22 January, 2009

To the end of To The End Of The Line

A month or so before Christmas I bought a book called The Romance Of London's Underground. I found it in a second-hand bookshop in Buckinghamshire. I think it was published in the early 1930s; there is no date mentioned anywhere in the text, but sounds as if it were written just before the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board (1933).

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

12 comments:

Dominic said...

Thank you

Greg Wesson said...

Thanks for posting this. As a new arrival to London, I have enjoyed reading all the entries and learning a bit about the stations and lines that I have started to ride everyday.

I am sad to see the end of the end of the line, secretly hoping that you have decided that the blog isn't complete unless you capture all the DLR and Overground stations. That being said, though, I understand if you wish to hang up your hat at the end of what you have done. It is quite an accomplishment to have captured what you have. Cheers for that.

Ben Braithwaite said...

Knowing it had to end doesn't make it any less disappointing... What's your next project going to be?

Ian Jones said...

Thanks chaps. Not sure what I might do next - I'm a bit stationed out at the moment.

Mark Moxon said...

Ian,

I've been reading your blog for well over a year now, and have been meaning to post for a while, just to say thanks for such a great read. I stumbled across your site while researching my own overland version of your journey - see www.tubewalker.com - and I also fell in love with the Underground, with its amazing stations and fascinating history.

I'll miss your pithy and witty ramblings popping up in my newsreader, and for me the answer is yes: you have made the Underground feel human and romantic, and I'm with you on that one.

Oh, by the way, now that you're done, is your list of Top 10 stations unchanged from the list you posted in March? Probably not, looking at the lines you walked since then. ;-) My favourite of all was Southgate, but I'm a sucker for Jetson-esque architecture...

Mark

Jason said...

Thank you very much for the work you put into this over the last two years. It's been one of the most enjoyable blogs I've read and it's a shame it had to end.

Tracy said...

I've really enjoyed your blog, and I admire your persistence in seeing this mammoth project through. Thank you for sharing all of this with us.

sasa said...

Ian,

I will miss your blog immensely. As a London Underground Lover, it gave me so much to think about as I travelled around the network.

I've been trying to come up with ideas that might extend the life of your blog, and stop you getting to the end of your line! How about visiting some of London's ghost stations. Stations that have closed, never opened, or never even left the drawing board.

Best wishes,

Sasa.

Ian Jones said...

Cheers all. Mark, I think I would add a couple of stations to that top 10: Wood Lane and Chiswick Park. Not sure which two I'd take out...Woodside Park and Rayners Lane, maybe. And I'd also like to add, as a kind of 10a, the interior of Gants Hill.

Mark Moxon said...

Good choices, especially Chiswick Park and the inside of Gants Hill. You can't beat a bit of Charles Holden, eh! :-)

Little Johnny Jewel said...

Ian

Just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed following your blog these last months. Thank you.

- Grahame

Emma said...

As a huge fan of all things UndergrounD, I've really enjoyed your blog too. I'd kill to get hold of a copy of that book you quoted from.

If you're in need of a new London project, you could always take on the one I've often mulled over - visiting every pub that features on a London bus destination blind (e.g. the Swan at Tottenham (73) or the Pawleyne Arms (176)...