Earlier this year, I wrote a piece recording my trip on the Adelaide Tram on Australia Day. It was inspired by Ron Silliman’s “BART” poem. This is a companion piece, recording my trip in June 2013 around the Circle line, on the London Underground.
11:45 a.m. 15th June 2013. London. A cool, windy summer’s day. The District line from Ravenscourt Park to Hammersmith (where I was born) to get onto the Circle line. “All change please. There is no District line east from Hammersmith. All change. All change. This train is terminating here”. A typical Londoner opposite me: angular, large features, greying. An east European family next to me. Off the train, along the platform, bumping in the crowd, up the stairs, past a man playing guitar, who could be Edge, the guitarist in U2. Past W.H. Smith, through the barriers, swiping my Oyster card, across two roads to the other Hammersmith station for the Circle line. “Hey buddy how you doing?”: a man opposite. Not talking to me. Talking loudly on his smartphone. “This is a Hammersmith and City line train to Barking. Please stand clear of the doors”. The smartphone man: “ I don’t know where to go. Should I go straight to the gate?”. “Do you wanna be a lawyer? I’ll call you when I get to Aldgate”. Another man opposite reading “Private Eye”. “This is Goldhawk Road”. A family with plastic bags of food and large bottles of Coke. “The next station is Shepherd’s Bush Market”. My Dad used to bring me here as a child; we could walk from our house in Shepherd’s Bush. A man in a green tracksuit top scans his ‘phone. A Chinese looking man looks over his shoulder. The wife shares the Coke bottle with her son. The classic tube sound: whine rising in pitch as the train speeds up, clunkety clunk, clunkety clunk; the whine lowers in pitch as the train slows down. Vacuum thud of a train going in the opposite direction; strobe effect from its windows. Past the huge Westfield shopping centre coming into Latimer Road. “Sale ends soon. Bed and mattress £1,170 £498. Warner Evans. Handmade in London”. Clouds, cumulo nimbus. Sun streaming through the windows. Rumble of wheels. The train stops for no apparent reason. That strange motor noise like a recharging generator. A tall woman gets on. Stands, adjusts her white trousers, tucks in her tangerine top below a pink and black cardigan. Sits. Blows her nose. “The next station is Ladbroke Grove. Please mind the gap between the train and the platform”. White trouser lady takes off her pink and black cardigan. Gets out her smartphone, puts in her earphones. She has striking pewter coloured shoes, black nail polish, bare shoulders now. “The next station is Royal Oak”. A Russian looking couple converse down the carriage. Squeal of brakes. The doors rattle open. A big, young bloke paces up and down by the doors. Reads his smartphone. White trousered lady takes out a book: Anne Patchett, “State of Wonder”. Big young bloke has a “Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band” t-shirt on, very muddy trainers. “This is Paddington”. It’s getting crowded. Sound of an ascending xylophone – the ‘phone of a woman next to me. She has brown suede Ugg boots. Lights flicker on and off and on. We are now underground. A bang and shudder and then smooth progress. Reflections in the window against the dark tunnel. I can see myself hovering over the head of white trouser lady. Woman next to me gets out a drink. “Edgware Road. Change here for Circle Line”. Platform 1 Eastbound. Above ground. On the platform a young couple with bicycles. Opposite the platform, a concrete building, grey, smoke-stained, dirty. A low door: “Danger. Risk of Electric Shock”. Rows and rows of cables, piping, wires; dozens of them run the length of the wall the other side of the tracks. A Japanese looking girl, colourful top, red glasses on her heard, reading her smartphone. Smiles to herself. A small boy next to me, Indian, perhaps five years old, receives a call on his smartphone: “’allo. no ….”. It is 12:15 p.m. on the station’s Roman numeral clock face. A train comes in on platform 2. “Circle line via Aldgate” on the front. This should take me full circle. Quite full. I grab a seat at the front end, back to the window, the door to my right. Through the door window to my right I can see into the next carriage. Back underground. “Baker Street – change for Bakerloo, Jubilee and Metropolitan Lines. Exit here for Madame Tussaud’s”. Doors clatter shut. “What about Rome, that would be fantastic”: a woman opposite with green shoes. In the next carriage, a girl in a shiny pink dress, pink top, pigtails, nine or ten years old, swings from the handrail; takes her pink top off, hands it to her mother. “Oh I’m sure it was. Got it from TripAdvisor.com”: green shoes woman. A man gets on with a suitcase. Sits next to me. He is restless. Feet tapping. Sniffing. Down the carriage a girl plays a game with her young father which involves knocking him on the head. She sits on his knee. “This is Euston Square”. White tiled