Saturday, 12 September 2009

Notes from the Underground

So there I was, totally done in after a week of grisly workstorms (hence light blogging), sitting on the Tube, resting my weary eyes, as it drew into Victoria - or rather, as it drew elegantly to a halt. The power went off, emergency lighting kicked in (thankfully), and the driver announced that there'd been 'an incident' at Victoria station. Not the most welcome of news on the anniversary of 9/11, but mercifully it wasn't that kind of incident but the more localised horror that is euphemised as 'a person under a train'. Fortunately my carriage was equipped with a resident wiseacre who informed us all that there had been six such incidents in the past two months, and that the last time this happened to him, it was four hours before he was off the train. Hmmm thanks for that... In the event, it was an hour and three quarters this time, with the carriage getting increasingly uncomfortable, but it was not overcrowded, everyone had a seat, there were no drunks or loonies aboard, so it was just a matter of sitting it out as best we could. Everyone was very calm and stoical and English about it - whether English or not; there were a lot of Japanese passengers who seemed to be enjoying the whole thing hugely. An air of resigned good humour prevailed, mildly sardonic jokes were exchanged, desultory conversations struck up, and everyone behaved impeccably. Even the driver was as helpful as could be, with frequent updates on 'the situation'. Eventually the power was turned on again, we crawled jerkily nearer to Victoria and pulled up just behind the train in the station, and began an evacuation that was clearly going to take a very long time - down a ladder from the front of the train, a short walk along the track (the power off again now, of course), up a ladder into the next train and out onto the platform. Those of us near the back of the train soon realised this wasn't great news for us - but at least, as we drew very slowly nearer to the front, mobiles started working again, sparking a frenzy of calls and texts which kept most of us occupied. Then there was a change of plan, the power was turned back on, and our train drew into the station just far enough for eveyone to get out via the front door of the front carriage. One hour, 45 minutes - and I was already gasping for a drink when I got on that ill-fated train. The pint of Grolsch in the bar at Victoria never tasted so good.
Does this post have any point or lesson? Probably not, but I was impressed by the well-mannered, stoical and orderly behaviour of my fellow passengers. Despite everything, we remain, by and large, a pretty well behaved and long-suffering lot. We have to be.


  1. Decent spec velocipede = £600
    Black North face jacket = £150
    Jack Wolfskin trousers = £110
    Helm = £30
    Gortex shoes = £120
    Berghaus 14 litre daysac = £90
    Bicycle lock = £18
    Dolce & Gabbana shades = £1340

    Result = transportation happiness.

  2. This is the stuff of an Alistair Maclean novel, Nige, and the ending reminded me of 'Ice Cold in Alex'.

  3. I hesitate to criticise suicides - one presumes things are miserable enough for them - but it seems a peculiar form of vengeance on the world to throw yourself under a train. Never mind the passengers, I gather some drivers never really recover.

    I really think there should be a 'health and safety' notice on platforms informing suicidal persons that there are more considerate ways to end your life, complemented by lots of Samaritans free phones. I really think we don't do enough in this area - 6 people in the last two months sounds rather a lot to me.

    But as Dostoevsky's underground character has it, people ' will do as they will'.

    I read the novel Ice Cold in Alex a couple of weeks ago (I hadn't even realised it was a novel). It's a rare old pot-boiler with lots of sublimated sex in the desert heat. Also the beer they're struggling towards is a US brand, Rheingold, rather than Carlsberg - an early form of product placement in the film version?

  4. Malty - youjest.
    Dick - Ice Cold in Alex was exactlky what was in my mind too as I looked lovingly at that beer.
    And Gaw - that's a schock about Rheingold! Mind you, the Carlsberg was a bit of a shock - at that time lager was an exotic oddity in the UK, usually drunk in small quantities, with lime (ugh), by ladies. As for suicides, they are indeed on the up, esp among young males, and I agre about the selfishness of it, but presumably by that stage you're too far gone for such considerations. The alarming thing is that some people seem to kill themselves on a sudden impulse, out of the blue. And the other disturbing thing is the suspicion that a few of these 'persons under' might have been pushed...

  5. I appear to have gone dyslexic. Sorry.

  6. 'Pushed'. Lumme. Now that's really disturbing.

  7. Transportation woes, Fourth Reich variety. Boarded a brand new Regio, in pristine yellow and grey, at Konigswinter last week, six carriages numbered one thro to six, we opted for number one. After ten minutes the ticket inspector, Rosa Krebs, appeared, "nein, nein, nein" she intoned, "wot" I replied, "first class only" she spat, in German, "sorry", we replied, in German (quite hard really, there is no equivalent to sorry in Krautesque,)as we slunk into the second class hovel of a carriage, the new Regios decline to use clear signage, unusual for DB.
    Konigswinter well worth adding to your itinerary, Drachenfels castle in the Siebengebirge (seven hills) is the home of misc Nibelungen and of course himself, Siegfried.

    Suicides ain't effing amusing, at all, a very dear friend, a farmer. found his father hanging about one morning, from a Beech tree. It is an act that is at the same time, utterly selfish but absolutely understandable, never, under any circumstance open to criticism.
    There man, but for the grace of, go we.

  8. Start reading some Icelandic literature (or Scandinavian, Nordic, very Northern European) and you will find suicide a regular theme (along with alcoholism and endlessly cold winters). Something Arnaldur Indridason's police detective is always having to deal with (he specializes in missing persons) is the likelihood that the disappeared did so on purpose and forever.

  9. Agreed, Malty. Suicide stops having a funny side as soon as it happens to someone you know.

  10. In Göteborg, Susan, behind the Volvo plant, is a steep escarpment, known locally as suicide leap. Some years ago the local ambulances would hang around the base, on the off chance.

  11. I'm with Brit and Malty, although the survivors do have tales laced with black humour. I did meet one chap who tried to jump under a train and missed, instead plunging down a steep embankment and into the bramble bushes at the bottom. Apart from a broken leg he was perfectly all right.

    But no, I don't mind the delays when that grim message has occasionally come through from the driver. The whole thing is awful. In the meantime, my suggestion is that Nige considers a Ducati 1000S, a take on a 1970s classic and surely an ideal steed for a boulevardier. Add on Malty's clothing - I'd suggest a better helmet - and there might even be enough left from ten large for a decent cigar. Besides, how many season tickets would that buy these days?

  12. Good suggestion Mark. There may be, however, a health and safety issue, picture, if you will the scene....Vauxhall Bridge Rd, early morning, Carshalton left far behind in a haze of burnt Castrol R, Nige, astride the Ducati had that morning topped out his attire with the customary Tootal pattern cravat. The offending piece of schmutter had slowly unwound through Balham and was now caught in the rear wheel. Nige, Isadora Duncan like, is slowly throttled as he and the bike negotiate Victoria St, passers by agape and aghast.
    The media would have a field day.

  13. Well thank you all - what a fine crop of comments, and a timely warning from Malty to save me from myself. Picture the scene indeed...

  14. @Gaw and others - unless there have been 2 such incidents in the past week or so, this was someone I know. She was lovely in every way, she was not selfish, it was the tragic end of a long, sad story. If she had been clearheaded enough to find a more "considerate" way to kill herself so as to spare the feelings of onlookers (and I accept that it would have been a traumatic experience for them), then I think that she would be stopped out of consideration for the people who love her, who will never stop missing her. Who are asking "why", who found this blog because they are trawling the internet for answers, or at least information and thought that one of her friends might have talked about it on their blog. She was beautiful, she was funny, she was great company, she was considerate, but at the end, she was in despair.