The Ultimate Guide to the London Underground - mark II

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The London Underground: it's huge, really huge. That's why we need a guide: not just a collection of squiggly coloured lines on a piece of paper, but a real guide, a guide that explains what's good and what's bad about the Underground, a guide that tells you where to get the best coffee and where the best buskers are, a guide that will transform the London Underground from a transport system into a living, breathing part of your day.

Here's the amalgamation of a collection of hints, tips and rants about the London Underground (or the Tube as it's affectionately known, and even unaffectionately). At the start are a few station-specific hints, followed by a random collection of Tube-savvy advice. If you've got something more to add, feel free to start a new conversation below, and we'll incorporate even more juicy bits in the future.

And yea, verily, 'tis what they did

Hello! I'm Baldrick, and contrary to popular belief I'm not actually the author of this. No, really. What happened was this - I was reading the original entry, which I think was the first Community Call For Entries, when I thought 'Why is this thing not being updated? There's double the material in its forums!'.

So I went to Peta's page, and asked her why. She suggested that I could do it all myself. So, as it was the summer holidays and I had an inordinate amount of time on my hands, that's what I did. For about a week on end I trawled through the fifty or so conversations on the original entry's forum and came up with a billion and one other things that other people had written, almost always not in the original entry. I cut and pasted the entire Old Guide into a new entry, complete with GuideML and then edited in all the other words of wisdom, and topped it off with my own small ramblings about this and that. So enjoy!!! Or suffer the wrath of....something very complicated.

Aldgate East

Most of the stations you go though seem to have some logic to them albeit in some cases very twisted logic. There is an exception however and it's in the centre of Jack-the-Ripper territory of London, you guessed it, Aldgate East.

First, it's got two platforms facing each other one for going east, one for going west, okay, nothing confusing so far, the fun starts when you want to leave. Firstly, some would say Aldgate is not an area you want to stand around looking confused. The fact the station has two complete concourses doesn’t help this. At one end you have a strip-pub and an art gallery.1 The other end has a collection of seemingly intertwining tunnels end in random places that seems to collect bewildered new-visitors to the area trying to decipher maps that would make more sense upside-down, back to front and in the back of a locker in the middle of the Gobi desert. One light at the tunnel was the 400,000 pounds set aside to sort out the confusing tunnels. Their solution? Brightly coloured ironwork at the entrance to some of the tunnels. That'll help...Not!! Still, if you exit at the Whitechapel art gallery end of the station then turn left, and left again you'll be in a street full of yummy Indian restaurants, Brick Lane, they also have Indian sweet shops there. I recommend the Gularm Jamin....Sticky and full of calories, much like me.

1Or should that be a strip-gallery and art pub?

Definitely the best looking station on the Underground, and it has the added advantage of having the longest escalator on the whole tube system (Upper Street being on a hill).

Angel is also probably London's ultimate fashion observatory. All you have to do is go there on a Friday night, take the escalator and look down from the top. There's a wild assortment of people going out, so if you stand at the top of the escalator and look down it's like witnessing a fashion show on a vertical catwalk of styles, hairdos, attitudes and gimmicks.

Finally, if you're wanting the Camden Passage weekly antiques market, this is the station.


Arsenal has three main talking points.

The first is that there's a rather long walk from platform to exit. This is because the station is virtually on top of Highbury, Arsenal's ground. The tunnel is there for crowd control as about 20,000 fans flood out.

The second is that, because of said tunnel, it may well be the only station with no lift, escalator or substantial flights of stairs. You get off, there's maybe 10 steps, then the long walk up the inclined tunnel, then 6 steps, then out. High Barnet has high-incline steps up to its footbridge, in case you were wondering.

The third is, as you arrive, the written station name on the walls says 'Gillespie Road'. The reason for this is that this was the name the station opened under, there being no football ground at the time. However, for the start of the 1932-33 season, the then manager, the great Herbert Chapman, convinced LT to rename the station 'Arsenal'.


Bank claims to connect to the District and Circle lines. It doesn't. It's a con. From the Central, it's about a mile to Monument station. If you want the DLR or the Waterloo and City, you must then descend into a tunnel which forks off about a mile along. There are no signs, so you must guess the way. It's then another half a mile down Underground-stylee tunnels to the W and C platform. If you go to the DLR, you've got about two miles along perspex tunneling to shiny Bank with plenty of up and down stairs, and escalators that have coffee breaks when you approach. Grrrrr....

Camden Town

The place where all trains meet on the Northern Line. The High Barnet and Edgware branches bifurcate here, as do the Charing Cross and Bank branches.

