‘Wait, you’re telling me there’s a tube line IN London that goes between just two stops? Just TWO?’
I laughed in disbelief as my London based friends solemnly nodded their heads when they visited up north to reveal all their capital secrets to me as I prepared to move down south a few months ago.
I grew distrustful.
‘But I’ve lived in London a few times before and it’s the first I’ve heard of it.’
My friends looked at me with arched eyebrows.
Okay, there is a Waterloo & City line but I was too lazy to explore this line and actually, I never had the chance to use it.
Until this week.
And I could see why the Waterloo & City line was one of London’s best kept open secret.
Now, you know I’ve been living in London for the last two months? I’ve been living in Tooting but I’ve had to find a new place, so I’ve found one… also in Tooting. What can I say, I love the place. But the new place doesn’t start its tenancy until the week after so I’m at the mercy of my friends to put a roof over my head until then as I’ve had to move out of my old place.
So the last couple of days, I’ve been living in Guildford, which is south west of London about 35 minutes away to London Waterloo Station. Now, you can see where I’m going with this.
So how do I get from London Waterloo to my place of work at Old Street, right across the capital city?
The Waterloo & City line.
Finally, I had an excuse to use this fabled line!
Going straight to Bank from Waterloo, I simply had to change tube lines at Bank and jump on my much loved Northern Line northwards only two stops away to Old Street.
So, when I traversed the stairs down to the Underground Station, I had a big massive smirk on my face as I inwardly lambasted the other commuters to face the cramped journeys on the Circle, District, Northern and Bakerloo Lines. It almost bordered on ‘nyah nyah nyah!’ I only had one stop to get to Bank and meanwhile, the others had so many other stops. I was pretty pleased. My face looked like the Cheshire cat got the cream!
But my friends, this smirk was soon wiped off.
Millions of commuters pour into London from its surrounding suburbs and flood the lines but none so much so at Waterloo, one of the UK’s most busiest stations ever. But you see, most of the commuters work in the finance, corporate world and the epicentre of that world is in the city… Bank.
People fought with each other using their briefcases, umbrellas and even their fragile iPads as they attempted to squeeze through the narrow entrance to travel on this fantastical line that would soon turn into a nightmare of epic passive aggressiveness proportions.
I became afraid. Afraid for my sanity. Afraid for my life and afraid that an errant umbrella would soon gash this ruggedly handsome face. Like this.
After squeezing through, I found myself stonewalled on the platform. Crowds of commuters pressed against me. I thanked to a higher deity for my tall height as at least I could get some air up above. I pressed my hands against my wallet and phone and regarded everyone suspiciously. Yes, that mild-mannered man with the bowler hat and straight moustache could be the next Kray twin. You never know.
I stared around me, intrigued by the slack jawed faces staring ahead with vacant expressions at the multitude of peeling adverts that lined the walls. But life soon poured back into their faces as the faint rumble of carriages clattering on the line soon echoed along the rails and the tell-tale burst of air against our hair betrayed its arrival.
People became determined. And that determination was to beat each other to grab that holy prize in the carriage:
As the empty train from Bank pulled in and the doors opened, I was pulled within the crowd like a roaring tide against a cracked dam and somehow, yet somehow, I found myself in front of a vacant seat. I plopped against it without a care in the world and pulled out my latest Time Out magazine to catch up on the rumblings of London when I heard a distinct sound:
I looked up under my eyebrows to find the source of the sound and came face to face with a thunderous woman dressed in a pencil skirt and far too much lipstick that could have been done to cover her frown lines. Her eyes didn’t leave mine.
She’s breaking the rules of how people should behave with each other on the tube. NO eye contact has to be enforced.
She still looked at me with a rapidly darkening expression. It wasn’t until I went to look at another person to see if they had registered a crazy woman was on the carriage. That’s when I realised other commuters were looking at me with complete disdain.
How dare I! How DARE I take a seat! A seat that would only I would occupy for five minutes as the train lurched to complete its cross capital journey to the corporate domain.
I noticed a man who had veins pulsating on his forehead as he gripped a pole with white knuckles as he strained himself not to launch at me.
This time, louder, the lipstick stained woman tutted louder at me. I gave a look of disdain back to her, hopefully conveying that she’s ought to pull herself together.
I swear she bared her teeth at me.
I looked round at my fellow seaters. Were they getting the same treatment? They were. However, many of them covered their faces either with the Metro newspaper or buried their noses in a book. Some of them delved deep into their electronic devices and definitely no one registered there were a growling group of commuters in front of them who would happily sell their own grandmothers for five precious minutes on a seat.
But if one of them had a chance to get a vacant seat, he would face the same icy atmosphere from his fellow commuters. No one can win.
This time she was shaking her head at me. rolling her eyes even as we started to pull into Bank. Did she really want to sit down for the next thirty seconds?
Someone stamped my toes and gave a non apologetic look as if he stumbled.
You’re all a group of responsible corporate and high-flying professionals and you want to act like spoilt brats on the playground?
Soon, we pulled into Bank and everyone pretty much suckered me out. I don’t think I ever moved my feet, I was just dragged along.
But as soon as I vaulted onto the Northern Line, I confess I almost cried in happiness and thought about kissing the gum stained floor. I didn’t.
But I did have to take the return journey back to Waterloo using the same line and I confess I tried in vain not to stop guffawing loudly as I took another seat again only this time to be greeted by a gesturing thirty year old in front of me as he somehow blamed me for not getting a seat. He did that the entire journey back and kept flicking, as if accidentally, my Evening Standard Newspaper in order to annoy me. If anything, it made me laugh out loud, perhaps too loudly.
But it was that laugh that suddenly jolted everyone out of their evil mutterings about each other. A laugh that was probably not heard for a long while on the Waterloo & City line. I did see a fellow commuter crack a smile.
That was enough for me. As I got off the tube at Waterloo station , all I could think was:
‘I survived the Waterloo & City line. Please don’t let me become like them.’
Let’s all keep smiling and enjoy each other’s company. But suddenly, a guy in front of me stopped, almost causing me to topple into him as he looked around searching for something. I should have apologised like a Canadian and offered to ask where he wanted to go. But it was far too late, I couldn’t stop what came out of my mouth: