I lived in London for a year (2008–2009) and though walking was my preferred mode of getting around the city, it wasn’t always possible to walk to my destination. So that’s where the Tube or the London Underground came in as the fastest, though not necessarily the cheapest, mode of travel. Travelling by the Tube made me re-look at perceiving public transport as only a means to get from point A to point B. It showed me that it could also be a place to showcase art, make a design statement, and a place that reflected the ethos/culture of the area it serviced.
Transport for London is the company overlooks the public transport in London through the Tube, buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), trams, trains, etc. Though I used all these modes at some point during my stay in London, I loved the Tube and the DLR the most. I loved it so much that I photographed the unique aspects of the various tube stations I passed through, its various lines and routes, escalator and tube etiquette, etc. I never tired of admiring the little and big things that made each station unique and special. Even today, the Tube remains eminently gush-worthy. 🙂
About 2-3 weeks back, BBC Entertainment channel in India started airing a programme on the London Underground. This programme, which airs every Saturday at 9.00 pm, looks at “London’s 140 year-old Underground system” and “what it’s like to run the world’s most complex train network”. In other words, it is a behind-the-scenes look at the people who run and manage the Tube.
Not surprisingly, this has become my favourite television programme and has inspired me to write this blog post today. But this post is not about the efficiency or a behind-the- scenes look of the Tube; it is simply a post on the beautiful tube stations of the London Underground — the ones that caught my eye with their unique design, art or architectural element.
I loved travelling by the tube in London as not only did it get me from point A to point B at the shortest possible time, I always delighted in seeing something new or unusual. It was not unusual to see people travelling with their pets, but one day I met two Leonbergers on my way to the university.
Like most big dogs, they were extremely friendly and only wanted to climb on to my lap ! The only problem was that they were big, really, really big. I spent a happy 20 minutes admiring them and photographing them till my stop came.
It had been a hectic Friday at the University and I was glad when I boarded the tube that would take me to Baker’s Street station, which was closest tube stop to where I lived in London. It was a cold January day and all I wanted to do was to get into the warmth of my room. As I hurried towards the exit, I saw a notice on one side and idly glanced at it as I passed it.
What I saw stopped me in my tracks as I had seen nothing like it before. I mean, nothing like it before in India.
I was amazed to not only see an apology over a delay in the services of the Bakerloo Line (of the London Underground) that day, but also the reasons for that delay. And to top it all off, the apology was sincere and a personal one from the General Manager of the Bakerloo Line himself !
Anybody who has travelled by any system of transport in India, would understand why I was so astonished to see the apology. The only thing we get to hear are the “we regret…” or the “hamein khed hai ki…” — a line which is used for delivering a condolence message or delivering automated messages!
Can you imagine seeing such a poster or apology put out by the Indian Railways, or local transport services in the various cities of India?
All cities have a past that they would rather forget about and not acknowledge or showcase it to adoring tourists. The Cross Bones Graveyard in London is one such place.
Located in the Southwark borough of London, near London Bridge, the Graveyard was an unconsecrated site for burying over 15,000 prostitutes and paupers of medieval London. Though the site was never a secret, it came into prominence in the early 1990s when it was dug up for construction of the Jubilee Line of the London Underground. Excavators found an unusually “crowded graveyard with bodies being piled on top of one another”. Forensic tests showed that most of the buried had suffered from some disease or the other.
I visited the Cross Bones Graveyard one July evening as part of “The Other London Walk”, a guided walk conducted by a homeless woman. She led our group to the sites of London’s other history, a history not showcased to tourists—a London of the deprived, the homeless, the sick, and the disadvantaged.
The simple memorial plaque affixed to the gates only says what the site is, but the gates which are “festooned” with ribbons, and messages and prayers convey a far more powerful and poignant message.
For a short while, it appeared as if there there was nobody on this platform of North Greenwich tube station (Jubilee Line), except for this woman and me. Her blue jeans and red jacket mirrored the blue and red colour scheme of the station. Her slumped posture and her back to the camera, seemed to me to be the perfect setting for Edward Hopper, one of my favourite painters.