If you have ever travelled south to Camden and then been forced to change because the indicator boards suggest that there isn't going to be a train that goes where you want to go (like the Bank branch) for another three weeks, read on.
What's really happening is that the staff like to watch the commuters dash from one platform to the next, as the boards report that the next Bank train wll be on platform 2. First of all, you don't know which platform that is because where you are, on the platform, there's no numbering, and you can't see the board anyway unless you're almost next to it because there are 20 other signs blocking the view to it.
Then you go up to the spot where all corridors meet -- and wait. If they're working, the boards now say something entirely different and, when they do report that a Bank train might deign to arrive, it will be on the same platform you just left. So off you go, only to find it's a Charing Cross train. Return to Jail, do not pass Go....
The fun part comes for the staff as, on the security cameras, they watch people dash from one side of the station to another.

Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf opened as a DLR-only station. However, it's now got itself an add-on some walk away as part of the JLE.

Between its H R Gigeresque ceilings, and it's Teletubbyland-reminiscent entranceway, no station comes close for style and more important cavernous, soulless depersonalisation. With (get this) CLEAN toilets available to the public for free, and ticket machines with LCD screens (yes, even the quick use ones that don't take paper money) so that prices can be put up rapidly without the fuss of replacing little slips of cardboard, Canary Wharf station kicks serious station arse.

Chesham Branch

The Chesham branch of the Metropolitan Line is now unique in that it is the only one-track line remaining on the network. It runs from Chorleywood at peak hours, Chalfont and Latimer at all others. It is usually served by a single train, but at peak hours two trains run. The larger Chorleywood station is used to turn the trains, as is the Chalfont connection, while the regular shuttle train waits in a single siding at Chesham. A picturesque route well worth visiting, although it is outside Zone 6, so be aware.

Earl's Court

Some tips for catching trains at Earl's Court station.

  1. You "catch" a District Line train that has been waiting at Earl's Court for about five minutes already and is supposed to be going towards Edgware Road.
  2. For ten minutes nothing will happen, apart from you continously checking that you are on the right train.
  3. A friendly voice will announce that "This is Earl's Court." Everybody puts on the "as if I didn't already know" face.
  4. The voice goes on to inform you that "This is a District Line Train, calling at all stations to [...long break...] Edgware Road." A few shocked tourists jump off instantly, others look bewildered, ask fellow passengers for advice and then jump off. The rest of the passengers show their "As if we didn't know" faces.
  5. After a further five minutes, the train departs. Slowly.
Edgware Road

Edgware Road is the grease that keeps the London Underground running. It
is sticky, unpleasant and a difficult place from which to extricate

It is not uncommon for the normal laws of timetabling and schedules to
bunk off for a
quick cigarette here2. Trains will frequently stop
for 15 minutes for no readily
apparent reason; if a reason is given, it is likely to be untrue.

Avoid if at all possible, unless you like sitting in a carriage full of
bored people
trying to ignore each other.

2If you are going from Paddington to King's
Cross, it's
actually quicker to take the Bakerloo line and change at Oxford Circus onto
the Victoria line. Really. Trust me.
East Finchley

Any visitor to this neck of the Galaxy should make time for the marvels of East Finchley. Upon arrival at the station, newcomers can take in the architectural splendour of the MacDonalds UK headquarters, which features a full-size replica restaurant serving full-size replica food. Alternatively, go next door to the fantastic Old White Lion pub, and have a pint in a big armchair next to the fire.

Other highlights include the Phoenix Cinema (one of London's oldest, built in 1911) and the incredibly seedy Club XL which, despite its lurid decor and blacked out windows, resolutely fails to be a strip club.

Sited on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line, near the turning for Mill Hill East.


Ahhh, Euston. Sited on the Northern Line just where the Bank and Charing Cross branches finally diverge, and on the Victoria after Warren Street northbound, it holds the distinction of being the only station in which London commuters themselves actually get lost on a regular basis. It only serves the Northern and Victoria, but the signposting is laughable, often directing you in six different directions at once, the escalators just love stopping off for quick fag breaks during every rush hour and once you get to a platform, the only reliable manner of telling which direction you're going or even which line you're on is mainly waiting for the first train to arrive and sneaking a look at a map through a window, as the destination boards are either not working, showing 'Check Destination On Front Of Train' or 'Not In Service'. I can remember one battle with Euston that left me forty minutes late for school as the corridors all conspired to lead me to the Southbound Victoria Line platform. Avoid if at all possible. True, the indicators at Camden Town may lie and be being manipulated for the staff's own means, but at least it's VERY hard to get seriously lost. Avoid getting on or off here if at all possible.

Euston Square

The little brother of Euston proper, this boring little Circle, District, H and C and Metropolitan affair is nothing like as bad as Big Brother 400 yards away. It might have something to do with the fact that it's only got two platforms. Ignorable, but if you're going to/coming from the Euston area then PLEASE use this one if at all possible.

Finchley Central

A bifurcation point on the Northern Line, one line going to West Finchley and on until High Barnet, the other just going to Mill Hill East.

Two features of the southbound platform are a reproduction of Harry Beck's original 1930's design for the Underground map (Finchley Central was his local station) and a newsstand run by a very friendly bloke.

Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park station has five notable features.

