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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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I think I feel an obsession with London transport coming on. [20050324|15:19]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

I spent some hours in Foyle's yesterday attempting to find a decent history of the London Underground. I rejected several, including the "official handbook" and both of the Christian Wolmar (a journalist who writes for The Independent) books on the subject, "Down the Tube" and "The Subterranean Railway." I found his writing style annoying because it included run-on sentences and repeated violations of the terms laid out in The Elements of Style. More seriously, his attempts at professional journalism are clouded by his failure to distinguish fact, or at least, supportable data, from anecdote.

To illustrate: in one paragraph, Wolmar cites statistics for the use of Camden Town station on the weekends as opposed to weekdays, and reminds us that the station was never designed to cope with the volume of people. Camden Town also has flow problems since the two southbound platforms are used interchangeably for the Charing Cross and Bank branches of the Northern Line. The only way to know which platform to dive towards is to check the monitors at the base of the escalators. The locals, being accustomed to this, give them a quick glance and head off, only to be obstructed by large groups of noisy Spanish tourists milling around in confusion.*

Ahem. Several paragraphs later, Wolmar reports on interviews he conducted with station employees and some of the complaints they made about the management of the Underground. Due to a fire at King's Cross, a policy was instituted that requires them to check, several times daily, for flammable hazards in unused spaces in the station. Camden Town station doesn't have a problem with flammable materials. In fact, the station has the opposite problem. It is always damp, musty and moldy. The daily check, the station employees claim, is a complete waste of time. But, Wolmar says, the policy can't be changed because "the media would get hold of it and claim that passengers' lives were being put at risk." It is difficult to tell whether this is Wolmar's conclusion, the station employees' opinion or the reasoning of the Underground management because of the lack of footnotes and the unclear writing style. His sloppiness aggravated me.

Instead, I found up a lovely book, with an appropriately meaty bibliography, called The History of the British Bus Services, Aside from having been written with careful attention to making distinctions between fact and opinion and scrupulous acknowledgment of the gaps in the available data, it provides contextual political, social and economic background for the evolution of the [omni]bus and its management.

Now, to find a similar book about the Underground.

...after I finish filling out Schedule Z85631. WTF @ taxes.

* The last sentence is anecdotal.

[User Picture]From: opheliablue
2005-03-24 15:31 (UTC)
My god, you're actually worse than me!!

When I started my journal over 3 years ago, I was working in the centre of London and I spent about 3 hours at least every day travelling. I remember warning everyone at first here that I was slightly obsessed with London Transport. I posted a lot about it at the time (usually about my bus journeys to and from work.)

I never went as far as getting a book about it though :P Seek help now!!

Actually, that book sounds interesting....I think I might have to get that. You're rekindling my obsession with London Transport!!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-03-24 16:39 (UTC)
Ahaha, you inspired me to go back and check the archives. I'm so with you on the Umbrella Patrol. I brought a Very Big Umbrella over from the US, but I haven't used it because I'm afraid of braining people or running them off the narrow sidewalks with it! Since the wind tends to render smaller umbrellas inoperable, I sucked it up and bought a couple of jackets with hoods.

I can always lend you the book, so you don't have to buy it and look like some kind of weirdo.
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[User Picture]From: opheliablue
2005-03-24 16:45 (UTC)
haha! Oh I'd forgotten about my Umbrella Rant!

And thank you! That is SO considerate of you - I mean, what kind of weirdo would actually BUY a book like that????!? God, I hope I haven't got anyone on my flist like that. I'm glad you never told me your username. I've never been able to add you, so you're not on my flist. So, like, even if you ARE weird, I think I'm pretty safe from you.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-03-24 16:32 (UTC)
Is neilgaiman dot com the official site? I didn't see anything on there after a cursory check. However, I also don't think he needed a terribly exhaustive resource to write Neverwhere. Most of the tube stations he mentioned are still in use. He could probably have easily used his memory and an ordinary tube map as reference guides, although I bet he probably bought one of the spiffy oversized ones that has the opening & closing dates for all of the stations on it. I saw several books, one quite good, about the disused stations, but I didn't buy it - too specific.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-03-24 17:39 (UTC)
I am actually really into subways in general, but the London Underground is certainly the most alluring. Were I to ride it daily, I would probably be buying books, too. In fact, I may be buying books anyway, because- neat!

I am a big, big dork.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-03-24 18:08 (UTC)
It's old, it's falling apart, it's badly managed, so why is it so interesting? I'm interested in the bus system as well, since I use that far more regularly than the tube, but the tube seems to be especially captivating, even to people who aren't transport enthusiasts.

I want to know more about the metro systems in Prague and Budapest, and the tram system in Amsterdam. Why is it that the tram caught on there, but not in other cities? The rail system in Amsterdam is fantastic. Not only are the trains smooth and quiet, they've turned a blind eye to most of the graffiti, with the result that it ends up being so good that you overlook it at first. But I haven't seen a whole lot of people writing books about it. The London Underground, on the other hand is noisy, smelly and horribly dirty. It's desperately under-developed south of the Thames. There are always delays and closures, especially at the weekend on the District and Circle lines. Yet there are a zillion books dedicated to it. I don't understand.

Speaking of dorkness, if you have time, could you send me the Kegan reading list, please?
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-03-24 22:06 (UTC)
... but that's why it's so alluring. Because it's such a mess. It has character. The metro in Vienna was so clean it was sterile. Despite the beautiful works of art built into every station, I was frankly bored and weirded out by riding it. I don't know how well it runs in general because I was only there for two days, but it seemed to go like clean, sparkling, boring clockwork.

.. and there's something else about the Underground, but I don't know what it is. It's the same reason people wear t-shirts of it, which I find stupid, but whatever. They think it's so special that they want to advertise having ridden on it. There's the demand. Thus the books. But why the demand? I don't know. I'm just fairly certain it leads back to exactly because it's such a mess. There's mystery, with all the closed stations and nooks and crannies. And thanks to Harry Potter and Neverwhere, the sense of fantasy that was already in everyone's heads (my own included) has shape and form.

Prague public transit, now that is fascinating. It has excellent coverage. It runs SO fucking well, and it still has character, just like the rest of the city. And I didn't feel the London metro was very dirty. Not when compared with the Rome metro, anyway. That one is certainly quite underdeveloped. Ick.

There is a city somewhere in Brazil that at least as of a few years ago had the prize for the top public transit system in the world. I had an article about it somewhere but I've lost it. But from what I read, it was seriously the city of the future, and the tactics they used not only cut auto traffic down to almost nothing, it rebuilt community in a major way. Wish I knew wtf it was called.

I would happily mail you a reading list if dorkface had ever put one together. What I will do instead is a) harass him tonight and make him write it in my presence and b) get one from my prof Seán who will I think have a little less of a working-class irish-american male overly romantic chip-on-his-shoulder perspective on things. Not to say that I don't buy into that romance. I sleep with it nearly every night, after all. Er, and prof Seán is a girl. My bad sentence structure implied otherwise.
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[User Picture]From: kujawski
2005-03-25 17:56 (UTC)

Us equivalent

While it is rarely mentioned, Los Angeles has an outstanding subway system. I saw a special on the History channel on London, and really began to appreciate how the city is like a constantly evolving organism. The information on the buliding of the new systems every time they became outdated was absolutely staggering.
-Andrzej Valentyn Kujawski
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-03-24 21:31 (UTC)
Hm. I don't read it. I don't believe I shall start.
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