The Tube has always been a source of amusement for me, as you might have discovered in one of my earliest posts (the coloured underlined text is a hint to go and discover it now if you hadn’t already, I even added a new photo to it).
No matter how many times you have heard or seen “mind the gap”, nothing quite prepares you for the first time you get off the train at a strange station, and it’s one of the ones which still has an absolutely enormous gap – the kind which would easily swallow an incredibly fat British man, or an average sized American.
My line, the Northern Line, is so clever, it even managed to decide it couldn’t be arsed getting bombed on 7/7, and just shut itself down and went back to bed.
Occasionally we get a comedy driver, and the expressions on the passengers’ faces is just fascinating, as if they’ve never heard someone make a joke before. As if they’re thinking, “did you hear that, he said something funny. And he’s the driver!” My favourite was probably when we got a bit of a comedian in the announcer at the station. “Please mind the gap between the train and the platform. The next service is due in one minute. Please stand behind the yellow line as the train approaches for your own safety. Please …….. none of you are even listening to me are you? You probably think this is just a recording, but no, this is me actually saying this stuff, over and over. Every day, just talking to myself. Welcome to my life.”
Once, I lost my travelcard, and had to queue up and speak to man at the counter. “Did you have your Oyster card registered?” he asked. “Yes.” “OK I’ll have to take some details from you.” I filled out all the details as he shuffled around behind his bulletproof shield and the queue behind me grew longer and longer. I handed him the form. “Now I need your password.”
Hmmm, I did get this Oyster card when I first moved to London which was about 8 years previous…
“I’ll be honest mate, I have no idea, you see I got this Oyster card when I first moved to London which was about 8 years ago…”
“Yeah you wrote that bit already.”
The queue mounted and from behind my back I could hear the grumblings and rumblings and mumblings of the word “cunt” which usually precedes a lynching, and I thought I had no chance of getting my card replaced, but the blokey seemed willing to help.
“I’ll give you a clue it’s got six digits.”
I had no idea, I tried to imagine what I might have made it. A six-digit numberical (this was a typo but I decided to keep it) password would probably have been based on my bank card PIN number; the four digits of my PIN followed by the first two repeated again, that’s what I would have done if I had to pick six numbers. Nope that wasn’t it.
“It’s got 4 in it. More than one,” he said. Was he being cryptic, did 4 more than 1 mean 5? I assumed he was being plain with me, it wasn’t in either of our interests for blood to be shed at the station that evening. I tried to think of what I could have put that had 4s in it.
“It looks like a date.”
Well I got that Oyster card in 2004 (I don’t know if I mentioned but I got this Oyster card when I first moved to London which was about 8 years previous); so something with another 4. April 2004? What would have been a memorable date in April 2004.
Then I cracked it. “Is it 040404?” I said. He whooped like he’d just won the lottery.
I wasn’t so happy, “040404 was me and my ex’s fourth anniversary. I was thinking about asking her to marry me not long after. Then I sort of realised she was cheating on me with anyone with an internet connection.”
“Aw sorry man for reminding you, but heeeeeey,” he brandished a new Oyster card. Swings and roundabouts…
Not long after I was back in action and packing my travelcard, I saw the most curious girl on the Tube. Really pretty and really quirky-looking. She had purple streaks in her hair. A purple coat. Purple gloves. Purple leggings. Purple shoes. I almost giggled out loud thinking how could someone be so purple, then I realised…
…she was actually drinking a carton of Ribena.
One time I was at the end of the Tube carriage leaning against one of the pretend seats they have there that only dainty pixie-like girls or small children can actually sit on – they’re kind of like a standing-up bum-cushion. A guy got on and opened the window on the door between carriages. I’ve seen this a lot; not just people opening windows, but specifically people striding on the train straight for the window and opening it, without even giving it a second to feel whether it’s actually too hot and needs the window open. He stood next to me in front of the window and opened his newspaper. The train set off. Sure enough, gale force winds suddenly started streaming into the carriage. I was fine with my sturdy book, although the noise was drowning out my music, but the floppy-haired git who opened the window suddenly felt it was too much. He moved, to stand opposite me away from the window.