1. It's a very swift change from the Victoria line to the Piccadilly line - just across the platform. However, this is only useful if your journey is all northbound or all southbound. If you were planning to go in a more complicated direction, oh foolish traveller, then you have to go up the stairs, and wander up and down aimlessly for at least fifteen minutes wondering which direction you are facing and which staircase you should be descending, only to find yourself back on the platform you originally came from. Hours of fun not guaranteed.

2. It has no automatic ticket gates at the Station Place entrance, thus meaning it is sometimes possible to blag your way in without paying. This fact has made it a meeting place for all the resident nutters on the Piccadilly and Victoria lines. These unusual folk will surely brighten your day even further if you are one of the people who got lost at step 1 above.

3. It is the 'second' station for all the hordes of Gooners who descend on this quiet residential area every other week or so to watch the Arsenal. The BR bridge also houses under it the Arsenal superstore 'The Arsenal World of Sport', and its li'l sister, the 'Arsenal Print Room', where you go to get names and numbers on your shirt.3

4. The station itself is Zone 2. The bus station out the front where the 19's leave is Zone 2. The Wells Terrace station out the back where the 'W' routes leave, however, is in Zone 3.

5. If you really need something to stare at in a hurry, the mosaics of hot-air balloons adorning the walls are actually quite nice.

3Or get refunds, if you've got this season's shirt with OVERMARS 11 or PETIT 17
Gloucester Road and South Kensington

South Kensington is on the District, Circle and Piccadilly line.
It is also the station for "the museums" - the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.
Consequently, it is always filled with crocodiles of school children from all sorts of places (France, Australia, Japan, England even - I have spotted so far) and also tourists.

There are a number of exits from the station.

One goes to a small set of covered shops immediately above. From here you can get a 49 bus going south to the Kings Road and Battersea (useful if you want to go that way, as tubes and trains don't cover that area very well). However the buses are normally very full before they get to South Kensington and there is always a large number of people wanting to board at South Kensington. It is better to get the 49 at Gloucester Road - one stop earlier on the map.

The other leads to the subway leading to exits for the Nat Hist Museum and Science Museum4
This subway leads to the Museums and smells, is dark and scary in the evening or when you are one of few people in it. It also smells. Occasionally there are (poor quality) buskers and street vendors.

A lot of people I know prefer to walk overground, but then they risk crossing the Cromwell Road, which is a very busy road with 6 lanes (3 each way) and drivers that don't like the red traffic light.5

I prefer Gloucester Road station, at which all the trains that go to S.Ken stop, is smaller, quieter, nicer, less scary, less confusing on the Picadilly side (although the District/Circle platforms are more confusing but better signposted) and, in my experience, has nicer staff (they even started saying "hello" to me after a while). It is only 5 mins walk away from S. Ken too!

Just never try to buy a ticket at either of these stations on a Saturday (or Sunday) morning. The queues for the machines can be 50 people long, the ones for the windows longer. Either have a carnet, or go to a newsagent - there are plenty by both stations at which you can get travelcards.

4For you Americans, a subway is a pedestrian sub-surface tunnel. Usually used to allow people to cross busy junctions by going under them.5Just like the whole of Paris, then.
Mill Hill East

The least-visited station on the Northern Line. One in eight northbound trains goes there, and a train will leave (on average) every 12-15 minutes. It's just a dinky little station with one platform, but it's cute. Mill Hill East was originally planned to be part of a branch that would turn off the High Barnet branch at Finchley Central, go through two Mill Hill stations, join the Edgware branch and terminate 3 stops past Edgware.


Morden is at the end of the Northern line. And that's about it.

Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent, stuck between Euston and Camden Town (though curiously only if you're on the Charing Cross branch) is known for two main reasons.

Firstly it's known for the fact that it was closed for rebuilding for an extraordinary length of time, though it has just recently re-opened.

The second reason is the cause of many strange seeming Londoners yelling 'Mornington Crescent!' when they arrive in the station - a practice reserved for this particular station because of the infamous game of 'Mornington Crescent'.

Mornington Crescent is a game for any number of players (above one). The aim is to be the first player to reach Mornington Crescent. The rules are far too numerous to list here, and really the only way to learn them is to observe at length a game played by experienced players. Basically players in turn call out the names of London Underground stations, until one player makes a mistake and gives another the opportunity to go in for the kill, by leaving them a opening to reach Mornington Crescent.

New Cross Gate

Many visitors to this station, stuck at the south end of the East London Line, have noticed the wonderful baroque feel to the station. This becomes a lot less impressive, however, when you visit yourself and find that the 'baroque feel' is because nobody's done any repairs since 1750.

St. John's Wood

On the Jubilee Line, between Baker Street and Swiss Cottage. Notable for two reasons.

1. St. John's Wood is the local station for Lord's Cricket Ground, headquarters of the Marleybone Cricket Club and home ground of Middlesex County.

