It's a slightly discoloured publication with stiff pages and a musty smell. The dustjacket disappeared years ago. It is written by somebody called W. J. Passingham. It boasts chapters with titles such as TRAINING THE STAFF and SIGNALLING AND SAFETY DEVICES.
Yet it surpasses all shortcomings on the very first page, in the very first paragraph:
There is beneath the City of London and its gigantic suburbs another world, a complex system of transport - of highways and byways - such as even the most thoughtful among its citizens rarely think upon in terms other than speed and comfort. For the Londoner who walks daily the familiar city streets, the sightseer in search of Romance, and the historian seeking material for posterity is written the story of this underground city and the men who created it.
Those two sentences, for me, sum up all that I love about the Underground. They embody something of what I was attempting, and not really succeeding, to achieve with this blog: a travelogue mixing both fact and sentiment, an account both empirical and subjective, an inventory of motion and emotion.
I wanted to try and record some of what I feel when I use the Underground. I wanted to talk about the way I admire its history, its design, its geography, its personality. I wanted to capture impressions of its overlooked triumphs and all-too-obvious failures. Above all, I wanted to make it feel human, to illuminate its capacity for evoking - often at the same time - melancholy and, yes, romance.
Whether I even came near to that is not for me to say. I wrote this thing to be read, and I'm grateful to those few folk who looked in now and then and left a comment or two.
I enjoyed travelling to every station on the network, despite some of my negative reviews, and even though the whole tour took much longer than expected. Some of the best moments came when I really did get to the end of the line, and found myself in that most eerie of places, the terminus. This always prompted a rich mix of perceptions: the business of lingering somewhere designed for anything but; the act of flinging yourself as far away from the city centre as possible yet still feeling attached; the sight of an Underground train overground in the middle of countryside, or a quiet suburban hollow.
I started this blog when money was pouring into the network and its backers in City Hall were full-throated and fiery. I'm ending it under a regime that seems nonchalant at best, hostile at worst.
I hope the future for the Underground is both safe and sound. I fear that it is neither.
And so to London and down the ever-moving Stairs
Where a warm wind blows the bodies of men together
And blows apart their complexes and cares.
- Louis MacNeice