How Hard Is It To Keep Track? Aoife Mannix on reading on the tube
July 27, 2012
Now that the Olympics are finally upon us, has anyone else found suddenly hearing Boris’s voice over the tannoy system a little startling? In his book Londoners, Craig Taylor has an interview with Emma Clarke, the voice of the London underground system. She reveals that she struggled to find the right tone for that most famous of London warnings ‘Mind The Gap’. ‘I felt I didn’t want it to sound too scary, didn’t want people to think I was some sort of awful dominatrix wearing thigh-high PVC boots.’
This makes me smile and remember the time I overheard a small boy on the Bakerloo line ask ‘Daddy, what is in the gap?’ His father paused for a moment before replying ‘You really don’t want to know.’ I instantly started to make a list in my mind – a couple of Japanese tourists, an RAF fighter pilot, three homeless dogs on string, a monster that lives on Metro newspapers… The tube does offer plenty of time for flights of fancy.
It’s also a great opportunity for reading. If you manage to get a seat that is. It’s more of a challenge if you’re trying to turn the pages whilst wedged between business suits and bags of shopping. There is an art to reading on the tube. I believe it mainly involves teaching yourself to look up at the station signs every couple of minutes to find out where you are without losing the world of the book. For instance recently reading Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way, I was able to stay in a trench in the First World War while keeping note of Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden. That is until one of the characters got shot and tears streaming down my face, I nearly missed my stop. I managed to just about hold on to the flapping pages as I threw myself across the gap to avoid being late. A little bit embarrassing yet at the same time a huge compliment to this wonderful book.
What have you read lately that’s been so gripping it’s sent you hurtling through the tube doors at the last possible moment? Or indeed absorbed you so entirely you ended up in Theydon Bois when you only wanted to go to Stratford? In case you didn’t know, Theydon Bois is the second last stop on the central line. It’s also the favourite station name of Emma Clarke, the voice of the underground. Though she explains ‘I have a fondness for all the names, I really do. I suppose I especially like ‘Piccadilly Circus.’ I like the rhythm of it.’
Sebastian Barry’s title comes from the Irish song ‘It’s A Long Long Way to Tipperary’ which contains the line ‘Goodbye Piccadilly! Farewell Leicester Square!’ I used to sing this song as a child growing up in Dublin long before I had any idea these were places that actually existed in London. It’s hard now to imagine that what has become so familiar was once unknown. These days a huge number of the tube stop names conjure up whole worlds that have their own distinct tone and style. If you were to write a book named after a tube stop, what would you call it?
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