Underground Warfare

It would be insensitive to wonder if some of the people who jump in front of Tube trains are just doing it to inconvenience me, but for less serious transport interruptions, it’s clear that a cocktail of selfishness and lack of situational awareness is to blame. I used to think that standing in the carriage doorway holding your child in such a position as the door slams on his head as the words “Mind the closing doors” are announced was the most stupid thing I’d seen on the Tube, until yesterday.

There is a rule, more observed in the breach than honoured, that one stands on the right and allows passage on the left, when travelling on the Tube escalators. In practice, passage on the left is obstructed by people who are too situationally unaware, luggage-laden, selfish or obese to exert with their brains enough control over their bodies to stand only on the right. Yesterday I found the rule honoured in the breach. I was hurrying down the left side of an escalator at Holborn, and to my dismay but not surprise found that some idiot was trying to run up the escalator toward me. I started to move faster, to make sure we met where there would be room to pass each other, and to make it more dangerous for her to keep going lest we crash into each other. I assumed that she was not going to recognise that I had some notional right of way. Presently we collided. I pushed past her and got to the bottom of the escalator, and she started trying to run back up again. To my delight, she found her way blocked by a column of five or six people seemingly incapable of following the “Don’t stand on the left” rule, and had to descend sheepishly to the bottom of the downscalator, and clamber over the barrier to the upscalator she would have been on had she followed the one-way system in the first place. Make apathy work for you.

Commuter-on-commuter psychological warfare is also waged by means of wheelie luggage. This is a transient battle for position rather than territory, like naval warfare without the cannon and hats. There are two principal tactics: allow the wheelie luggage … to do a wheelie: let it just roll onto one wheel, the other heading off into the stratosphere, and careen off on its own arc, such that it threaten enemy passengers rather than the carrier. Achieving this nonchalantly is just the low-tech analogue of the Metro terrorists’ eternal conundrum: how do I get the toxins airborne? (Folkwarden David Blunkett is no longer Home Secretary so there is no longer a danger of being sealed in the Tube in the event of terrorists’ getting a substantial quantity of lethal wheelie luggage airborne.) Secondly, re-extending the handle on wheelie luggage suffices a pretext for becoming stationary at the top of a flight of stairs, endangering those still attempting to move up the stairs, who must now also become stationary, sending a little ripple of delay back down the stairs to every passenger and every person with whom he has to do, yea until the end of days.

We use water cannon to rid the Westminster streets of anarchists, and sweep the homeless from their Mayfair addresses. Our politicians speak of reducing the incidence of hooded-sweatshirt wearing teenagers from the tops of double-decker buses. Truly it is time to cleanse the Tube of those who would selfishly delay other passengers, and disperse with rubber bullets those who would stand and chat in critical tunnel intersections. I wait in joyful hope for that glorious Day when we wipe our enemies from the face of the London railway transit system.

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