London underground, the Tube, is a fantastic and frustrating piece of London's landscape, and, like most londoners, I love it and hate it in equal measures. It is brilliant when it works; it sets the city in chaos when it doesn't. It's a modern anthill crawling with tourists, trains, corridors, rats, rubbish and the occasional left baggage which triggers a security alert; in my opinion, it always happens at Victoria, but that's probably just because it's my underground station.
What always amazes me is the perfect flow of people at the station. Sure, there's the occasional backpacker with a massive rucksack blocking the escalator (standing on the left when the left is purely for people wanting to walk up/down; left side is never stationary), but generally, people move in a perfect rhythm. Londoners know exactly which end to board the train so they are close to the exit at their destination; where to stand on the platform not to get crushed, and the little shortcuts at the stations, marked in discreet "No entry" -signs. The stations are a big puzzle and I was so proud of myself, when I, ten years ago, finally learned the anatomy of the underground.
Years later, I'm a bit more jaded about it; last weekend's maintanence closures meant that less than half the lines were operating. I needed to travel from northwest to southeast, a long journey on a normal day, and I struggled to find a station that was operating, let alone one that actually had tubes running from it. The trip took me six hours and a lot of swearing. A man on the Piccadilly line next to me noted that the Tube was the closest one could get to hell.
London tube lines and routes are the longest in the world, the oldest in the world, and third busiest (after Paris and Moscow), and what in particular appeals to me is the Tube map. Graphic, modern and incorrect; the map is not geographical, but diagrammatic. Looking at it, you might think that getting from, say, Great Portland Street to Regent's Park would mean several stops on the tube, including an interchange, when, in reality, the stations are less than a block apart, but as they are on different lines, the map has placed them seemingly far. I sometimes amuse myself by watching the poor tourists to struggle in, down, up, down to get to the Leicester Square southbound platform, wait for a train, board, get off in Charing Cross, go up, out of the barriers and up into the same street, only a block or so further off than where they started. And the trip would cost up to £4- the tube is more expensive mile by mile than flying the concorde.
(OK, this is actually a photo of the National Rail but I just really liked it)
Having said that, I dread to think what would happen if we didn't have the tube. It is an essential part of London; the silly names like Elephant and Castle, Shepherd's Bush and Swiss Cottage still keep me amused; the Tube map which I had on my bedroom wall in the first flat I rented, and which is printed on innumerous umbrellas, T-shirts and teamugs for the tourists (including my parents who think it's really cool); the familiar tube signs that to me signal to me that I'm about to go home at the end of a long day. And although slightly sad, I love that I know exactly what exit leads where at the confusing Oxford Circus station, or which end of the platform the exit is at Liverpool Street.
That is, if the Tube is working properly that day.