Category Archives: The Tube

Emotion on the tube

I’m not posting much at the moment which is mostly due to real life getting a bit too real and demanding all of my time and attention. But I want to promise you that I am still reading!

Currently I’m reading a book called Was by Geoff Ryman (there was a very funny conversation where I tried to explain to my housemate that Was IS the name of the book and I wasn’t just really forgetful “My book is, Was….”!). Anyway the book is very good and is a sort of spin on The Wizard of Oz and while I was reading it today on my way to and from work (yes on a Saturday, what did I say about real life getting demanding?) it got super emotional. As in something majorly bad happened to one of the main characters and I was spellbound (pun intended).

Was  is one of those books that has several different stories woven together and tonight is the only time that I can remember indulging myself and skipping ahead to read the rest of one character’s story instead of waiting to get round to it. Part of me feels guilty but I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened.

Anyway the point of this somewhat-rambley post is that this Majorly Bad Thing got me so involved that I was getting quite emotional over it. I’ve mentioned before that I find it hard to mask my emotions when I’m reading something particularly good and anyone who’s ever watched a film with me will be able to tell you that I’m kind of obvious when I find something especially upsetting. So there I was reading my book with my distress written all over my face when I noticed the guy sat next to me.

I’m not often distracted when something has me so pinned to the page but this guy was also reading a book and out the corner of my eye I saw him make a fist and softly bang it against his knee.

If you’ve ever been to London then you’ll know that the proper way to act when on the tube is to pretend that no one else exists so I didn’t feel I could look at what he was reading but it was more reassuring than I can say to see someone else display visible emotion at the written word! Since I’d been distracted I then looked up at the man across from me and saw that he too was glued to the page with a look of distress on his face (although he was reading the non-fiction book, Guns. Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond so whether his distress was emotional or theoretical I couldn’t say).

As I say it’s the first time I’ve seen emotion from other readers on the Underground and it made me feel much better about my obviousness. Would it be too much of a terrible pun if I described myself as an open book in this scenario?! But it made me wonder, maybe my thoughts aren’t as obvious as I thought? And maybe I’m not the only one who’s so transparent after all? Which are comforting thoughts, I always wondered if maybe other Underground-readers don’t get as much out of their books as I do which would be a sad thing indeed.


“I love it whenever I read a book that mentions somewhere in London that I know” – interview with Books on the Tube

I’ve been a fan of the Books for London blog ever since I spotted a book swap trial they ran at my (then) local tube station. Basically the idea is that you can pick up a book for free on condition that you leave one behind for someone else to enjoy. The swaps are springing up all over the capital and I think it’s a fantastic idea. So I was incredibly flattered when I received a comment from Chris on my blog asking if I’d mind doing an interview about reading, the tube and blogging. Obviously I said yes straight away and you can read the interview here…

Books for London

BoU oicAlmost all of us like to read on the tube, and it’s great to talk to other people about what we’ve been reading (if they’ll let us!). In that spirit, we spoke to Kathy, the author of the Books on the Tube blog, who has been writing about her tube reading since May, 2012. Chris from Books for London talked to Kathy about her blog and why she started it – and got some interesting insights on how to enjoy your book if you can’t get a seat on the tube.

Books for London (BFL):Everyone reads on the tube – so what prompted you to start writing about it?

Books on the Tube (BOT): I’ve always been a very prolific reader, ever since the days of Biff, Chip and Kipper, but when I went to university the novels had to give way to textbooks and lecture notes. However…

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It’s my birthday!

My WordPress birthday that is – one year ago today I entered the blogosphere so it’s true what they say: time flies when you’re having fun!

Anyway in that time I have had many many views and have many many followers so thank you to all of you who have dropped by and huge thanks and a hug to those of you who’ve visited more than once.

But according to my stats the most common search terms used to find my blog all relate to the tube so I thought I’d write some of my thoughts on the wonderful London Underground and how it is reading on the different lines. I’m also going to give them a score out of 5 for readability.


A definite oldie, you can feel the springs in every seat and there’s a nice feel to it that’s like going back in time. Buuut the seats don’t have arms between them so you can end up sat far too close to the person next to you and there’s no elbow purchase which is essential for holding a book at the right height. 2/5


I always think of the Central line as being a horrible, sweaty, smelly line and I avoid it wherever possible but that’s not actually the case anymore. It got done up for the Olympics and it’s actually quite nice now but it’s also not got any arms to its seats removing that necessary elbow rest. 2/5

What is this lack of arm rests about??

What is this lack of arm rests about??


