(Confessions Of A Metropolitan Claustrophobe part 1)

Living and travelling around and through London is easy on the Tube, despite all it’s flaws. But take it away and the nightmarish urban journey takes on a new dimension. Around six years ago now I decided I really couldn’t face travelling underground anymore – more for fear of irrational panic attacks and subsequent humiliation rather than a feeling I was actually in genuine danger. Quite what brought this on other than an over-active imagination I’m not sure. Delays between stations were always tense. Perhaps some see no difference whether it’s underground or overground – the simple fact that you are unable to womble free is an inconvenience irrespective of where and on what level it takes place. But something about the tunnels got to me in the end. Where once I adored passing through them, taking regular carefree trips around the city exploring everywhere and anywhere, somehow despite having grown up and having learned how to apply rational thought to situations far better than I had been able to as a child and adolescent, a fear took hold – merely the fear of being trapped, unable to move, unable to escape – and never knowing exactly when you would be able to again… (actual answer: couple of minutes, nine times out of a hundred).

Ridiculous? Of course. Irrational phobias tend to be ridiculous by default, though they can be quite reasonable at the same time. It might make more sense if some traumatising incident had happened to me on the Tube in the past, but thankfully no. I was not on that late night Northern Line service that ended up hurtling backwards past three stations one night because the driver fell asleep on his Dead Man’s Handle. Nor was I on the Victoria Line morning service when one train broke down at Highbury & Islington causing the two just behind it to stop in their tracks for the best part of an hour. Weirdly however, I’ve recently used the subterranean Metro in Bilbao and the subways in New York and Chicago and I enjoyed them. You can feel a strange sense of indomitability far from home though, as if nothing can really hurt or flummox you, because half the time you don’t feel like you are really there.

Friends remain confused and bemused. But absteining had some advantages. I saved money and I got to see parts of London I had not before via the bus or the invaluable Metrolink. Confidence was gained in having a better grasp of bearings and alternative travel routes around town. Moving closer to the centre of the city also helped. Prior to that I had travelled underground maybe just six times in as many years, the most recent time confirming my fears somewhat – our Northern Line tube screeching to a half abruptly just before Warren Street, the engines going eerily quiet (the darkness through the windows, the silence – broken only by the occasional sighing and tutting from passengers, or the giggling from my American friends as I nervously played with my phone, all very unsettling). Of course about three minutes later we were on the move again, and I had not freaked out. Yet the reluctance persists. It’s habit now. Often I find myself hovering around the station entrances just wondering what the hell my problem is. Sometimes that torrent of warm air rises up from the escalators, followed by the throngs of addled gasping passengers. At that point I hop on the bus…

What to do? Hypnosis? Perhaps take part in those organised emergency drills LU invite the public to participate in as volunteers? Or stay as I am, confident at least that I’ll get from Angel to Brixton eventually… only not as a sardine. I do miss it though, the art works at Gloucester Road, never experiencing the sci-fi sophistication of the Jubilee Line extension first hand, the extraordinary way the passage from White City to Shepherds Bush seems to take three times longer than it should do given the distance on foot…In the meantime, submit your own tube-related horror anecdotes in the comments box if you wish. I’m off now to prepare another blog post, this time concerning what I have come to term as BUS RAGE…