1. The world outside zones 1 and 2: the nether-regions of London
Zones 1 and 2 — or as I like to call them, my Comfort Zones — contain the epicentre of London, beyond which I can shamelessly admit I’ve no desire to extend myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting out and about and exploring the city, and if you’re the particularly adventurous type who enjoys the thrill of cavorting about whatever the ominously-named Cockfosters is, I take my hat off to you. But no one can deny that the best of what London has to offer is found at its core: Zones 1 & 2 teem with life, home to restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums, shops, and clubs galore — it’s all here, and so here I remain. Yet whenever I get on the tube I can’t help but let my gaze linger over the rest of the line map, imagining the strange, faraway lands the tube takes its passengers when it disappears beyond the horizon that is Bethnal Green and inevitably transforms into something like the Polar Express. It’s all just curiosity, of course. “What if I take an accidental nap on the tube one day and wake up not knowing where I am?” I hear you, my fellow zone 1 devotees. Never fear, my handy guide to finding your bearings on a scale of zones 1-8 is here:
Essentially, anything involving the ‘Tooting’ preface means you’re moving away from the centre. ‘Tooting’ this-that-or-whatever is therefore a good indicator of moderate distance from zones 1 & 2, as is any station’s name that makes reference to the natural world, especially oak i.e. ‘Oakwood’, ‘Burnt Oak’, and anything involving a ‘hill’ or ‘park’. You know you’re really quite far out when you start pulling up at places that combine the two, like ‘Honor Oak Park’. Slap a Tooting in front of it and you’re lost to me.
2. Bank, a modern-day Hades
I’m still relatively new to the tube system and Bank poses a particular challenge / Sisyphean struggle. I think it’s pretty clear we all agree that Bank is a notorious hell-hole where the human spirit goes to die. I myself am in a perpetual state of existential crisis at Bank, verging on the prospect of surrendering myself to wander the labyrinth forevermore.
Once you get off the train at Bank, you have to take a few flights of stairs to get to your next line. For some reason, I get lost at this part. I don’t know whether the signs change in some kind of Harry Potter-esque moving-staircases-type-way, or if I’m just put off by the crowds of people swarming around me in every direction. One too many times I’ve trudged up one flight of stairs… and another… and another… only to wind up in the wrong place. How on earth does that happen? It can’t be a matter of my own incompetence. Surely not.
Daedalus himself* could not have imagined a more deceptive maze. The most impressive bit is definitely the gigantic gap between train and platform. At most tube stations we hear “please, mind the gap”, only to glance down at the hairline fracture beneath our feet and think, “please, that’s hardly a gap worth minding.” Au contraire my friend; all platform gaps are equal, but some are more equal than others. Where before the gap between the train and platform hardly warranted heed, the gap at Bank is a gaping chasm. I call it the Gorges Du Bank. It is most certainly a gap worth minding.
*(the legendary artificer who, in Greek mythology, designed the labyrinth that contained the Minotaur. The fact that Bank is so rife with potential for reference to ancient times tells you a lot about the condition of the place.)
3. The French takeover of Kensington – it means you can save yourself the Eurostar and go to Kensington instead
You think Paris is the closest to France you can get from London? Think again!
The other day I had the pleasure of going to Kensington Gardens for the first time to revel in the return of the shiny yellow disc. (Warmth and sunlight – rare and treasured phenomena in the UK.)
It left me thinking that the name ‘Kensington Gardens’ may require some…calibration. Sure, it’s got a nice ring to it, but it’s obviously outdated now. ‘Little France’, anyone?
‘Where the French People Are’, the remix that ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ never expected. Oh yes, they’re all here – or at least it’s where they all decided to congregate that fateful day. All I could hear around me was French speakers, and upon venturing into Kensington later I heard just as much. Based on this extremely reliable social data I have concluded that Kensington is now somewhat of an unofficial French territory and therefore advise anyone short of making it to Paris to forget their woes and go lie in Kensington Gardens for a fraction of the price. Bring some wine, cheese, and try really, really hard to picture the Eiffel tower in the background — voilà, I proudly present to you the bootleg Parisian experience.
So concludes vol. 2 of my observations RE my newfound London life.
PS. Final thought… Equally as exciting as the prospect of the tube turning into the Polar Express as it ventures beyond zones 1 & 2 is imagining what on earth the night tube experience is like. I have never been on the night tube but it’d be a shame if it wasn’t anything like the night bus in Harry Potter. At this point I’m pretty sure I’m holding out on taking the night tube just to avoid the disappointment of there probably not being a talking shrunken head shouting at an elderly driver in a Jamaican accent while the tube bursts out of the station and haphazardly manoeuvres its way through the streets of London. Please no one ruin this fantasy for me. Can we make this a thing?