2. This station is the only tube station on the whole network that doesn't contain ANY of the letters that make up the word mackerel. That's M, A, C, K, E, R, L. This obviously doesn't apply if you spell it Saint John's Wood.

Tooting Broadway

Tooting Broadway, three stations north of Morden, is located at the junction of Tooting High Street, Upper Tooting Road, Mitcham Road and Garrat Lane. Those looking for a street called Tooting Broadway will find that no such street exists. Not even somewhere else in London. This station is characterised by an escalator of average length on which there will always be a gale force wind blowing no matter how calm the weather is elsewhere in the vicinity.


Uxbridge is the terminus of branches of the Metropolitan and Picadilly Lines, although Picadilly trains sometimes get turned back at Rayners Lane if Uxbridge gets too crowded. It's the local station for a quite decent little pitch and putt6, but its biggest claim to fame is that Uxbridge is an anagram of Big Durex. Claim to fame or wot???

6A small golf course, often nine-hole, with holes between 50 and 150 yards, for kids, beginners and very casual players

One of the only stations to be half under the Thames. And it feels SO eerie - you have to be there to experience it. It's damp, cold, smelly and its always empty - the lifts are eerie too! Sited on the East London Line, at the bifurcation point

White City

Frequented by the Central Line, White City used to be respectable but now isn't. Instead, this 4-platformer is now used by Central Line drivers for fag-and-curry breaks. Trains that are said to be headed for Hainault, Via Newbury Park, will often suddenly terminate at White City, no apology. This also clogs up the system as the terminated train does not actually leave the platform for a good ten to fifteen minutes afterwards, leaving subsequent trains languishing at signals behind. The 'traitor train' finally leaves, long before another train comes along to pick up the stranded passengers. Trains have also been know to suddenly be "on fire", requiring termination at the nearest station - lo and behold, White City. Said "burning" trains are not attended by teams of firefighters, nor is the station evacuated from the risk of smoke inhalation. Oh No. The only smoke to inhale is that which curls from the glowing ends of tired drivers as they look upon their former passengers and laugh.

Different Lines

In my experience all the different lines have their own personality and little quirks. A short summary of the lines might be intresting. Here's some suggestions from my experience but I'm sure other folk can add a lot more:

  • Northern Line:
  • - Always a ten minute wait for a train (to the wrong branch).
  • - Probably the filthiest, busiest and most depressing train line in existence.
  • - Don't try catching a train from Camden Town on Sunday 'coz they won't let you.
  • Jubilee Line:
  • - Never bloody open at the weekends.
  • - Carriages tell you the south bound train's going to Charing Cross when it's not likely it's going anywhere else.
  • - It has an extension that doesn't meet with the original line
  • East London Line
  • The most useless line on the Underground. It only exists so that LU can show they have two lines that meet their criteria for trains on time. It currently runs from Whitechapel and Shoreditch to New Cross and New Cross Gate. However, there's talk of extending it through Bishopsgate along the route of the old Broad Street main line to Dalston Kingsland, where it'd run alongside the North London to Highbury and Islington.

    Ex-tube stations

    Lots of stations have closed down, but are still sitting there in a strangely unnerving way (unnerving, anyway, for anyone who has seen Quatermass and the Pit).

    They are: Aldwych (closed 1994), Blake Hall (1983), British Museum (1933), Brompton Road (1934), City Road (1922), Down Street (1932), Lords (1939), Marlborough Road (1939), Ongar and North Weald (1994)South Acton (1959), South Kentish Town (1924), St Mary's (1938), Uxbridge Road (1947), White City (1959) and York Road (1932).

    The Most Tube Stations On One Road

    Three contenders here.

    1. A single road, varying in names ranging from Hampstead High Street to Camdem High Street7 has Hampstead, Belsize Park, Chalk Farm, Camden Town, Mornington Crescent, Holborn and Euston all in a long line.8

    2. Finchley Road. You can follow this from Wellington Road to Barnet Hill (a distance of many miles) without making a 'proper' turn. In doing so you pass St. John's Wood, Swiss Cottage, Finchley Road, Golders Green, Finchley Central and High Barnet (and also Finchley Road and Frognal on the North London Line).

    3. Oxford Street - you can pass Holland Park, Notting Hill Gate, Queensway, Marble Arch, Bond Street, Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Old Street in one line without a 'proper' turn.

    If you discount the roundabout between Holland Park and Shepherd's Bush then there are even more, although this might be cheating!

    7though not always a high street8Russell Square is slightly off the road, and is so discounted
    Top Tube Tip: Heathrow to Sloane Square via Hammersmith

    Are you laden with heavy baggage from Heathrow and wanting Sloane Square, or somewhere nearby? Here's a handy tip. Change from the Piccadilly Line to the District Line at Hammersmith, which just means lugging your suitcase the width of the platform: no stairs or anything. You can do the same at Barons Court, but it's a bit deserted there, and there are no fancy destination boards to (mis)guide you.