More missing elbow rests, a no longer easy to navigate route and an inevitable crowd of revellers on “the circle line pub crawl” coupled with a confusing mix of sometimes overground, sometimes underground stations make the Circle line far from ideal reading territory. 1/5


Never, ever, ever try reading on the District line! Not only is it old and rattley with a confusing system of lines that may or may not call at the station you want but you’ll be lucky if the right train comes within 10 minutes (that’s long by LU standards) AND the lights go on and off! So one minute you’re happily reading and the next you’re in darkness. 0/5


This is more of a monorail than an Underground line and as such delivers numerous reading distractions. Seeing the great outdoors is far too exciting for a mole like me to focus on a book – why do you think I never get the bus?! 2/5

Hammersmith & City

It’s got funky seat covers and an arm rest every other chair and it’s got plenty of space for standers which make it easier when forced to stand. An indifferent 2.5/5




My favourite line for reading has to be the Jubilee line. It’s slick and smooth with trains that glide along – no jolting making you lose your place and doors that quite literally sigh as they open giving you a feeling of contentment. Delightful. 5/5


This is another one that’s always nicer than I think, it suffers from being lumped together with the H&C and the Circle lines. But it does have seats arranged in fours (like on a train) so there’s the constant worry of kicking someone and the awkward shuffle when a new person sits down that can distract from the written word. 3.5/5


Ahh the Northern line. My line of choice, it’s not the smartest or the quickest nor is it the coolest (I’m talking temperature there) but it’s solid and dependable, it runs through snow and strike ensuring that you won’t have to go without your reading. 5/5

It's like a little piece of home

It’s like a little piece of home


A bit dingy this one and quite noisy as well. It’s also the coldest of the lines and usually means reading in a coat which is quite restrictive in terms of arm movement and ease of page turning. 3/5


Another excellent choice, it tends to be cool thanks to well-maintained air conditioning and it is also a smooth ride. Ample room on the seats and if you sit at the extreme end of the train it’s usually fairly empty so no need to fight for elbow room. 5/5

Waterloo & City

I’ll be honest I’ve caught the Waterloo & City line twice at most (it has two stops, what use is that?) so I don’t really have an opinion, it connects Bank and Waterloo though so I imagine it to be fairly swish and used to accommodating rich bankers who don’t need to live in London…

I hope you have found this account to be informative and now have a better idea of what it’s like reading on the grand ole London Underground. And also since the most common term for finding this blog actually relates to the tube map here it is as it would look at street level:

real tube map

30 Day Challenge: Day 20

20. The environment you most enjoy reading in.

Well this is easy. Look at the title of this blog.

Now look back at the question.

This post kinda writes itself huh?

London Underground!

Yeah, I love the tube! I love that while reading I can catch up on the gossip of complete strangers, make up my own stories about those around me and get lots of ideas for what to read next by looking over the shoulder of the person next to me.

I know that might sound like sarcasm but it’s not, I actually do love all those things. And there’s no internet or mobile signal to distract me and lure me into a conversation or making random discoveries on Wikipedia or the 101 other ways I find to waste time at any other point in the day.

Sure, reading at home on my comfy bed is lovely but I always feel like there’s something else I could be doing – the washing up or hoovering or (heaven forbid) making a start on my thesis – whereas below ground I’m incapable of doing any of those things so why worry?!

It may get hot and sticky and smelly and you may have to fight with the newspaper on the next seat for elbow room and people may be ignorant of how annoying the tinny music from their headphones is and there may be something about delays that cause people to turn into insensitive b*stards but hey, I really love it down there and it’s improved my library no end!


A small rant

This post is entirely unrelated to books but is dedicated to my other love: the London Underground.

It is not however a fuzzy wuzzy post about how much I love the tube like some of my earlier posts. No. This is a rant about some of the things I like least and is inspired by true  (and very recent) events.

  1. Drivers who fail to give you relevant information. For example, when getting off the Northern line at Stockwell to board a Victoria line service it would be nice to know if the Victoria line is running with delays. Otherwise you either have to reboard the Northern line (usually the second or third train after the one you were on) or you end up on a delayed Victoria line service. Brilliant.
  2. Drivers who give too much information. We’ve been stuck in a tunnel for 20 minutes, nobody has got on or off the train and we all know that the train is delayed. We also all know that this is because of a defective train at Finsbury Park. While I appreciate being kept informed there is no need to come over the tannoy every 2 minutes to repeat the same information. If you have no new information then don’t interrupt my reading and get my hopes up for no reason.
  3. Incorrect service information announcements. “Good service on all lines.” Oh really? I just got off the Victoria line where I’d spent 20 minutes sitting in a tunnel not moving, call that a good service do you?!

Those were all examples from this morning but for a more extreme example of number 3 let us consider my journey on Sunday morning.

I had to get to the ExCel centre in east London for 8am. I boarded the first Northern line tube of the day and by 8am (that’s 1 hour into my journey) I had made it as far as Clapham South (5 stops). I then got a bus to Balham, a train to Victoria and a tube to Bank. When I arrived at Bank the train I had previously been on had made it as far as Elephant & Castle. That’s 6 stops in an hour. Yet the station announcer told us twice that there was a good service on the Northern line. What is good about that?!

OK, rant over, time to get on with my day.

Happy Birthday London Underground!

Today marks 150 years since the first train sallied forth on the then Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon (a stretch which is now part of the Hammersmith & City line). To celebrate that happy event, Google have created a special Doodle:

Fantastic use of the tube map, one of my favourite things about London.

Fantastic use of the tube map, one of my favourite things about London.

And TimeOut London have composed a list of their 30 favourite things about the tube which you can see here.

And so I thought I’d share 10 of my top reasons for loving the tube.

