In this morning’s broadcast from the unconscious I was in London with a friend from Sheffield, we were trying to get to the Barbican for an exhibition, and we found ourselves on a tube line that had been built since I’ve been away from the city; all of the station names were in classical Greek. This was the most straightforward aspect of this new line, because instead of sitting inside the carriages, passengers had to hang onto the outside using purpose-built hand-grips. But of course, this being London, you couldn’t just hang on, you had to keep moving along the carriage even as the train hurtled down the tunnels.
When I woke up I exchanged a flurry of messages with the friend who had made a cameo appearance. In the dream he seemed to be enjoying the process of climbing along the outside of the carriage. He is a comic artist, amongst other things, and inevitably the Empire of Termight in Nemesis the Warlock came up. From the earliest incarnations of this story as Terror Tube/Killer Watt, there is a fantastical extrapolation of the British elation and fear of the London Underground system. Interestingly, the original Terror Tube specifically references Going Underground by The Jam on its first page.
Londoners are highly adaptive creatures. They will live in the smallest shoeboxes with a shower and an electric hob arranged Tetris-like alongside the bed sofa. Every impossible challenge that is thrown at them is normalised within a week. Sure, there will be some who wouldn’t want to climb along the meat-grinder trains of a line that is labelled in classical Greek, but they’d be considered a bit snobbish, a bit up themselves. Given a bit of practice, commuters will fairly swing along on those hand-grips while practicing classical Greek on the Duolingo app. After a while, the main complaint would be about trains delayed in the tunnel for extended periods and how tiring hanging around gets.
Commuting to my early jobs in central London, the easiest journey was a Routemaster bus. Unlike the current iteration, the older Routemaster had an open back with a hand-rail. You’d see kids on skateboards gripping the hand-rail so that it could pull them along. If you arrived at the stop just as the bus was pulling away, you’d jump onto the back, matching yr leap to the acceleration of the bus; and then you’d ask yrself why you did anything so stupid and dangerous rather than just wait for the next bus, and then you’d leap off the bus before it had stopped, because who wants to wait around in traffic? Of course the new Routemaster has a closed back, but I suspect that that is less to do with safety than maximising LRT profits.
Returning to the dream it is tempting to draw simple symbolic interpretations: the hurtling tube train that is contemporary life! The constant struggle to understand the sign jungle as we race forwards, mindless of the dangers all around! There is drama, both comic and tragic, that can be drawn out of this image, but in the end it’s all Greek to me.