    You may ask why I chose Sloane Square as the destination. To be honest, South Kensington would have been closer (and no line changes), but my wife has a hip joint problem. Sloane Square is the only District/Circle station that I know of with an up-escalator rather than stairs. To be honest, my knowledge is limited to the 'southern' stations.

    Hammersmith Warning: It looks like a three-line interchange - it isn't. It's a con job. Piccadilly/District is much easier - a platform width, but the Hammersmith and City line interchange is a joke; well, it would be if it was funny. It's not: it's the other side of Hammersmith (well, almost). You go up the stairs, out the ticket hall, past some shops, through the shopping mall, across the street dodging cars and buses (OK, wait for the traffic lights then), and finally into another tube station. I'm sure that other 'disconnected' tube stations are closer than this.

    Penalty Fines

    If you don't have the exact ticket for your journey you will be fined £10 on the spot. It doesn't matter if all the machines at the unmanned station you started out from are broken, it doesn't matter that you didn't realise that Tooting Bec is in Zone Two and not Zone One, you either have to travel back to where your ticket is valid, go to the surface, buy another ticket and return or pay £10, even if the difference in fare is actually about 50p.

    Do not imagine that if you point out you have the wrong ticket and go to the excess fare box at your destination station that they will let you pay the difference. They won't.

    Pigeons on the Tube

    Pigeons have been observed to get on the Underground at one stop and then off at the next-but-one stop, and to repeat this journey regularly. This is the subject of quite a lot of research at the moment.

    There are actually "suburban" pigeons, who live in the north and west of London, who quite literally commute into town during the day to feed off the rich pickings provided by tourists, and then return to roost in the suburbs come nightfall.

    The question is how they recognise the tube stations, and can this knowledge be written into tourist guide books.

    Mice on the Tube

    The Underground Mouse - Dirtius Lightfooticus - is a hardy breed of mouse. Black of fur, eye, ear, tail and foot they scurry along the Tube lines fighting for hamburger wrappers, crisp packets, and any remains from Pret a Manger (though the latter usually applies to mice on the more affluent West London lines). Far better entertainment than any of the buskers (Crappius Oasisvariationos) let the mice ease your fury as you wait (and wait) for your connecting train. They can do excellent squeak battles, race against death as the tube thunders into the station, but even better (and surely soon to be made illegal?) is mouse-baiting. Chuck a bit of food down to a pack of hungry buggers as they scamper around the live rail, and watch the carnage. Who will be the victor?!?!

    If you think you see Tube mice on any of the above-ground Northern line stations however, you are probably mistaken. They are much more likely to be commuters to Central London hurling themselves to death in frustration.

    The Design of the Underground

    The underground is an ingenous device that lets us travel underneath the very streets of london at a super slow speeds, in total confusion, in a miasmic stinking cloud and with total strangers who avoid eye-contact in fear of someone mistaking it for some sexual come-on. Even married couples and best-mates of 20 years turn to face away from each other and act as if they were total strangers. Anyone even whispering is considered mad or foreign and is a faux pas of the highest magnitude in British culture.

    However madly and maze - like the underground seems to be, it is in fact delibrately designed this way. As pointed out in other parts of the guide, the earth was created by mice and the creation of the underground is in fact a plot by mice to exact revenge for years of experimenting on mice to see if they can find the centre of the mazes. Just to prove how clever mice are, they can flawlessly find the piece of cheese at the centre of any maze with their eyes shut. Even more clever is the invention of a maze so brilliant you can never ever get to where you want to. If you do so you will be late. It is called the London Underground. There is rumoured to be a central point to the underground containing a large pot of gold and just proving how stupid humans are no-one has yet found it. If you see a mouse on the underground it is probably planning a new piece of maze or having a good laugh.

    After years of running round mazes in human experiments, the minds of mice are now finely attuned to mazes and not content with the design of the underground they have designed a new maze on the grandest of scales. This is now referred to as the M25.

    Reading Over People's Shoulders

    Fascinating though their book/newspaper etc might be, people can tell if you are reading over their shoulder. This has several psychological implications. They might think you are a cheapskate who can't be bothered to buy your own reading material. They might think that you will be judging them in some way, by their reading matter. You might personally see something you don't want to see, which taken out of context could be really embarrassing for you when they realise that you've been reading it.

    However, if you really must read over other people's shoulders on the tube pick a decent tube line. The District Line is particularly good as it goes into Temple and so's the Central Line as it goes into Chancery Lane and you might be able to see lots of lawyers and barristers "briefs" or "cases" or whatever they call them. I've seen lawyers reading all sorts of cases on the tube. What if I happened to be on the jury? Or what if I was on the opposite side? Why do these people read so many confidential items on the tube??

    Remember the lines from this poem when you think about who might be sitting next to you

    "They're a ravenous horde -- and they all came on board

    At Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.