  1. The convenience. There’s a station five minutes from my house and it’s on the treasured Northern line which almost never breaks down, kept running through the interminable strikes of 2011 and serves almost the entirety of central London. Who could ask for better?!

    The wonderful Northern line

    The wonderful Northern line

  2. The people. Be they staff, commuters or tourists there’s always someone who can put a smile on your face. Ranging from the red-faced driver who after repeated requests for the “man with the bike” to get off the train had to admit that ‘he’ was in fact a she; to the platform announcer whose speech I can repeat word for word (including his wonderful pronunciation of the word ‘depart’); to the two boys whose ghetto speech was such that I honestly had no idea what they were saying; I’ve encountered a number of hilarious individuals in my travels and I love them all.
  3. The sleeping people. Definitely their own category, there’s nothing funnier than watching someone desperately try not to nod off on their way home. Unless it’s seeing them wake up at Morden and curse the lack of northbound trains (although that’s been me on more than one occasion)!

    Three sleeping people. A particularly amusing trip home!

    Three sleeping people. A particularly amusing trip home!

  4. The friendliness. The tube is known for its lack of human contact, there’s an unwritten rule which bans eye contact and all forms of interaction between passengers but it’s not always so. in the case of delays or if someone needs help tube passengers seem more friendly and willing to help than those on other methods of transportation. I had a lovely chat with someone who noticed I was upset one night not long after I moved here and I’ve witnessed countless other examples of people waking up other passengers, helping those a little bit worse for wear and generally just showing a bit of humanity. Not to mention the good-natured moaning that starts up when there’s any sign of a delay.

    A work of art like no other.

    A work of art like no other.

  5. The map. I love that map with its multicoloured lines snaking across the page in a pattern so familiar to Londoners and so confusing to outsiders. It’s like we have our own secret code. Which leads nicely on to:
  6. The insider knowledge. I love that every morning and evening I stand in the exact spot on the platform where I know the doors will stop and that I sit in the same seat for every trip. I also love seeing other people milling about in confusion and finding themselves stuck between two crowds with no chance of getting through the door on the next train. I can be ever so smug.

    Picture copyright: Peter Stubbs

    Picture copyright: Peter Stubbs

  7. The funny signs. Whether the work of ‘artists’, underground staff or just an accident, they can all brighten up the day.

    Sadly it's a bit blurred but the yellow poster says 'A little patience won't kill you' but the poster is upside down suggesting soemone was being ironically impatient.

    Sadly it’s a bit blurred but the yellow poster says ‘A little patience won’t kill you’ but the poster is upside down suggesting someone was being ironically impatient.

  8. The differences. Each of the lines has its own feel (if you don’t believe me try riding the beautiful new Victoria line service and then getting on an old, rattling District line train) and many of the stations have little quirks like the Sherlock Holmes motif at Baker Street or the ancient poster at South Wimbledon. It’s little things like that which make a journey interesting.
  9. The guilt-free reading. This is the most important of all, spending close to two hours a day underground gives me a perfect excuse to read. I can’t do work because there’s no internet (the slow WiFi provided at stations doesn’t count since by the time you’re logged on the train is moving again and you’ve lost signal), I can’t get in touch with other people because there’s no mobile signal so what else is there to do?! Which brings us to:
  10. This blog! if it wasn’t for all the time I spend on the tube I would have nothing to write about so hurray for the underground!!

Books on the Métro

I was lucky enough to enjoy an (almost) all-expenses paid trip to Paris last week and so I spent the weekend traipsing around the sites. Needless to say my feet got pretty tired and so I resorted to taking the Paris version of the tube – the Métro.

Admittedly I was using it during the weekend and (once on Wednesday lunchtime) but I was shocked to see an absence of books on the trains. There wasn’t even a newspaper to be seen! Now the weekends are relatively book-light in London as well, something to do with the reduced volume of commuters I suspect, but there are always one or two dotted around the carriages. And failing that there is always a forgotten copy of the Metro (newspaper in this context!) or the Evening Standard which make an appearance. But there was none of this across the channel.

I did see two books being consumed on my travels but one of these was English and I have reason to believe that it’s reader was heading for Gare du Nord and possibly the London Underground.

Double-decker bridge!

Double-decker bridge!

So what’s going on? Why do the Parisians not feel the need to distract themselves from their subterranean travels in the same way as us Brits? Part of the Metro is outside it’s true; line 6 is especially exciting as the section that crosses the Seine is actually on a double-decker bridge (Pont de Bir-Hakem), but still the majority of travel is in the dark.

Some other differences between the tube and the Métro:

  1. Vending machines on platforms! Although it’s probably for the best that there aren’t any on London platforms, I’d only spend a fortune.
  2. The price. A single trip in the Paris area costs 1.70€ (£1.35) compared to an equivalent trip in London which is £4.30 (5.40€)
  3. And finally, the quality of the trains. Actually there’s not much difference here, it seems to vary by line on both sides of the channel but I think London trains are very slightly nicer. Also the seats are arranged better in London, no awkward sets of four taking up all the space. Well London had to win something didn’t it?!