A strange shimmering pattern appears in the air outside the station, and three figures appear out of nowhere. They seem to be out of place, and look around themselves in some confusion.
"I still don't understand why we have to do it this way. What are we doing here?"
"You know the rules. Transporting directly into the middle of the city would be too risky - it's almost impossible to find somewhere where we can arrive unobserved."
"Okay, whatever the Captain says. I guess we should head to the rendezvous, then.
They walk into the station. Then they walk out again.
"What exactly did he mean by "cash or valid Oyster card"?"
It's a weekday afternoon during the school holidays and the grey skies are filled with swirling drizzle. Everything in sight glistens damply, including the scattering of passengers huddling under the canopies waiting to go somewhere else, preferably somewhere indoors. The station PA comes to life.
"For the attention of the children on the northbound platform - please note that ball games are strictly prohibited on London Underground stations for safety reasons. Please stop playing football and pick your ball up immediately. Thank you."
One missed pass later the players discover that in a match between a football and 160-odd tons of train, it's usually the train which wins.
Andy is in an irritable mood, because he's got a hangover. He's got a hangover because Laura was away on some business trip or another last night - a meeting in Glasgow, apparently. With Laura away, Andy had a fun evening out with the lads. All good fun - curry then beer and plenty of spectator sport in the pub when the pissed guy at the next table started making indecent proposals to a couple of tourists.
After too many pints he staggered in and fell asleep, then woke up late and had to rush out of the door feeling lousy. He's also reeking slightly due to not having time for a shower. And why the hell is Laura's mobile engaged for so long at this time of the morning?
The man standing on the half-empty northbound platform at eight o'clock in the morning has a slightly smug look on his face and a cheerful manner that's rather at odds with the masses huddled away from the drizzle on the southbound platform opposite awaiting their trains to Oxford Circus and Embankment and Piccadilly Circus. He whistles a happy tune as a southbound train arrives already more or less full and the lost souls opposite stuff themselves into its sweaty interior.
When a northbound train appears he looks up from his book and smiles to himself. Where on the train shall I sit today?, he wonders. Commuting against the flow. Yeah, that's the way to do it.
A middle-aged woman sits on a platform bench. From a bag at her feet she produces a black notebook before unscrewing the cap of an expensive-looking fountain pen, riffling through the pages of the notebook and sitting with pen poised.
A couple of teenagers walk by chattering loudly, and she frowns at them. When a man passes by talking on his cellphone she slams the notebook and pen down and leaps to her feet.
"If you don't MIND...", she shouts, "some people here are trying to CREATE."
The young woman waiting for a London-bound train has a nervous face that won't stay still. It flits constantly between anger and pleasure, anticipation and fear as her mind registers the thoughts of the handful of people waiting on the platform.
As the train pulls in she can see that it's nearly full. Not good. The doors open and she rocks on her feet as a hundred different minds start shouting at her about work, about hangovers, about whatever someone's listening to on their iPod. A flood of raw, conflicting emotion tugs her this way and that as she concentrates hard, painfully forcing her own consciousness to regain control of her body enough to get her on board the train.
Sometimes it isn't easy being London's only genuine telepath.
"This is Queen's Park. All change, please, this train terminates here, all change."
"What? I want to go to Harrow & Wealdstone!"
"Sir, this train terminates here. Could you get off, please?"
"No, it doesn't terminate here. I want to go to Harrow and this train will be made to go to Harrow and I'm not moving until it does."
"I'm sorry, Sir, but this train really isn't going to Harrow. Would you please get off now so we can clear the platform?"
"No! This train is going to Harrow. Give me one good reason why this train can't go to Harrow!"
"Engineering work this weekend. The line's closed. In fact, the track's mostly not there at all right now, so this train couldn't get to Harrow unless it could levitate. There's a bus outside the station for points north of here."
A figure stands at the south end of the northbound platform, head down, eyes closed, toes just a few inches from the edge. A distant rumble builds into the rushing wind of an approaching train as the figure stands stiffly still, fists firmly clenched.
The driver sees the figure a couple of seconds before reaching the platform and whistles frantically, but too late - the train hammers out of the tunnel and sweeps all before it in a screaming whine of hard deceleration.
Silence. The doors open with a rumble. The figure opens her eyes and steps onto the train through the open doors in front of her. She looks around to see a nearly-empty carriage, smiles nervously and takes a relieved seat.
It's a start, she thinks. Not much, but it's a start.
A visiting brass band from a corner of rural Bavaria wish to return to their hotel at Charing Cross one evening at around nine o'clock. They trail down the escalators, instruments in tow, and wait quietly for the next train. When it arrives, they squeeze politely into the rear carriage between the commuters and evening party people on their way into town.
As the train pulls out of the station a traveller arrives on the platform. While mentally cursing her luck and checking when the next train is due she notices something odd about the sound of the train as it sweeps past.
Weird, she thinks. I've heard tube trains make a lot of noises, but they're usually clattering and banging-type noises. Definitely not oompah-type noises.
A distracted man with a personal stereo and a big grin on his face wanders off the end of the down escalator and turns towards the southbound platform. Once on the platform, big grin still plastered across the front of his head, he paces around the platform impatiently waiting for a train to arrive.
Up he paces, then down again. Up and down in an aimless yet amiable manner he wanders. He turns round to peer at the "next train" display, takes a few more paces and suddenly realises he's run out of platform.
Just managing to keep himself upright he staggers backwards, narrowly avoiding planting himself head-first across the live rails. He looks perturbed for a few seconds before pulling himself together and resuming grinning and pacing, only this time paying just a little more attention to where he's going.