    And bound on that journey you find your attorney

    (Who started that morning from Devon)"

    The Nightmare Song, from Iolanthe W.S.Gilbert

    However, according to Andrew Martin writer of the weekly Tube Talk feature in ES magazine, there is another reason for reading on the tube:

    "It is absolutely not acceptable to make eye contact on the Tube. If God had meant us to look at our fellow traveller, he would not have invented the Evening Standard".

    Avoiding Nutters on the Tube

    The tube network is full of nutters. They climb on and rant at the top of their voice about religion or beer or about women that they hate. They always shout. They often smell. And they always sit next to you. Here's a foolproof method of avoiding them:

    1. Wear your sunglasses on the underground. This means you can look at everyone else without them seeing you and you can see nutters coming.
    2. Listen to a Walkman, but not too loud in case they come at you from behind.
    3. Every now and again, sing along very quietly to the music or mouth the words to the song.

    The result is that you will never have to put up with nutters, or anyone else. I guess the moral of the story is that if you can't beat them, join them, especially as it has been pointed out that a sunglass-wearing, Walkman-dirging person is most people's generic description of "the Underground nutter".


    There are a wide variety of buskers in London Underground stations. You get the geeky herbert playing music by The Shadows over a backing tape, numerous Bob Dylan wannabe folkies, saxophonists, flautists, classical violinists and more. The quality is usually pretty good but, if they overplay their pitch, a whole month of the same tune can force commuters to seek other routes to work or instill deep-rooted psychosis.

    My favourite busker was a guy who used to play in Tottenham Court Road station, lying on the floor near the main entrance with a battered acoustic and a can of Special Brew. He had absolutely no talent at singing or playing guitar, but his song lyrics changed daily and all centered around the common theme of "Give me some bloody money so I can buy some more Special Brew, you suity gits."

    The absolute worst was the guy who used to be found on tube trains travelling to Hammersmith on a gig night. He'd hang a collecting bucket from the neck of his guitar and wander from carriage to carriage continually playing "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart, out-of-key and out-of-time until he'd got his quota of 2p pieces.

    Hey! I Bet you Didn't Know This!

    Croxley, the first station outside Zone 6 on the Metropolitan Line is the only station to contain the letter 'X'.

    The original Jubilee Line extension went from Charing Cross through Aldwych to New Cross on the East London Line. Indeed, 100 metres of tunnel was built at Aldwych for this purpose - then the project was dumped. So the Picadilly isn't the only line to have abandoned tunnel at Aldwych after all. Wowzer.

    St. Paul's on the Central Line used to be called 'Post Office'.

    The District Line used to run alongside the Picadilly to Hounslow Central before the Heathrow extension was built and the section diverted to the Central terminus at Ealing Broadway.

    Cutty Sark, Greenwich, Deptford Bridge, Elverson Road and Lewisham on the Docklands Light Railway are all on the boundary of Zones 2 and 3. How nice.

    Flashers and Gropers on the Tube

    If you are a women you will be groped and exposed to on the tube on a fairly regular basis. Techniques include the blatant "Oh sorry, I though your breast was a handrail" to the very sleazy "The train is crowded, but not that crowded mate and it isn't jiggling up and down as fast as you are either. Kick."

    You can also spot the "I am playing with myself behind this newspaper and I bet you are too embarrassed to say anything", or even an occasional "I am wearing shorts, with legs spread wide, and oh sorry I didn't spot my genitalia hanging out there."

    My best tip for the gropers and grabbers is a sharp stamp on the foot or a kick in the shins, with a loud "Not another pervert".

    For flashers I find a peel of laughter and an "Oh god, look how small his dick is!" encourages them to put it away sharpish.

    The Tube's Automatic Doors

    Don't try your luck with the train doors. They close without warning and they are merciless with any objects that become caught. Don't rely on warnings - the doors have usually started to close by the time they start.

    Don't, what ever you do, stick you hand in the door in the hope of stopping the train long enough to get on. This is futile. The doors will not open again and there is no guarantee that the train will wait. If you are on the train, trying to exit, then you face the prospect of a painful few minutes to the next stop, scraping all the muck off the tunnel walls with your fingers. If you are trying to get on, then you will have to deal with the disappointement of seeing any watches, jewellery and possibly even the arm of your best suit, stripped off and whisked away into the black void.

    The Tube's Information Systems

    So you have got to the staions, you have made it through the barriers, you haven't been given a penalty fine - there are really just a few more things you need to know.

    1. You must learn to decipher the PA Announcments. Here are the basic translations:
      • MIThh the GAhh = Mind the Gap
      • Plith sta clee of the clopthie doo = Please stand clear of the closing doors
      • Thith trn wi noo stoip abbroltluy - this train will now stop abrubtly. (Dont worry too much about this one, by the time you it starts you will already have stopped.)
    2. Finally you have to work out the signs on the front of the train. If a Northern Line train says it is going to Morden, it is certainly going to terminate at Tooting Broadway. If it says terminates at Tooting Broadway it will probably terminate several stops earlier at Kennington. Never assume that because the front of the train says it is going to a certain place or taking a certain branch line that it will. The front of train signs are for the staff's amusement only.

