The Awkward Guide

In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself

The Awkward Guide To Commuting On The Tube

Because nothing says 8am on a Monday like being squashed up against a bunch of strangers in an underground tunnel.

Amongst all the ups and downs of living in London, commuting on the tube is most definitely one of the downs. I mean, it does get you places quickly, without getting rained on, and without having to actually know how to get yourself from one bit of London to another. And that, if you’re like me and grew up a) in the north, and b) in the countryside, is a definite advantage.

But on the other hand it’s crowded, smelly, impossibly hot and means you spend an inordinate proportion of your day-to-day life being sweated on, sneezed on and trodden on by strangers while you attempt to read the Metro over their shoulder.

Like any environment in which lots of people who don’t know each other are forced to stand quite close together for a not insignificant length of time, the tube presents massive potential for awkwardness. Here are some of the most troublesome.

1. Not falling over. You will always see some people who have mastered the art of not falling over with nothing short of deeply admirable aplomb. They will stand securely planted in the middle of the tube, not holding onto a rail or leaning against a pole or clutching wildly at a stranger in a moment of panic.

Flicking through their newspaper with one hand and deftly sending texts on their mobile with the other (which I’ve never actually understood because surely not even Batman has phone signal underground) they seem completely immune to all kinds of gravitational force.

I am not one of those people. I spend most tube journeys gripping onto anything that stays still for dear life whilst trying not to tread on anyone twice (trying not to tread on anyone at all is sadly an aspiration well beyond my reach).

2. Oxygen. Well, lack of oxygen to be strictly accurate. This is why it’s always best to try and stand next to the window. Otherwise it’s very easy to quickly feel rather unwell and vaguely panic-stricken. Especially when the train is forced to stop in between stations and it becomes quite difficult to keep the “oh god, I’m going to die in a tunnel surrounded by people who smell. This is awful” thoughts at bay.

3. People keep getting in but no-one ever seems to get out. You could be forgiven for thinking that you’d accidentally slipped into some sort of alternate reality where people somehow keep getting onto your train even though there was definitely no more space at least three stops ago.

In practical terms, this just means that you are forced closer and closer to the random person in front of you until you are in full body-to-body contact and could not be touching each other any more if you tried. And even then there are still some people who have the sheer nerve to peer into the train and ask if “you could all move down a bit?”

Now, being British I usually respond with a small eye-roll or, if I’m feeling particularly confrontational, some light tutting. But what I’d really like to say is “unless you want me to straddle this old lady’s lap, an arrangement which I’m sure would be uncomfortable for everyone involved, then no, no I can’t.”

4. Getting out. Getting off at your stop can pose something of a challenge when every square inch of space is filled with person. Initially I went for the “apologising profusely whilst trying to gingerly squeeze my way out without accidentally touching anyone inappropriately” approach. As you can imagine, this was woefully ineffective.

After three weeks I’m now at the “I’m getting to that door whatever way I can and you’re all just going to have to deal with it” stage and therefore feel that I’ve been fully assimilated into London life.

Although admittedly this new cavalier approach to exiting can backfire occasionally. The other day I was attempting to force my way out when I started to fear that I had become irrevocably trapped between a handrail and a middle-aged business man. A situation which, as I’m sure you’ll understand, I found most concerning.


The Awkward Guide accepts no responsibility for adverse reactions to the implementation of advice supplied herein. Side-effects can include: smug laughter, mild disdain, and temporary irritation.


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This entry was posted on 03/11/2013 by in Education and Work and tagged , , , , , , .

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