I live in the middle of London, and one word I never reach for as I travel through the city each day is ‘beautiful’.
This is especially true if I have to take the Tube. London Underground is a marvel, don’t get me wrong – travelling through London would be infinitely slower and tougher without it, and its massive sprawl makes you feel that so much of the city, from Balham to Barnet, is within easy reach. (It’s only when you find yourself stuck in either place past the dread hour when the Tube abandons its duties that you realise just how far from home you really are…)
I really do think it’s amazing. It just isn’t very nice. It’s dirty and crowded, and hot and muggy regardless of the weather above ground. It’s impossible to look in any direction, on a station or in a train, without some ad trying to sell you shit. During rush hour, you just have to accept you’re going to stand in a huddle of angry people, while you breathe in the distinctive scent of irritated Londoner.
Today, though – today was different. The train pulled in to Kings Cross, with all its lights off – I assumed it was out of service, shunting off to some depot somewhere – but no. This was it. We would be travelling in the dark.
Perhaps because it looked like some sort of ghost train, there were only a handful of people on it, and there were plenty of seats. And oddly, no one spoke throughout the journey. We just sat and watched as the train rushed us through London in darkness.
And it really was beautiful. Lights flickered in tunnels, and the tunnels themselves appeared to glow in the moments leading up to each station. At one point, we found ourselves passing alongside a fully lit train, heading the other direction, which looked extraordinary – a massive burst of light and colour, dashing by us just as our eyes had grown accustomed to the dark.
Such a small, brief experience, but it was wonderful. Something I do so often that I no longer even really notice its details, rendered surreally different by nothing more than faulty lights…