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British Expat Newsletter:
5 April 2006

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Mind the gap
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

If you’ve lived in, or visited, London at any stage you’ll almost certainly have travelled on the London Underground. It’s a major part of the London experience.

It’s not as if travelling on it was a particularly pleasant experience. (Right, commuters?) The stations are often grubby, graffiti-ridden, run down or overcrowded – although some of the stations on the Jubilee Line Extension are genuinely pleasant. Much the same can be said for most of the trains. And the service is often unreliable, which can be a real nuisance – or even a health hazard – if you happen to be trapped between stations in a tunnel in the middle of summer. The one thing you can rely on is that you won’t be able to use it if you’re planning a late night out – the lines weren’t built with 24-hour living in mind, so they have to be shut down altogether for maintenance every night.

And, of course, there are the other passengers. When Jean-Paul Sartre wrote “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (“Hell is other people”) he must have had the Underground in mind. Travelling on those trains is a stressful enough experience without having to share it in close proximity to other more or less savoury characters. Reams could be written about the etiquette of Underground travel (and has been; see our virtual snacks below), but suffice to say that all the rules that normally apply to travel in lifts apply even more strongly on the Underground, including the one about not making eye contact with other passengers.

So what makes the London Underground so special?

Part of the mystique is no doubt because London’s Underground is the world’s oldest metro (OK, so cynics might say that it shows); the first line, the Metropolitan, opened in 1863, although the original stretch is now part of the Hammersmith & City Line. And it’s the world’s most extensive, at least in terms of the number of stations, with 287 of them.

It’s also played a significant part in London’s history, particularly during the Second World War. Many of the stations on the “Tube” lines (the tunnels cut deep underground on the Northern, Central and Piccadilly Lines) were used as air raid shelters, although at first official policy was to turn people away to surface shelters – the idea being that the trains must be kept running. Even when the Government relented enough to let people use the stations as shelters, in October 1940, this was only “insofar as it does not interfere with the transport of London’s workers”. But by March 1941 bunks had been put in over 70 of the stations, and these were providing night-time shelter for 23,000 people. Additionally Down Street, which closed in 1932, served as a meeting place for the Cabinet while the Cabinet War Rooms in King Charles Street were being made ready.

And it’s got more than its fair share of cultural icons. The Underground’s best-known identifier is, of course, the map originally designed by Harry Beck in the early 1930s. It’s more than just a map; it’s a classic of good design. It’s a model for public transport maps all round the world. It’s inspired countless spoofs and subversions (the most famous of which is undoubtedly Simon Patterson’s “The Great Bear”, which replaces the names of stations with names of philosophers, film stars, politicians and other celebrities – the original now hangs in Tate Britain, but prints are widely available in art shops and online). It’s appeared on everything from T-shirts to tea-towels, and of course in the back of almost every diary produced for the UK.

Almost as famous is the roundel logo, the red ring crossed by a blue bar which bears the name of each individual station. That’s been around since 1907. To a certain extent it was adopted by the “We Are Not Afraid” movement after the 7 July bombings last year.

And then there’s the phrase “Mind the gap”, which is now an established part of London’s image. Transport for London have even made something of a gimmick of it – you can buy all kinds of “Mind the gap” clothing. And it’s been sampled by at least two dance bands, so it must be an icon of sorts.

So where did the phrase come from? For those who aren’t familiar with the Underground, some of the stations have curving platforms – apparently from the days when the tunnels had to follow surface roads, we gather. As a result, when a train halts at one of these stations there’s a gap between the carriages and the platform edge which is large enough for things, or even people, to fall into. To warn people of the danger, there are automated tannoy announcements (by a very plummy-sounding man and, more recently, by a rather posh woman as well) and warnings painted on the platform, saying… well, you work it out.

Interesting though it is, we’re pleased to have escaped from it!

Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Song – a re-write of The Jam’s “Going Underground”. Warning! – this contains rather a lot of profanities, as you might expect from a regular Northern Line user. Here’s a link to the lyrics and from there you can download the song and accompanying Flash video (if the swearie words haven’t put you off). Great stuff! (There’s plenty more fun Underground stuff on the site too, including the etiquette stuff I mentioned in “This Week”.)
London Underground song

If you’d like to see what an abandoned Tube station looks like, here’s an unofficial virtual tour of Down Street Station (opened 15 March 1907, closed 21 May 1932, used in wartime as government offices):
[Obsolete link removed]

And here’s a site with loads of anecdotes and arcane information from the people who actually work on the Underground, as well as aficionados:
Life Underground

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • how to move countries
  • car dents course uk
  • outhouse toilet ecards
  • 4 men buried with hats
  • costco mattress sealy bouncy -baby
  • smoll penis
  • sing out google
  • dung sex links
  • ancient egyptian homos
  • april fool s pranks urine
  • growing pot in a dustbin
  • diane lane free faked photo in unfaithful

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

Kay
Editor
British Expat Magazine

Quotation

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

– Oscar Wilde, Irish poet, novelist, dramatist and critic (1854-1900)

Joke

An American, a Brit and an Australian were travelling on a train from Melbourne to Sydney. The trip, which normally takes over 10 hours, could be boring and tedious, so the Aussie asked his companions if anyone was carrying a pack of playing cards to while away the time. No one had the required ingredients to be able to play poker, but the American suggested that a game of charades would help to pass the time.

“What the hell is charades?” asked the Australian.

“I will give you clues about a popular film by miming and doing hands gestures, while you try to name the movie. The main rule is that the person doing the charade must remain silent,” explained the American. He then started the game by getting a piece of paper from his briefcase and throwing it out of the window of the moving train.

“I know, I know!” said the Brit, “‘Gone With The Wind’.”

Now it was the Brit’s turn to have a shot at the charade. He stood up on his seat and with both fists he started to hit his chest and pulling his face.

“Oh that’s ‘King Kong’!” said the American quickly. He then got off his seat and started to kick frantically with his hands and feet.

“That’s easy,” interrupted the Brit, “‘Karate Kid’.”

Several charades later, the Aussie hadn’t managed to guess any of the titles and was clearly getting quite disgruntled. As the train pulled into its halfway stop at Albury he quickly grabbed his companions’ suitcases and bolted to the door.

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” screamed the other two with one voice.

“‘The Great Train Robbery’,” he told them curtly, and disappeared out of the train.

PG Author: Kay McMahon

Kay has been an expat for nearly 30 years. She set up the British Expat website back in early 2000, whilst living in London and missing the expat life. These days she spends much of her time lugging computers and cameras around the world. (Dave gets to deal with all the really heavy stuff.)

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