Taking kids on the tube (Don’t be a dick!)
Whether or not you’re taking kids on the tube, there’s an unwritten rule amongst Londoners. In fact, there’s several. Don’t stop suddenly at the top of an escalator. Make sure you have your travelcard or Oyster card ready to go through the barrier.
Don’t look people in the eye, and don’t talk to anyone on the tube either.
Seriously, that last one? Firstly, talking to strangers in London is telling an elderly nun you’ve just defecated on her dinner plate. You’re not up North any more, don’t do it. Secondly, the tube is noisy. Really noisy. No one can hear what you’re saying.
You could probably file all of the London-based rules under one easy-to-remember phrase: Don’t be a dick. In fact, those four words are a motto you should live your life by.
But one of the big rules of the London Underground is: Don’t stand in front of the tube doors.
But people do. As close to the carriage as they can get, nose lined up with the section of rubber where the two doors meet, they stand there, stoically, waiting to get on.
Never mind that there are people wanting to get off the tube first. Still they stand; they stand there still.
I bumped into one such person last week.
Allow me to set the scene.
We’re in London. Liverpool Street, to be precise. It’s busy and as Spring really starts to take a firm grip, it’s unusually warm.
It’s also rush hour.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune to recognise the scene above, you’ll already feel my pain.
Let me crank it up one notch further.
I have three girls with me. My 15-year-old, her 14-year-old friend and my 11-year-old. They are off to see a hero of theirs in concert - ably accompanied by me, of course. Naturally, they are excited.
Let’s be honest, travelling with children can be worrying enough, without having to do it in rush hour, and having kids on the underground just makes things even more stressful.
As a result, we don’t come to London too often. Not often enough for them to be au fait with the tube network. I tested this by seeing if they could figure out how to get from Liverpool Street to Kentish Town. It involves using the Northern Line - as black a line that represents it on the map as the mood of most of its passengers.
The eldest worked out roughly what to do to get there. None of the three could quite wrap their head around the fact that the line splits and branches off. Not a massive issue - that’s why I’m here. But warning enough that we need to stay close together.
We get to the underground platform. A train has just signalled it’s imminent arrival by the instantly recognisable rush of wind sweeping down past the commuters.
I look up and check the departure board. My eyes dance from the digital display to the three kids and back again. It’s our train, and I quickly bleat to the kids to get on it and remind them we’re only going one stop.
Within seconds, the train has stopped. Doors open with a whoosh, people stream off and on the carriages, amongst them, my three.
Somehow in their excitement, they have ducked, dived and danced through a myriad of people to board the train whilst I was stuck behind Mr Ignorant.
That’s probably not his real name. Knowing what little I know about the guy now, I doubt he has the personality to fill the back of a stamp, let alone to inspire a Roger Hargreaves style book.
Mr Ignorant stood front-and-centre between me and the tube carriage doors that the kids have run through.
I glance past him (he was as thick as he seemed, well, thick). Was he waiting to let people off? No one else was stepping off the train.
Was he taking his time getting on? He must be, I guessed.
Suddenly I heard the rapid beeping that signalled the doors were shutting. The doors that would, in just a few seconds, separate me from three kids in my care and lead to a minor meltdown. Possibly from them. Almost definitely from me.
I put hands on Mr Ignorant’s upper arms and pushed him to the left, at the same time pushing off the weight of my left foot to scramble past him.
I made it on the train, the beeping of the doors continuing unabating.
“Alright mate, careful!” said Mr Ignorant, looking annoyed.
“Careful?!” the words spat from my mouth as I turned to address him. “You’re standing in front of the doors like a dick!”
He muttered something back, but by then I’d already turned back to the girls to make sure they were ok.
They were fine, of course. Practically oblivious as to what the fuss and noise was about. One of them looked past me and I turned to see what had caught her eye.
There, still unmoved from his place in front of the doors was Mr Ignorant. Giving me the Nescafe wave (not dissimilar to Sarah Greene’s effort below)
As soon as he saw me turn, he stopped, such was his bravery. Shocked, I stuck my middle finger up at him and looked him in the eye. The doors were shut by now, and he was obviously feeling more brave as he once again did his clenched fist wave as the train slowly pulled out of the station.
And that was the start of my evening. weetly bookended by our arrival near Camden, where a young woman in her early 20s was dancing energetically, singing along to an upbeat melody that only she could hear.
It was all sweetly bookended by our arrival near Camden, where a young woman in her early 20s was dancing energetically, singing along to an upbeat melody that only she could hear.
“What is she doing? There’s no music, why on earth is she dancing?”
“When you have music in your heart, Chloe,” I replied, “you don’t need music in your ears.”
It was said tongue-in-cheek but fell comfortably amongst the background of hipster Camden chatter.