Blessed are the Bottleneckers

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The problem with automatic ticket barriers is their propensity to change location. Logic dictates that such essential train station furniture should be close to the entrance/exit and that the demands of space, power and connectivity should limit the options available to planners. Not so in your precious world, my dear bottlenecker, where these most Muggle of items are imbued with a Hogwarts staircase-esque intelligence. For you, these shiny pillars with their drab grey swing gates are a constant source of bewilderment.

You, brave traveller, know that we live in a world of perverse wizardry. Hence you arrive at the barrier wholly unprepared. How could you possibly have predicted that exiting the station may require some form of validation, or that the method would conform to such mundane rules? We should laud your courage in the face of these crippling uncertainties:

– Will there be a barrier?

– Will it be where it was yesterday, and every day before that?

– Who am I? Why am I here?

Bowed down under the weight of doubt it makes perfect sense that you don’t have your contactless payment method ready in your hand. Only when faced with the undeniable solidity of the bright yellow pad should you paw through your purse, or switch on your phone and scroll to ApplePay.

Someone churlish might suggest you could use your time on the escalator to prepare. These mechanical contrivances are long, and you’re clearly not someone in a hurry who walked up. How ignoble to suggest you sacrifice your precious time contemplating the low to high, misery to glory of your own existence, and the posters for West End shows you will never see. Who would not forgive you grappling with your existential angst and your vapid arse scratching?

It’s not as though you inconvenienced that many people at the ticket barrier itself. Most of your fellow travellers are far behind, caught in a pile-up at the top of the escalator. When you stepped off it was essential that you stop and survey this new world the moving walkway had magically transported you to.

How boorish of the people behind to think you should be expected to keep walking. You who have clawed out of the cocoon of the London tube system into a bright reality of backlit advertising. This emergence should be celebrated, not bound by the relentless industry of the escalator, spewing forth the rest of humanity into your back. Why should you, in this moment of rapture, take a single step to the side?

You are a pilgrim through life. Your every step is holy. The world is a cruel and uncertain place, its hallmark is its unpredictability. Its pleasures are few and to be savoured. So pause often, in the tightest of spaces, in the most inconvenient bottlenecks. Make your skin like armour against the barging shoulders and the barbs of “moron” and “imbecile”.

Blessed are the bottleneckers for they shall inhibit the underground.

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The Unbearable Attraction of Edges

Edges fascinate me.Gravity increases exponentially as I approach. A siren sings “here I am, here I am, let me enfold you.” As I am sucked towards that promise, the lights of the train can be seen down the tunnel. The direct, inviting gaze of the prostitute across the bar, and for a moment I think she may be interested in more than my wallet. There is a dream it would be so easy to fall into.

And then there is noise, an alarm bell of rattling metal and squeaking brakes, the oiled bearings of sliding doors. The moment ends as I scan the carriage for a seat or step aside to let people disembark.

I am scared of falling in the same way we all are. We’re wired to react to the sensation. But I also love the exhilaration of falling. I’m not scared of heights because I might fall, but because I might jump. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suicidal, but which one of us has not succumbed in the moment of temptation to the transitory pleasure of something wrong? And if the ground or the track or the train should provide an instantaneous dash of sobriety, so be it.

Of course the fact I am writing this is the proof of my self control. Beatification is merely a matter of time.

And so back to the edge, and its terrible fascination. Fear is in that heady brew, and I hate the thought of being under the sway of something so weak as fear. My rational mind understands the inverse square law and the properties of concrete and that there is no danger in stepping right up to the painted line. So I thumb my nose at the fear and find myself at the precipice. My conscience says the rational is just an excuse, you came to the bar to hear the song and look into the eyes, and it is right.

I used to work at Kings Cross, that most frustrating of stations which is the confluence of out of town commuters, tube travellers, football fans and tourists. All moving to different speeds and demands and levels of understanding of where the hell they’re going, and in the midst of it all I just wanted to get home.

Worst of all, in the noise and the brownian motion of humanity I could not hear the song or see the hooker.

I took to walking two, then three stops homewards before getting on the tube. It was a good workout, 3 miles every evening walked briskly. It meant that as the quieter station swallowed me I had processed the day into leaky Tupperware boxes and stacked them away in the fridge of my mind. It meant the kids got Dad, not performance appraisals. I lost weight, got fitter and healthier.

It also meant I would be alone on the platform at Tufnell Park, with all the clatter and noise in my head stacked and packed and silenced. The siren would sing and I was the only one to hear her, and the whore would turn her smokey eyes my way and I would get up and walk to edge and think about buying her a drink.

Every day the song became more compelling and the eyes more attractive. Sometimes the only way to avoid temptation is to not go where you might be tempted. I left that job because it might have been the death of me.

The lyrics quoted at the top are from “Song to the Siren” by Tim Buckley, covered hauntingly by This Mortal Coil. That doesn’t mean anything, it is just a coincidence.

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photo taken at Goodge Street, not Tufnell Park.

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