I love the labyrinths designed by Mark Wallinger on the Tube. There is one for every station and this one is from South Kensington, the centre of my universe for many years. Many people search them out specially; I am just happy to see them when I come across them. Very occasionally I will trace my finger and pretend I know how to get out, but really and truly I just fnd them very satisfying to look at.
I loved the tube from a very early age. When I was very small there were still carriages that had first or second class emblazoned on their sides – whether there was still actual segregation I don’t know, but it’s something I recall. Also the no smoking signs in two or three carriages.
But the District or green line was the only one I remember using as a child.
With my father I usually went east to Victoria from West Kensington. We always sat in the non smoking carriage because he didn’t smoke. He would make me learn the stations in order and I’ve never forgotten them. I don’t remember ever going past Victoria with him (we used to go to the news/cartoon theatre in the station.) Not there any more. so West Ken, Earls Court, Gloucester Road, South Kensington, Sloane Square, Victoria. sometimes we had to change at Earls Court or we ended up in High Street Kensington. I thinks that’s right.
If I went the other way it was a few years later and then I went with my mother. From South Kensington. We used the smoking carriage where the people were generally more interesting. The journey was better too because it was above ground. I also learnt the stations off by heart. I know- other people learn poetry. But I loved the names. They just roll off the tongue.
South Kensington, Gloucester Road, Earls Court, West Kensington, Barons Court, Hammersmith, Ravenscourt Park, Stamford Brook, Turnham Green, Chiswick Park, Acton Town, Ealing Common and all the way to Ealing Broadway. I did this journey every week for seven years when I went to weekly boarding school. Eventually my mother stopped coming with me, and it was mostly safe.
The District line had nice big airy carriages. There was no air conditioning then, so all the actual underground lines were quite unpleasant.
On the journeys themselves I had one or two potentially unpleasant experiences, when certain people decided to show me something I did not want to see. I should have been upset, could have been upset, I suppose, but I can’t say I was. I stared, I remember, and it was probably just as well I didn’t ask what it was ( I was a friendly child but luckily a little shy) and then they put it away. I was none the wiser, and read my book. Much worse was being offered chocolate by a man who purported to like my uniform. That happened in a very crowded train in the rush hour, and I was s a bit older and a tiny bit more worldly wise, but I couldn’t get away. I remember feeling utterly trapped, and when I looked around everyone was gazing lovingly at the floor of the carriage – anything not to get involved. That was not nice. But eventually he got off and I got home. Can’t say I have thought too much about it since, but I am certain I did not tell my parents about any of these incidents. I think I may have been afraid they wouldn’t let me travel alone again. Even if I did know all the stops off by heart!