London Underground: The Walkthrough

The London Underground affords visitors and natives alike a means of traversing a huge city with speed, reliability and convenience.


Anyone who's lived in our shining capital for more than a few months will have been exposed to the many delights of the Underground system on a regular basis, and no doubt will have formed their own jaundiced opinions of its hilarious little quirks. If you’re new to the Underground game, perhaps this guide will be of some use to you as you embark on your first voyage into the darkness.

In The Station

Before you begin your trip, you'll be wanting to purchase a ticket from somewhere. You have a choice between the surly, faceless London Transport employee in the ticket booth or the surly, faceless ticket dispensing machine which has just too many buttons for you to comfortably use it without ham-fistedly pressing the wrong one. Let’s weigh up the pros and cons.

If you opt for the booth, be prepared to deal with an embittered Scrooge-alike who has worked on the Underground for the full span of his existence - a man whose enthusiasm for life has been utterly eroded by time, bitterness and one too many American tourists politely asking him how they can get to "Lice-Chester-Square". Remember that London Transport employers do not list intelligence, politeness, decency, sobriety or sentience as requirements for getting a job with the Underground.

Expect to be treated with slightly more disdain than Kilroy in a crowded Mosque. Under no circumstances should you try to be friendly or cheerful - he hates seeing people smile, and doing so will only serve to intrench him in his new position as your arch-nemesis. Everything that's ever gone wrong in his life is automatically your fault because you happen to be in his field of vision.

As such, it is of prime importance that you do not make him any more angry than he already is, for he has the capacity to utterly ruin your travel plans by whatever means he deems necessary, short of actually getting out of the ticket booth and kicking you in the groin - he is incapable of leaving the booth, as he’s biologically fused to it, like the Pilot from Farscape. When the booth is closed he's actually still in there, waiting silently and dreaming of the day he'll have his revenge on society.

All in all, the many-buttoned Nazi Enigma Ticket Machine and its beguiling promises of quick, easy tickets are far more appealing than the creature sat inside that booth. After all, machines don't judge you and are your only friends. But do not be fooled. They are evil things bought upon the world by Satan to destroy your faith in God. They are brimming over with a dark malice, and they have orders from their superiors (the chocolate vending machines) to deliberately go wrong at every possible opportunity - orders they are all too happy to carry out if it means inconveniencing a pathetic creature of meat and bone like you.

To successfully use a ticket machine, you must:
A) press the right button,
B) make sure there's a member of station staff nearby so they can ignore you when you need help after it breaks down, and
C) use only freshly-minted paper currency with no creases in it, as the slightest dent or rip in your five pound note will activate the machine's security system, causing it to explode violently and imbed a pound of molten plastic and glass in your soft, ephemeral human flesh.

Failure to conform to any of the above guidelines will result in summary embarrassment.

So, by some miracle you've got your ticket and are ready to go catch your train. Approach the ticket barriers. Expect mile-long queues for the single working barrier, as the station staff couldn't be arsed to turn on the other ones that morning, plus it's a laugh watching us sheep scrabbling against each other to be the first one through.

Make no mistake, once you're in the crush for the ticket gates it's survival of the fittest, every man for himself. Forget friends or loved ones who may be accompanying you, you cannot help them. Once you've squeezed your way to the front of the queue, you've got to get your ticket in there like a shot - if you cannot get it from your hand to the machine's innards in under 0.4 microseconds, the impatient lardball businessman behind you will get his in there and crush you to death as he tramples you underfoot in his haste to get to the platform.

On the Escalator

Now, go and ask the station staff why your newly purchased ticket doesn't work. If they are unhelpful, you are not swearing loudly enough. Once you're through, by legitimate reasons, bribery or violence, you can simply allow the the current of frantic commuters to sweep you towards the escalator. You'll notice a multitude of signs which claim to point you in the direction of your desired platform. Ignore them, they're lying. Occasionally there will be a person standing in a corner and playing a musical instrument. These are government employees called Buskers, and the container sitting at their feet is a municipal free-money repository which you may dip into when you hit upon hard times. Feel free to avail yourself of its contents.

On the off-chance the escalator is working, make sure you hold tightly onto the hand rail, as some comedian will invariably press the emergency stop button (so called because stopping the escalator causes an emergency) and send everyone plunging into a broken heap at the foot of the stairs. Relish your trip down the escalator, for it affords you a few seconds of tranquillity in your otherwise harrowing Underground experience. Take a moment to gaze idly at the adverts lining the wall as you descend, giggling at the pictures of physically perfect models who've had globs of chewing gum wittily stuck to their nostrils by bored commuters. If the station has one of the Captain Scarlet-style horizontal "travelators" make sure you run along it as fast as possible, because doing so makes you feel like a superhero. Just remember to slow down before you hit the end, otherwise the sudden deceleration will crush you like an egg.

On the Platform

If the platform is completely packed with heavily perspiring commuters, you may have had the misfortune of being caught up in the Rush Hour, the period during which the Underground sees its heaviest use. You are advised to time your travel to avoid the Rush Hour, which lasts for roughly 24 hours every single day of the year. If you can, keep away from the edge of the platform, or the unrelenting push of the ever-growing crowd will pitch you off the side to join the pile of twitching, electrified commuters on the tracks.

