Pushing and shoving on the London Undeground, 2011, Sven Loach

London Undeground Poetics

Approaching the station, its hustle and its bustle, its people coming, people going, people pushing against the flow, people lost, people still, waiting, looking and checking their watches, people talking, blocks in the flow, little islands of resistance around which we have to flow. And all around us people, foreigners, Asians, battered looking people, small people, handing out papers, some enthusiastic, some tired, some silent, a silent hell, anonymous silent hell, handing mobile phone adverts, adverts that dont ostensibly seem to be for anything in particular, magazines and newspapers. So the rivers flow, backwards and forth, and all the time these little islands of resistance, form barriers around which these counter rivers work their pathways. Up and into the station, again people back and forth, people lost, not knowing which direction to turn, coming back, reversing decisions, thinknig again, wondering, worrying, have i got it right, meanwhile a small queue of people forms for the ticket office, time ticking, impatience, fucking hell, come on, what are they discussing, what are they talking about, what can be that complicated, oh shit.

Pass through the oyster card reader, time it, time it, smaller steps, then bump, whumph, the beep, and then a millisecond split second decision about when to lunge, spare a second to let it go, or anticipate it, but not to soon, bumping into the barrier looks clumsy, unsophisticated, rushed, desperate and above all its an embarassment, so be careful, and usually put something of breaks on even when you lunge, so you can stop yourself sharpish if the doors dont seem to open, put yourself as an elastic band, ready to push through the opening doors, like no machine could have stopped you, and when you enter, seemingly timing it to perfection you can seperate yourself out from all the others, a true Londoner, against all the pretenders. Your audience, the mignions and their Transport for London Undeground coats, blue, red, and white, these people who seem to stand and stand and watch and watch, and dip into help, dip into guide, dip into discipline and tell you 'you can't do that' they are your audience, they've seen people dipping in and dipping out for years, they watch you, attentively, in groups, like wildlife, they look like wildlife as described by David Attenborough. They've seen it all before they're connoisseurs of a fine undeground tube entrance. They can also spot the ones who care from the ones who dont, the self-concious ones from the ones that are hardly aware of their environment or of what other people think of them. They can, I'm sure read so much into the way a person approaches the barrier.

Energy, to bustle your way through, take it easy let people pass, move along slowly, take the initiative, bully, scurry, dive for the gaps, get in there, bump, a meeting of two paths, they cede, you cede, you feel bully,you feel inhibited, on to the escalator success, its moving, and its a groovin, do i stand with the masses, on the right, do i just wait for fete to take me to the bottom, or am i a mover and a shaker, do i want to move, i move, i move, i walk, on the tips of my toes, feeling fitter than all those to my right, i am moving, thinking about how much time i am saving, that they are not. i get down to the bottom, feeling energised, feeling like i am going somewhere, and get caught in the cross-flows of people, anticipating, stalling, we both stall, we both move, trying to figure each and everyone out, diving for the gap, just getting in there, catching someone, bumping someone, apologising, apologising, silent response, silent acceptance of apology, begrudging acceptance of apology, move on, move on, down the steps, everyone seems to be in a hurry.

Waiting around on the platform...

The train is about to leave, clip clop clip cliop, cli-clo-cli-clo-p, People running to get into those open but soon to be closing tube doors, shit, run, shit run for your life, it will be a life threatening experience waiting for the next train, it might never come, it might never come. So run, run, run, a real Indiana Jones moment, those doors are going to fucking close and crush my tiny mind, i dont want to get sandwiched. This train is about to leave, shit, run like the fucking wind, and a huge leap of faith, a huge leap, as if i have wings, and i take off, and its now out of my control, i no longer know my future, i feel the wind rushing past me, a beep, an engagement of machinery, and lots of movement around me, and God knows what the outcome will be.... And, fuck, i am in there.

Once inside I encounter so many scenarios.... Victoria Line ram packed jam packed.... adults behave like rats... black man dressed like jazz musician at half past eight in the morning travelling from Finsbury Park to Highbury and Islington delivers short sharp toe poke into my heel.... I look down and he kicks me again... I feel fear and anger in equal doses... my rational mind saying just leave it, just a mole hill moment, wrestles with my emotional side, speaking of so many mole hills in my life, that have amounted to a mountain of abuse, and that if I don't smash this this guy in the face its just another straw on my camelian back.. he growls something at me.. self-concious I look around to see if everyone else is looking at me... confronted by the man... look around for emotional support and sustenance and validation at my predicament... but the carriages eyes are looking everywhere and anywhere other than in each others eyes and mine... and I tell the man 'You didnt have to do that' but he isnt responding other than to growl more and tell me to get out of his fucking way.... I am seething for the rest of the journey... deliberating between panic and calm... the train comes to a stop and the man gets up and pushes me, get out of my way, he says again, this guy has mental health problems, I console myself that one day he is gong to kick and push someone who is just like him but bigger (although I have a feeling bullies like him are also cowards by nature and would never try it with someone bigger than themselves) who will mash his face into the floor.

Or you are in the standing up bit, near the doors, and you are with a colleague from work, closely pressed to her body, crammed on, you feel her curves, and the softness of her breasts, and pretending not to notice anything, you both stare in different directions at different points in the ceiling, amazed at this enforced and acceptable physical intimacy, which never speaks its name, and acts as if it doesn't exist, and whilst wanting to end it as soon as possible, to ease the slightly 'wrong' nature of being so close to a married woman's body, at the same time something physical and carnal in you, doesn't want it to end, wants it to be an everlasting moment, wants as much information as possible, to inspire these deeply subconscious fantasies that you don't want to speak about too much.

So much staring and looking goes on in the tube, people who are inhibited, who have had too much of the day or of people, feign sleep, manufacture sleep, or just sleep to avoid the outside world; others play music, loud, pummelled into the ears, and stare at the adverts above everyone's heads, cleverly placed, conveniently placed, for people to look as if there's a really good reason for not looking at each other in the eyes. That eye staring, domination and sex, attractiveness, connection, a real physical corporal connection, and sometimes the look lingers, and you think, oh and that' s what people call eye sex, and you look, and you think, oh if only this was at a party, and you would be mine. I once saw a guy sat a few seats away from a woman, they looked like they were both from the same country, he stared at her, she stared back and smiled, they were both smiling, he then moved up and sat next to her and they kissed, I never could tell whether this was an ordinary formed couple, or whether it was possibly one of the most smoothest and romantic operations I've ever seen carried out on hte underground.

Fascinating bodies, impressive bodies, impressive male bodies, curvy female bodies, odd faces, odd shapes, smelly men, who sit next to you with stained trousers