see the city in the dead of night. Living so far from my friends and the action has made me grow accustomed to the long journey back home, sometimes several hours after midnight. London is transformed in those hours before the sun rises and banishes the shadows back into memory. The night is ruled by not only by revellers, but by those normally hidden (or ignored) during the day. One of my first night walks involved leaving a Jazz Bar in Dalston late at night and walking to London Bridge once I reached Liverpool St. Marvelling at the quiet streets, I ended up getting on a bus with cleaners all ending their shifts. It’s not very often that the bus is occupied solely by young and older ladies drawn together by profession and memories of homes left behind. I luxuriated in the subdued happy chatter that surrounded me and started to think about the world that exists once street lamps turn on.

The city spends half of its existence as a somnopolis, a reflection of the day. Places like East London continue as usual, filled with the noise of traffic and hipsters stumbling from one venue to the net. But once I near central London, the streets grow empty and quiet. The only noise around is my own thoughts, magnified by the silence, interrupted every once and awhile by a few people trying to make their way home. The city becomes unreal, the streetlights giving everything a hazy glow as if I’ve stumbled into a forgotten film set. Though I am normally uninterested in landmarks, they become more forbidding and mysterious in the dark, looming sentries which stand starkly against the sky. Ghosts become more apparent, forgotten relics which eye passes over so easily when the sun is out. Statues seem to watch when passed, and disused train stations- the spectres of the Underground- beg to be touched and entered by passengers once more. This experience becomes heightened while on the bus, I feel as though I am being given my own tour of the city’s secrets, an accomplice in its double life. At this time the city is best for the solitary, the introverts and dreamers, and those that don’t want to be found.

London is still lively at night, though it is muted. While some places become ghost towns, there are still pockets of activity all around. Along the Thames, photographers set up their cameras to take pictures of the South Bank, Westminster and the river itself as ships sail though inky blackness (the river at this time gives a pressing sense of menace, leading to unwanted thoughts of falling into its depths). Once in central London, quiet streets can quickly lead to noisy crowds, though not in the claustrophobic cluster of the daytime. Diners, chip shops and kebab shops operate as they do in the day, bustling and mouth-wateringly odorous. Empty shops, brightly lit, still attract window shoppers waiting for taxis and buses to take them on their way. Even when returning home to the hinterlands of the city, kebab shops light the way, beacons for the hungry and weary. In a recent discovery, there is even a market on the main road near my house open 24 hours, selling Polish, Middle Eastern and Caribbean goods. I like to think of it as the culinary UN, drawing disparate groups of insomniacs together in order to eat fresh produce and canned vine leaves. My nightly travels even end with the same burst of life, birds singing high and clear in the trees. Moving around the city at night makes every experience and encounter more cinematic, more intimate. I look forward to more night journeys to come.

What I’ve been listening to today, serendipitously:
London Nights

I must seem intimidating

A short/poem that I really enjoy. Sometimes it’s very easy to fall into this way of thinking when you’re alone and underground.

It’s interesting how people try to protect themselves in shared, urban spaces. When in the train, my thoughts mirror those of the man in the film, ”you hear such terrible stories”. A mask is put on that separates me from those around me, acting as a barrier that I hope fervently is impenetrable, though I know that any series of unexpected events can lead to its removal. There is a thrilling and terrifying expectation that anything can happen once I board the bus or the train that can completely change the course of my day for better or worse. I want to seem intimidating, not only because I don’t want to be a victim, but because it’s frightening to think that my life as well as everyone else is based and ruled by happenstance, crossed wires and unexpected delays. But I am learning that this is simply the consequence of urban life, that the networks and and paths forged by millions of people each days act as a haphazardly choreographed mirror to the orderly (though in London’s case, not so orderly) streets, buildings and structures that mark the city’s boundaries. These daily mundane dances that we all do to get through the days render all these structures more public, more amorphous than they were meant to be, allowing for all these possibilities to occur. I am learning that I need to become less intimidating in order to do my part in breathing life into the city, making it more unpredictable and more wondrous than it was before. I have heard such terrible stories, but there also exists stories that prove London’s worth over and over again.

Tips for travelers and expats

1. Do not eat biscuits right before going to bed, your stomach will thank you.

2. Always check TFL to make sure that the train/tube is still going to your stop. You can easily waste an hour of your life and lose your mind if you choose to wing it.

3. During the winter, your new best friends are a cup of tea, biscuits and a hot water bottle. Honestly, these things may have saved my life on numerous occasions.

4. Sometimes the best way to continue enjoying London is to leave for a few days.