      The Tube's indicator boards are famously inaccurate. Here follows a collection of anecdotes that never made it into mark 1.

      I remember standing on the northbound platform at Waterloo and seeing:

    4. 2 EDGWARE
    5. ... which are at opposite ends of the Northern Line.

      There's a nice effect which happens at King's Cross station every evening rush hour on the Northbound Piccadilly line. It goes something like this.
      Indicator reads:

    7. 2) ARNOS GROVE 1 MIN
    9. If you see this you think: "Ah next train goes to Cockfosters!"

      WRONG. Next train goes to Arnos Grove! The indicator always has a Cockfosters train displayed at the top. Ya gotta live with it.

    The Tube's Vending Machines

    There are lots of vending machines on the platforms. The company that installs them are very clever and I expect they are very profitable. People regularly put money in, the machine jams, stalls, and doesn't give you anything, not even your money back. Your train arrives, finally. Do you fight the machine for your 40p or get the train? You hit the machine and get the train. There isn't any chocolate in there, you do know that really, don't you?
    There is a handy trick you can impress drunken folk with - tell them the machines don't work because they are depressed, as no-one speaks pleasantly to them. Say you are going to activate their speech recognition software. Then (sneakily!) press buttons 1, 1, 0 while asking, 'how are you feeling?' - the little LCD display will let you know!
    If you ever have cause to go from King's Cross towards Cockfosters on the Picadilly Line, then enter the platform at the first alcove and check out the machine there. It just loves giving out freebies - I found a Boost bar in there only yesterday - also I had cause to peruse that platform regularly a few years back and I must have saved about ten quid on freebies - just stick your hand in and feel about. Also, check the change drawer. Do it. Now.

    The Ticket Gates

    Here follows a collection of anecdotes about people's experiences with the automatic ticket gates that prevent people bunking in for free.

    One of the trickiest parts about learning to use the underground is that first passage through the barriers. My initiation to this most viscous of automatic machines was not a pleasent one. I failed to realise that the gates opened after placing the ticket in the slot. Consequently I attempted to pass through the gate after the person in front. The gates closed just as I was going through, trapping me on one side and my rucksack on the other. I then had to wait, redfaced, with a sizeable queue of more clued up Londoners piling up behind me, until a surly conductor set me free. Other than this small incident I love using the underground (although the amount of black stuff produced when you blow your nose afterwards leads to a slight concern regarding the lungs of regular users)

    Last week I wanted to go to a Zone 3 station with a friend, outside my Zone 1 and 2 pass. I bought a 'not-zone-1' extension and travelled, confident and smug at not being a 'fare evader'. When I inserted either ticket at the destination, it wouldn't let me through - the dreaded 'Seek Assistance' message. My friend was right behind. We went to the fiendly - sorry - friendly LUL man, who explained to me that that was normal so that I had to show both pass and extra ticket. He then let us both through the side gate. After we had passed through, I asked my friend (also a Zone-1-and-2-er) if she knew about that. "Zone 3? was I supposed to buy an extra ticket?" I then told her that I had just saved her £10 in penalty fares.

    BTW I've noticed that at Oval and St James Park the side gate is often left open in an evening - are they short staffed? Don't blame me, though, if you get caught.

    I hate those little gate things. During my first journey on the tube I had bought on of those zone 1 and 2 passes and when I put it into the machine it didn't come out, I went to 'seek assistance' and then some guy went in behind me and my ticket came out, so he walked of with it, leaving me to explain why there was no valid zone 1 and 2 in the machine. After many raised voices the little hitler dealing with my problem relented and was gracious enough to not call the police or charge me a fine. (I had to buy another ticket though.)

    the other challenge that you have to complete with the barrier's are "Seek Assistance". But don't worry - if this happens to you, there is a cheat way around it. Check your ticket is valid. If it is, just go to the barrier next to it. This is sure to work.

    Ye Olde Tube Gayme: Ye Undergrounde Tyckett Scamme

    This is now an unworkable scam because of the £10 Penalty Fare but what the hell.......

    Say you wanted to travel into London on a Friday and back on a Saturday. You couldn't buy a travelcard and had to buy 2 expensive single tickets. Unless... you didn't buy a ticket, got to your destination, told the inspector in the little box that you needed to get a travelcard but couldn't buy one because ~insert favorite excuse here~. Now, the man in the box couldn't issue returns or travelcards but was reasonable so would charge you the difference in price between a single and a travelcard. This was sometimes as little as 40p. You would be told to buy another single when you needed to get back. Of course you wern't going back until the next day and would repeat the same scam.

    However, as well as the £10 fine, the Weekend Travelcard has also helped with this.

    Tube Games: Tube Surfing

    To Tube Surf place one foot perpendicular to the direction the tube is travelling and then place your other foot 9up against it to form a T. Then place your hands on you pockets and try and stay upright for as long as possible. There is a 'newspaper' variation, whereby you read a paper while surfing. Bonus Kudos Points (tm) are gained for negotiating a particularly 'gnarly' sharp break into a station. You must also shout 'WIPE OUT' very loudly every time you fall into someone or something else.

