Victoria Tube Station, 8:30 am.
I missed the train and caught the tube. At Brixton, the very end of the Victoria line, two tube trains were sitting in the station, packed full of passengers, with no sign of leaving. More and more people got on the trains until they were full right down the aisle while a couple of inspectors or coordinators or whatever they were strolled around trying to figure out which drivers to send to which train.
Finally one train left, another sat there as more people piled on – another train pulled in and me and a bunch of other ‘customers’ (as the euphemism has it) rushed over to get the seats before that train filled up as well – and by the time the train did pull out five minutes later, it was standing room only.
By Victoria, four stops on, the car was so packed you could hardly squeeze through to get off the train. I followed two other passengers, a man and a woman, as they forget a path through the impossible press of bodies. You felt bad pushing through – having been on the receiving end more than once, with someone stepping on your foot – and really having nowhere to go since people are pressed in all around you. But you have to get out. Some nice London touches – the man pushing through fell over on top of a woman standing on the platform, and sort of half-embraced her to say sorry – so many times you encounter this sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling in these impossible situations in London – but before I was even off the people on the platform were pressing in, pushing me backward, knocking me off balance so if I really slipped I’d be pushed under the crowd – until someone pushed me from behind and I yelled out and people gave way.
Upstairs, they’d blocked off the entrances so they could regulate the flow of people descending into the station. That is, pulled back the metal grates they use to shut off the station after closing. Outside, people were queued up around the stairwells, dozens and dozens deep, and once they opened the gates, people flooded into the station to queue up in the hundreds in front of the ticket barriers (which, curiously, they leave open after hours at the train stations and sometimes the tube, but never at rush hour, when people have to queue dozens and dozens deep to pass through the gates).
I swore I’d never catch the tube at that time of day again. But people do it every day – stand in the aisles on packed trains with people on their mobiles yammering in their ears and the train waiting at an interminable time at the station because of some delay (‘We regret any inconvenience caused’) queuring for the ticket barriers at the train station, queueing for the ticket barrier at the tube – standing crushed together in the tube for the bruising ride to work.