I'm a London-based freelancer who writes about costume design, performance art, pop culture deconstructions, literary evaluations, reviews and bucket lists on my blog Diary of a Self-Confessed Nerd
Published August 13th 2012
The Olympics might be over but the Paralympics are just around the corner, which means that London will still be a hive of activity and there is one place that retaining sanity and keeping stress levels at a suitable with remain a nightmare. London Underground; a place where even on the best days the journey from A to B can be (and will be) a chore. To combat this I've written ten (humorous) points from my own experience on how to use London Underground and retain your sanity, particularly for someone that doesn't use the Underground that much, case and point being my visiting realities.
1.Keep calm and don't panic. If you get lost there will always be someone to help. Just look for someone in a uniform, press one of the Help Point buttons, or ask a fellow commuter. Stories have been told about how aggressive and grumpy the London folk are but honestly, ask nicely and you are more than likely to get a response and some help with using the map. London folk are human beings too, they don't bite.
2. Observe the general rules of the tube. If you don't want to walk up an escalator, stay on the right-hand side and keep behind the yellow line when you are on the platform. Also no flash photography underground and be ready to queue for just about everything. You're not going to see daylight for an hour at least, get used to the smell, the sights (or lack of) and try your best not to think of the movie Creep.
3.If you aren't from London and don't have an Oyster card just give in. Find someone in the Underground uniform and ask them for the cheapest ticket to where you want to go. Ask them about an Oyster card while you are there, sure it's £5 to register but it means you can go anywhere in London and not have to worry about what zone you are travelling through. On top of that it is capped, so use it enough in one day and you'll stop getting charged.
4. See that free map? Take one. In fact, take two. You'll have one for when you inevitably lose the first. Also, because they are paper you can draw your route on them and bin them when you are done.
5. Just accept that if you are travelling on a weekend there will be line closures, signal failures, and alternative routes set up. This is just a part of the 'London Charm'. It's cool though because while it does happen every weekend, it does mean all the other commuters are very good at keeping their contempt to themselves, and the Underground is very good at organising other methods of travel and routes.
6. Give up any preference or belief in 'personal space'. If it is rush hour, lunchtime, a large event, or just not your day then you are going to get very close and personal with strangers. On the plus side you will all be just as uncomfortable as each other, so don't worry.
7. If you have a rucksack, take the darn thing off when it is busy. You might not realise it but having a huge pack on your back means you take up the space of two people. Just take it off one shoulder and tuck it under your arm/to the side/or around the front of your body. This serves two purposes; one, you'll be more aware of it and the people around you won't be silently glaring you to death or bent in half around the bag on your back. Secondly, if anything it will also help you for the security of what is inside said bag, as well as give you some semblance of personal space. No one can shove their armpit in your face if you have a bag between you both.
8.Don't try to use your mobile on the Underground. One, it's not going to have signal and two, when it does have signal you won't be able to hear the other person on the line. If you can, well you are very lucky to have such good hearing, but you'll be deafening every other poor soul on the carriage who has to listen to what you are screaming down the line to be heard at the other end.
9.Take a bottle of water. Just take a bottle of water, just like the maps you are going to wish you had one when stuck on a carriage that has no air conditioning and packed, or are suffering from those 'signal failures' mentioned before.
10. Just because it is London Underground and you have to make compromises on personal space doesn't mean you have to become as obnoxious as that one person we all know. It is still worth following normal rules and common courteously; if a pregnant lady walks on the train and there are no seats, make eye contact and offer her yours, if you are a gentleman in a seat please don't sit with your legs spread wide; the person opposite doesn't want to see it, and honestly the individual next to you would appreciate having their leg room back. Also, no need to start playing tongue-tango if you are a happy couple either, no one wants to watch that outside, much less when they can't escape and stuck in a box with many reflective surfaces.
And there we have it, just a few observations and some of the best ways to make sure we all come through our London Underground experience with most of our sanity intact. I hope it was entertaining and helpful.
I love the comments under no 10. I can recall being squashed between two gentlemen(?) with splayed legs. It's not very pleasant or comfortable.
I suppose we Londoners take the tube for granted and just put up and shut up, unless things get really bad.
There is also quite a good selection of tube map apps that can be downloaded to phones and tablets so that you can plan your journey and even check out if there are delays and problems.