    9this game is intended for bipeds only... apologies for being speciesist
    Tube Games: Tube Pontoon (a variation of Bus Stop Pontoon)

    The game starts at the tube stop where you would normally start your journey (though it can be played by anyone, even if they don't want to catch a tube). Assuming the train isn't there, you start to run to the next stop. This is called the 'Twist'. If you are lucky or skilful, you reach the next stop before the tube rushes past you. You make your decision again. 'Twist', and you run on to the next stop. 'Stick', and you wait there for the train. If the train flies past you while you're between stops, you go 'Bust' and the game then starts again. Play the game until you actually catch a tube train, or you find you've run to your destination, saved some money, and given your body some seriously healthy exercise.

    As with all good games, there are several levels of play.

    • Novice: look at your watch and the tube timetable when ever you like
    • Intermediate: you can only check your watch and the timetable while at a tube station
    • Expert: you can only look at your watch and the timetable at the first tube station

    There are also several variations to the rules.

    • The Spike Milligan Variation: you are only allowed to walk backwards (for Christmas, of course)
    • The Double Blind Variation: this is played with two blindfolds on - no one has ever won this as you either walk into something, get run over, or don't see the bus coming
    • The Victoria Wood Variation: you have to wear a bright yellow coat, and ask every tenth person if they've seen Kimberly (who's really, really tall and really, really wide)
    • The Oliver Reed Variation: you must have drunk a bottle of spirits before starting, and all the other rule changes then come naturally
    Tube Games: Fun with a Cigarette

    Next time you're on the tube why not delve deep into your pocket? Remove in a slow and deliberate motion a packet of cigarettes. Remove cigarette and tap on cigarette in mouth and leave.... unlit, with a lighter in the other hand. Guarenteed this will provoke Rage from all the non smokers ...envy from the smokers and everyone will watch and wait to see if you light up...great to catch the eye of anyone in the carraige and hold their attention. It's also fun to see how many people you can get to point out the 'No Smoking' signs while you point out that you're not, in fact, smoking.

    Or...why not time how long it takes for Big Brother to notice a cigarette in your mouth while you're standing on the platform and to press the Please Remember Smoking Is Not Permitted announcement button....Make 'em work for a change! My current record stands at 11 seconds at Bank.

    Disclaimer: Neither I nor the original writer of this article is advocating smoking in any way, shape or form. So There!

    Tube Games: Heathrow - London In Style

    Heres a fun game to play if you've just arrived at Heathrow with a few friends 10. The Picadilly Line will be pretty empty at this point 11.

    Simply pile up your luggage in the doorways. It's a good idea to make it look as if it has simply 'fallen over'. Passengers will be unable to board your carriage, leaving you with your own private compartment for your journey into London.

    Similarly, if you can hear a busker approaching in a neighbouring carriage, why not persuade fellow passengers to barricade the doors with their luggage, preventing the busker from boarding at the next stop. (And that includes the doors between cars - accordion players do not give up easily.)

    * Those oars will really come in handy.

    ** Don't forget those platforms appear on both sides, so block both doors, or people will get on but be unable to get off.
    Actually, this is also quite fun.

    It may be a little risky to try this during rush hour. London commuters tend to be a rather determined bunch and you'd more than likely end up with broken oars and trampled luggage.

    10ie. the college rowing team11apart from the odd traveller going 'Terminal 3...Terminal'
    Tube Games: Mornington Crescent

    The first rule of Mornington Crescent is not to ask what the rules are. So there.

    Tube Games: Tube-Train Time Traveller

    A fun game to play after all-day drinking. To start the game you have to pass out in a train on the Circle line, and in order to win you have to wake up with a start, find yourself at your intended destination and leave the station in a bemused state wondering why it's all gone dark at 1 o'clock in the afternoon.

    Variations on this theme include the popular South-West Trains version, which involves travelling from Waterloo to Richmond via Reading. Some people are so thrilled with this version that they play it quite regularly.

    1Or should that be a strip-gallery and art pub?2If you are going from Paddington to King's
    Cross, it's
    actually quicker to take the Bakerloo line and change at Oxford Circus onto
    the Victoria line. Really. Trust me.
    3Or get refunds, if you've got this season's shirt with OVERMARS 11 or PETIT 174For you Americans, a subway is a pedestrian sub-surface tunnel. Usually used to allow people to cross busy junctions by going under them.5Just like the whole of Paris, then.6A small golf course, often nine-hole, with holes between 50 and 150 yards, for kids, beginners and very casual players7though not always a high street8Russell Square is slightly off the road, and is so discounted9this game is intended for bipeds only... apologies for being speciesist10ie. the college rowing team11apart from the odd traveller going 'Terminal 3...Terminal'

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