One of the things that makes me smile about the tube are the drivers who still make their own announcements. They can be great – unscripted, impulsive and quite often hysterical. One of the Jubilee line drivers in the evening has styled himself on an airline pilot and gives out all kinds of useful information about connecting trains at Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford and thanks us for travelling with him. I could have hugged the guy the other night who apologised for the delays which had been caused by “incompetent and over-paid managers”. The Irish bloke who got very confused about where the train was actually terminating and posed the question “What’s a couple of stops between friends?”. The match-making attempt “all single people look up over your books and newspapers…now” which of course everyone did to varying degrees - made for a very jovial atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of platform announcements. They all seem to be the same – recorded and sent out electronically or some such way. They are monotonous and sanitised. Much as I used to cringe when some poor guy made a pigs ear of telling us that a passenger was being cleared off the tracks, it has to be better than the new line: “Due to a passenger action there are severe delays reported in both directions on the X Line”. The phrase ‘collateral damage’ springs to mind.
Mile End station seems to have its share of jumpers. Two questions arose when I saw the response vehicle outside – what drove them to it? Will the driver be okay? I’d feel quite queasy. I’d look on the local news, in the press, on teletext to see what had happened and there’d be nothing (unless they were pushed which is very rare). I’d protest that they should be remembered in death if not in life. But as the saying goes – familiarity breeds contempt. Until you use the tube day in day out you don’t realise how often attempted suicides actually happen. Coincidentally tonight I read, after the defining moment related below, that “there are, on average, two jumpers a week system-wide”. (Very entertaining book by Christopher Ross called Tunnel Visions).
The awful moment came this evening when I got off the train at West Ham. The announcement came over – there seemed to be a huge pause before the name of the line was mentioned: “Due to a passenger action there are severe delays reported on the…………….Hammersmith and City line”. My stomach didn’t churn, I didn’t wonder what kind of life they had and I didn’t even spare a thought for the driver. Relief flooded my veins. It wasn’t the District line. On the escalator down, there was a twinge of guilt and a recognition that I’d become hardened to something very sad. I tried to force myself to think about what had happened but then I saw the noticeboard ‘Hammersmith and City Line – good service’ ‘District Line – severe delays due to an earlier suspension’. I was soon cursing the poor unknown bastard again.
I’m left wondering whether I’m still good, turning bad or just normal.