walls. Advertisement: “Dress £15”.We move off into the tunnel. Clunkety clunk. Flash. Glimpses of people in a passing train. A man, short, bouquet in his hand, “Isle of Flowers”, Karrimor backpack, sandals. He is with a woman: tall, blonde. Who are the flowers for? Not her. Maybe his mother? “Kings Cross St. Pancras. Exit here for Royal Institute for the Blind”. Restless man has gone. Replaced by a man with Veldskoens (“Fellies” we used to call them in Zimbabwe). Black trousers, arms crossed. Lights flash off and on. The train rocks side to side. Back out into daylight. Grey brown brick walls flash by. Badoom, badoom. “In a way that is my subject too”: the woman opposite. “And we have to divide our costs”. “No Smoking” in the ubiquitous underground logo – blue horizontal bar across red circle. Sun streams in. Classic rail arches, pipes, cables. Farringdon – a spacious station. Dark cream brick, not tiles. “Change here for National Rail Services”. Warning beeps as the doors close. “I was concentrated on being smart”: a foreign woman in white shoes to the green shoed woman. The sun is bright now, streaming in and then we are underground again. In the next carriage, two young black men laugh and swap jokes. “Barbican. This is a Circle line train via Liverpool Street and Tower Hill”. Down the carriage a South American looking man, big camera, dark glasses, dark Latin hair, green and white hooped shirt, blazer, Nikon black and yellow camera strap around his neck. Moorgate: typical underground: grey tiled walls. “ASUS Talk to your Tablet”. Into the tunnel. Clink, grind. Blackness. Window reflections. All seats are occupied. A few people standing. Back above ground. Then Liverpool Street. Crowded platform. A lot of people get off, a lot get on. Woman pulling a large suitcase with wheels, probably from a British Rail train. Opposite: green shoed lady is gone. A lady with a yellow daffodil badge on a parka, grey trousers, about my age; clutches her handbag protectively. The next carriage is full. A girl in a hijab. The girl with the suitcase laughs and smiles, looks around the carriage. Maybe she is new to London. Aldgate: brown bricked, above ground. Warning beeps. The doors close. Squeak, grind, squeak, grind, kaboom. Lights off, lights on. A man in a blue polo shirt and grey jacket gives up his seat. Back underground. The grab rails are all yellow. The seats are blue with a yellow, green and purple pattern. “Mind the gap please. Mind the gap please” at Tower Hill. Warning beeps. Doors rattle shut. The train moves off in fits and starts. The next carriage is very full. Lights off, lights on. Lights off, lights on. Daffodil badge lady looks like she’s praying. Next to her could be her daughter, and her husband in a red jacket next to me. Monument station. Larger cream coloured tiles with a dragon design. CBS flat screen advertising panels: “8 p.m. Micro Monsters with David Attenborough”. “It’s about a ten minute walk but it will be nice and sunny”: a man with a Liverpool accent. “How do they know which side to open the doors?”, his daughter asks. “They do” he says. “But how” she says. “The driver does it”, he says. Daffodil badge lady plays with her t-shirt. Looks like she’s feeling too warm. Manor House: a big underground station with white tiles. A young black man – light blue pork pie hat, white t-shirt, dark blue cardigan, only buttoned in the middle. Gaggle of five teenage girls swarms off at Blackfriars. “You pay in, your boss pays in”. Into the tunnel. Lights off, lights on. Whine of acceleration. Clickety clunk. Daffodil lady family don’t talk to each other. Each in their own world, hypnotised by the rhythm of the underground. Temple: green tiles, cream tiles. “Feeling unwell? Seek help at the next station”. “Barking Blondes”. “Caulfield and Hume”. Into the tunnel. Rocking side to side, up and down. Brief daylight, back underground. Flash of sunlight. Embankment. Crowded platform. A kiosk on the platform: M&Ms, Bounty, Rolo, Picnic, Mars. A lot of people get on. White tiles with modern art type, diagonal, random coloured bars. Opposite: a young woman, earphones in, wears a large silver watch. “This is Westminster. Exit here for the Jubilee line. Exit here for Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, riverboat tours”. A man with a large camera stands in front of me, and noisily opens the window on the connecting door. He wears a Berghaus vest. Standing room is nearly all taken up. The next carriage appears even more crowded. Diagonally opposite, an Indian girl: a heart shaped pendant around her neck; a scarf and jeans. I think the camera man is trying to read what I’m writing – he lets out a big sigh. I’m in a good spot here in the corner. The carriage is packed. St. James’s Park. American accents: “Can you see where we are out there. St. James’s Park”. In the next, a man strokes the long hair of the woman with him. She grabs a seat when someone gets up. “This is Victoria”. A scrum as people try to get off and on at the