Didn’t help much, his newspaper was still flapping about the place despite him putting on a good act of still being able to read it. At the next stop, he got off. And got on the next carriage. One that didn’t have the window open. Utter bellend.
On another occasion I was stuck standing right in front of the window because the train was so busy and someone had stolen (yes, stolen) the bum-cushion areas. The rush of air was annoying but tolerable, but I kept feeling a tickling in my neck. I didn’t really have the space to turn round at first so I just kept fidgeting to try and make it go away. After a few stops, when the train had emptied a little, and the tickling during motion continued, I turned around. The girl standing in the opposing position in the next carriage along, had really long hair, and both the windows were open. When the train moved, the wind was making her hair fly out straight across the gap and into our carriage!
OK OK, what’s all this got to do with clapping you ask? Well, this is the story of one my favourite Tube regulars, although I haven’t seen him in a while. He gets on at Clapham Common in the morning and, well, he claps…
This young black guy is a bit manic and has a tendency to freak out other passengers unaccustomed to his ways and styles; he does come across a teeny bit crazy. Now I know this is the second post in a row to feature a crazy black man. I don’t have any agenda here, I have met crazy white people before (I do tend to attract crazies remember) but unfortunately this guy is black and so in the interests of accuracy I’m going to have to tell it that way.
He gets on calmly and stands in the middle of the carriage as normal. Then when the train sets off he starts to rhythmically clap. Disconcertingly like the guy in the picture above actually. It’s not like he’s clapping to music, unless it’s the same music every time, it’s a constant unchanging beat. He’s very friendly, and chats to people. Sadly, people often move away as they get a bit freaked out. Some move away just because of the clapping. He looks at his hands really intensely when he does it.
Then, as the train stops at new stations, he stops clapping and transforms into “the boss of the train”. He shepherds people on, sometimes directing them to seats, telling them where to stand, shuffling them into spaces, beckoning and welcoming them on board, occasionally breaking into 2 or 3 claps between greetings.
And then, the most amazing thing of all. He … and only HE … decides when the train has had enough, “No more!” he’ll shout, blocking the doors, “Train’s full! Get the next one!” Usually there is still some space, I guess he’s saving spaces for people at future stops, it gets very busy at that stage in the line. This is the best bit about Mr Clappy – the faces on some people as he tells them they can’t get on, when there’s room! The grumblings of “…the fuck?” and “who does this guy…” are priceless. One guy even tried to push his way on, he was very agitated. Mr Clappy pushed him back off. Mr Clappy is quite a gentle-looking guy but he’s ripped.
The doors close and we’re off again and clap, clap clap, clap … clap clap, clap … he’s off again too. Next station, same thing, “This way please, good morning, lady there’s a seat opened up for you, excuse me sir can you stand up for this young woman please thank you, welcome sir, a space there for you, no just over a bit, lot of people to fit on today, sorry sir wait just a moment, OK come through, now ONE more!” Another amazing moment, his hands spread to stop the masses as he has decided (as boss of the train) that there is space for just one more. He chooses someone at random, sometimes not necessarily the closest or ‘next in line to get on’, but equally he doesn’t just like single out hot girls, it’s a mix from day to day, “OK you sir, please step forward. OK NO MORE. Train’s full. STEP BACK MIND THE DOORS MIND THE DOORS!”
Clap, clap clap, clap, clap clap, clap…
I haven’t seen him in a little while but I love this guy; I’d hate his guts if I was trying to get on a train and he was telling me there was no more allowed, but getting on a few stops before him and then seeing him at work – and the amount of genuine “what the fuck!”s he gets from people who don’t know of him – it’s just priceless.
Next time on McCannecdotes: the story of the ten crazy black guys I met on holiday in Lagos.
UPDATE: OK OK, I can’t live with the dishonesty, I promised myself these stories would all be true, The clapping guy gets on at Balham. It’s one fucking stop away from Clapham, it was just too good to resist.