London Tube – seen by David Mitchell

How the London tube system is perceived by David Mitchell, in his book Ghostwritten… poetry meets imagination and humour.

As the fine denizens of London Town know, each tube has a distinct personality and range of mood swings. The Victoria Line for example, breezy and reliable.

The Jubilee Line, the young disappointment of the family, breaching out to the suburbs, eternally having extensions planned, twisting round to Greenwich, and back under the river out east somewhere.

The District and Circle Line, even death would rather fork out for a taxi if he is in a hurry. Crammed with commuters for King’s Cross or Paddington, and crammed with museum-bound tourists who don’t know the craftier short-cuts, it’s as bad as how I imagine Tokyo. I had a professor once who asked us to prove that the Circle Line really does go around in a circle. Nobody could. I was dead impressed at the time. Now what impresses me is that he’d persuaded somebody to pay him to come up with that sort of tosh.

Docklands Light Railway, the nouveau riche neighbor, with its Prince Regent, West India Quay and its Gallions Reach and its Royal Albert.

Stentorian Piccadilly wouldn’t approve such artyfartyness, and nor would his twin uncle, Bakerloo. Central, the middle-aged cousin, matter-of-fact, direct, no forking off or going the long way round.

That’s about it for the main lines. Except the Metropolitan which is too boring to mention, except that it’s a nice fuchsia colour and you take it to visit the dying.

Then you have the Oddball lines, like Shakepeare’s Oddball plays. Pericles, Hammersmith& City, East Verona Line, Titus of Waterloo.

The Northern Line is black on the maps. It’s the deepest. It has the most suicides, you are most likely to get mugged on it, and its art students are most likely to be future Bond Girls.

There is something doom laden about the Northern Line. Its station names: Morden, Brent Cross, Goodge Street, Archway, Elephant and Castle, the resurrected Mornington Crescent. It was closed for years, I remember imagining I was on a probe peering into the Titanic as the train passed through. Yep, the Northern Line is the psycho of the family. Those bare-walled stations south of the Thames that can’t attract advertisers. Not even stair-lift manufacturers will advertise  in Kennington Tube Station. I have never been to Kennington but if I did I bet there’d be nothing but run down fifties housing blocks, closed down bingo halls and a used-car place where tatty plastic banners fluppetty-flup in the homeless wind. The sort of place where the best-forgotten films starring British rock stars as working-class anti-heroes are set. There but for the grace of my credit cards go I.

London is a language. I guess all places are.’

Featured in Ghostwritten…

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