same time. “People get angry don’t they? Are you alright?”: a father to his daughter. They squeeze through and stand in front of me. The next carriage looks absolutely jammed. The girl standing in front of me has a polka dot jacket and square framed glasses. Her father is young. He has a northern accent, wears brushed suede trousers. They play a sort of balancing game as the train speeds up and slows down. We stop between stations. “This is Sloane Square”. There are so many passengers that I can’t see the doors. Glimpses of the station: green tiles and a white design. Kiosks, advertisements. A young man with his daughter and his young wife- or perhaps they are siblings. They check the tube map above the windows. Arms are raised, hands holding the ceiling grab rails. Wrists with bangles, forearms with black hair. Back to the surface to South Kensington. The sound of jets flying overhead. The crowd eases as people get off, and less people get on. The famous museums are near this station. Cream brick arches. Strobe effect as we move forward and back underground. Lights flash off and on. A young Indian girl with an Abercrombie and Fitch shirt and a cable design cardigan. Gloucester Road. “Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber”. The lady next to me asks which is the closest station to the Westfield Shopping Centre. I refer back in my notes and tell her that I think it is Shepherds’ Bush. “We’re literally just pulling into High Street Ken now. See you. By-ee”: a girl on a ‘phone. “Excuse me please”. It’s still very crowded. A small American boy with geeky red and black framed glasses and bright red baseball cap with a W design on the front. A man sneezes. “Bless you”, someone says. “Notting Hill Gate – Change for the Circle Line”. The platform at Notting Hill Gate is filled by people getting off the train. Next to me, an Asian bloke, looks like a student, folder under his arm, earphone inserted. “The next station is Bayswater”. In and out of tunnels. Bright sunlight, darkness. Light brown brick walls. “Bookie.com”, “SunSeeker”,”Kaftan £15”, “Show us your boohoos”, “Stunning! A must see! Summer in February”. I’ve now completed the main circle line loop. “The next station is Paddington”. A train goes very fast in the opposite direction, making a “Blap” sound. An American couple opposite, checking a map on their smartphone. “Therese Desqueyroux. In Cinemas and Curzon home cinema, June”. “Beady Eye: BE. The New Album 10.6.13”. “This train will terminate at Edgware Road. Passengers wishing to continue to Hammersmith please cross over the bridge to platform 4”. Lights flash off and on. The tunnel has yellow lights. The next carriage is three quarters full. A young man leans on his elbow the other side of the window, yawns, reads a letter. “This train is terminating here. Please take your belongings with you”. I get off, and cross over to platform 4. The Hammersmith and City line train is roomier, more airy, brighter, but with very few spare seats. I sit between two large men. The one on my left sniffs persistently and rubs his eyes with the heel of his hand, leans forward, restlessly. Paddington. “Please mind the gap between the train and the platform”. A man with a wheeled suitcase has trouble getting it across the gap. A young man in shorts opposite, wearing trainers, jiggling his feet incessantly. An ascending whine as the train speeds up, then descending as it slows. Above ground. Royal Oak. A middle eastern woman, wearing a black abaya, pulling a shopping trolley. A woman in a green striped top fixes her hair behind her head, attaches a hair band. A grey haired elderly woman, wears a cream leather jacket, holds a white leather handbag. Westbourne Park. Cream painted brick. Trees. Grey railings. “Walk through carriages – at busy times you can move easily through the entire train to find space” – on this train there are no doors separating the carriages. Ladbroke Grove: an old station. “Ladbroke Grove for Portobello Road”. “Not all trains stop in this area. Please move further along the platform”. “The ChargingPoint.com – the best electric car news”. Latimer Road. An old station with a carved wooden shelter. “Shurgard Self Storage”. There are dark clouds outside now. Spots of rain on the train windows. Wood Lane: a modern station. BBC Studios. “The next station is Shepherd’s Bush Market”. I decide to get off and re-visit the market. It’s raining. I have no jacket or umbrella. I change my mind and get straight back on. Goldhawk Road: old, brown brick building. Graffitied. High rise ‘60s flats. Wire fences. Breeze block. I can see into the backs of houses. Net curtains, Gingham curtains. Factory roofs, ladders. drainpipes, metal pivoting windows, train cleaning sheds, razor wire. “All change. Please take your belongings with you”. “A dozen reasons why you should choose Chiswick 500”. Platform 1. 1:36 p.m. “Bargains. To Let. Funky Offices. Nearby and Chiswick. From £9.50 per sq.ft. -SAPCOTE.co.uk”. “Please shut the gate”.