It's a safe bet that at some juncture, a train will show up. When this happens, it is considered courteous among Londoners to let the passengers off the train before you board, rather than charging headlong into the tide of disembarking travellers like a Salmon swimming against the flow of a stream. However, if you are a tourist, just go for it.

On average you will have a window of about 10 seconds to get on the train before the razor-edged doors slam shut. Resist the urge to make an Indiana Jones leap through the closing doors to get onboard, it'll only end in CCTV footage of your horrible death being used in a terrifying public service broadcast about train safety. And you will most certainly not retrieve your hat.

As Underground trains are supernaturally frequent in their arrival due to the localised time vortexes within the tunnels, risking your neck to board an already crowded train just makes no sense - another one will turn up approximately two nanoseconds later. This frequency of service does make you wonder exactly why people are always so eager to risk decapitation to get on the train. Don't go wondering about things though, it'll only lead to thought, and thought leads to disobedience.

On the Train

It's been a long, hard and thankless struggle to get this far, but you're finally where you wanted to be - on a train, going somewhere. Now you can relax, sit down and enjoy a quiet journey, right? Wrong. You're still surrounded by just as many ill-tempered commuters, but now you're in a confined space. It just got WORSE, bucko. inside the train, you must stand up within a group of fifty other people not worthy enough to get seats, occupying an area of available space roughly half that of the interior of your fridge after you've just been shopping. Now you are treated to a personal-space invasion from everyone else in the immediate area, all of whom are somehow physically closer to you than anyone you've ever slept with. Being tall or fat helps, as your large "personal bubble" will keep people at a distance. Failing that, just refrain from using anti-perspirant in the morning, then work up a sweat and cling to the overhead handrails. The foulness emanating from your armpits will create a natural exclusion zone around your body.

As the train hurtles through the benighted subterranean labyrinth of the tube system, most likely a few people will get off, freeing up some seats. Get to one as quickly as possible, and don't shy away from employing violent means - seats are like gold dust on the tube system, and miniature turf wars between factions of commuters have been fought over their control. Men have likely died for the seat you just parked your posterior on.
In a stroke of evil genius, the people responsible for designing the Underground trains positioned all the seats so that you end up staring directly at the person sitting opposite to you, who is invariably an enormous, mentally unstable London Mafia hitman who's on his way to his next kneecapping. Catch his eye and you're dead.

As you approach your intended destination the lights will flicker off, and the train will grind to a halt, due to a "signal failure" which means some blameless commuter has finally snapped and hurled himself onto the tracks. You'll now be stuck in the tunnel for the three hours it will take for the tube staff to mop up the mess. Invariably, the "Blitz Spirit" will prevail and the commuters' social inhibitions will leave them, as they all gather round a Hammond Organ to rattle off a couple of Max Bygraves songs as the older passengers reminisce about how smashing it was when Mr. Churchill himself gave them half a crown in compensation for their family getting vaporised in a bombing raid.

The driver will then deliver a purposely terrifying message via the internal communication system, which is a length of string with some cups tied to it. A typical message will constitute a stream of unintelligible mumbling punctuated by very ominous words which the driver enunciates perfectly in order to scare the crap out of you for a laugh, example being "blaaah muh waddle waddle blah BOMB whadda whuffle whuffle blah blah CRASH POSITIONS blah blah rhubarb blah blah EMERGENCY DESTRUCT SYSTEM NOW ACTIVATED".

Eventually, the train will start up again and pull into your station, and disembarking becomes a desirable course of action. Never press the button to open the doors yourself. If you do, they will not work. Instead, take up a position behind someone else who is closer to the door, even if it means walking to the other end of the carriage to do so. This is because the people closest to the door are The Doorkeepers - brave individuals who suddenly take on a mystical responsibility for its operation. Should it fail to open then this person is automatically to blame, and are subjected to the undying hatred of everyone in their vicinity. Thanks to the will of some beneficent deity, many underground trains now open their doors automatically upon stopping - this always happens at the newer stations with the new anti-suicide plexiglass barriers. Whatever you do, don't go pressing the door button at one of those stations, you'll look like a newbie.

In the Station (Again)

Presuming you're not changing onto another train, your subterrene adventure is almost at its end. All that remains for you to do is ascend the escalators, wrestle through the crowds to the ticket gates, and walk out into the daylight. Unfortunately, by this time, your body has become used to the dank caves beneath the city, and you are not the same person you were when first you matched wits with the ticket machine. In fact, to all intents and purposes, you are no longer a person at all. Your saucer-like eyes, now grossly oversized and hyper-sensitive, are crippled by the hated light of the sun, and your skin has grown pallid and colourless. Society rejects you, and before long you find yourself retreating back into the inviting darkness of the tunnels to live off rats as you eke out a miserable yet mercifully short existence in the World Below.

The moral of the story, young one, is simple...


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