As a crowd of passengers wait on the southbound Bakerloo Line platform, the station PA springs to life with a bing-bong. They brace themselves for further news of the latest delays and suspensions. But the announcement isn't a delay, it's a personal call:
"If there is a Stephen Lewis on the station, please make yourself known to a member of staff. Stephen Lewis, please make yourself known if you are on this station. Thank you."
Stephen Lewis fights his way through the crowds on the southbound platform to the blue-uniformed woman standing next to the back wall. "Er, I'm Stephen Lewis - you paged me?"
She smiles at him and holds a brief conversation with her radio. "We've got a message for you.."
Twenty seconds later, the waiting passengers are startled by a sudden cry of "A girl! Eight pounds! And two weeks early!" as Stephen Lewis heads for the escalators and the first available train straight back home.
A train pulls into the eastbound District Line platform. The driver makes a PA announcement.
"This is Edgware Road. This train terminates here. All change, please, all change. This train terminates here. For eastbound stations including Euston Square, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, Aldgate, and all stations to Plaistow and Upminster, please cross the platform. Once again, this is Edgware Road, this train terminates here. All change, all change."
As passengers pile off he shuts the train down, grabs his bag and starts walking through the train to change ends before returning to Wimbledon. A young man is sitting by himself in the third carriage from the front.
"Excuse me? Is this train going to Kings Cross?"
As a middle-aged man returns his season ticket to his wallet a small photograph falls out and flutters to the floor unnoticed. It's a slightly fuzzy photo of a woman with a sixties haircut and a broad smile, and for an hour or so it lies by the ticket gate among some other bits of litter until a rubbish collector passes by, picks it up with her tongs and flips it into a rubbish bag.
The picture's original owner notices that it's gone on his way home from work. It's gone, he thinks. The last picture. That last picture, taken just before she left to walk home to her parents' house.
Okay, there are pictures of her which were taken later by the police, but those aren't the sort of pictures which I'd want to remember her by.
He closes his eyes as flashes of pain and horror lash out across the decades, still raw and bleeding even after this long - the laughing kiss goodbye, the knock on the door and the pale, nervous policewoman, the silent, sobbing phone calls, the detectives and statements and reporters, the grey, shellshocked faces at the funeral. All these images resolve again and again into the same thing - a cold, bloodied, broken body lying on a mortuary table. As he turns away the vision finally fades into the background - for the time being.
An elderly gentleman walks into the station, looks vaguely at the ticket machines, then heads for the barrier.
"Can I see your ticket, Sir?"
The old man idly waves a hand. "You don't need to see my ticket."
"I don't need to see your ticket."
"I can continue my journey."
"You can continue your journey."
He strolls through the gate and heads for the Jubilee line. The assistant looks at his retreating back, starts to say something, then shakes his head to clear it and shuts the gate.
A man in a suit waits on the platform for a train to Queens Park. Occasionally he looks up at the indicator to see if the train's due yet before returning to staring vacantly forward with a blank look in his eyes.
He looks up again.
He waits some more.
After what seems like forever, the train arrives. He wanders across the platform to the train, finds a seat, and sits down. As the train leaves, he stares vacantly across the carriage until it disappears into the tunnel.
A gaggle of German tourists clatter down the escalator and head towards the Piccadilly Line, fresh from seeing one sight and on their way to see another. As they pause to examine a signboard a small, fast-moving figure emerges from a side tunnel, stops briefly behind one of them, and keeps moving in the direction of the platforms.
The visitors work out that the sign is warning visitors to be on the lookout for pickpockets operating on this station, and agree that they should all be very careful. One announces that he really should move his wallet to somewhere other than the back pocket of his jeans, and reaches round to do so...
In the early morning a couple dance slowly and silently on the southbound platform, holding each other close, eyes closed, ignoring the rest of the world as it passes by.
One by one trains arrive and commuters pile out onto the platform, surging towards the exits in the last phase of their trip to work, hurrying headlong into whatever the new day will bring. The crowds flow around the dancing couple, not seeming to notice them, close to them but never bumping into them, leaving a space through which they continue to dance, oblivious. Silently the dancers drift to and fro, sometimes close to the platform edge, but always turning back in time.
As far as they're concerned, the new day can wait.
The station entrances are all open, but there's nobody in sight. Outside on Oxford Street, only silence.
The ticket office is open and brightly lit, but there's nobody behind the counter. Ticket machines stand ready but idle as the barriers stand a lonely guard.
Down the running but deserted escalators we fly, past advertisements that nobody sees. The normally crowded spaces underneath echo eerily as their bright fluorescent illumination seems dazzlingly bright in the absence of the usual crowds.
A Bakerloo Line train stands in the southbound platform with its doors wide open. Bags and newspapers lie scattered around the cars and platform, the passengers who own them nowhere in sight. A discarded coffee cup rolls across the platform and drops onto the line.
Originally written 12th September 2001
The apple of London Transport's eyne,
The Waterloo and City Line,
Shuttles from here to Bank.
A very long name for
Such a small train, so
most of the time
it's just known
The station gates are locked shut during the morning rush hour. A sign conveys London Underground's apologies for the fact there is no service on the Underground today owing to industrial action as temporarily tubeless travellers stream across Hungerford Bridge, washing around the sides of the closed station as they walk to work from Waterloo.
Others crowd onto already-crowded buses while still others remain at home, muttering to themselves and cursing the RMT (or, depending on their outlook, the intransigence of LUL management) for forcing them to take a day off because they wouldn't be able to face the journey into town.
Just for one day, Londoners are reminded what life would be like if the Tube wasn't there. And tomorrow, just for the one day, they'll be glad it's there again.
The silent and dusty Jubilee Line platforms, disused since the extension to Stratford opened, are quiet and still early one morning. The remaining lighting dimly illuminates the abandoned station as years-old litter blows about in a scene that's a million miles away from the rest of the station, already beginning to bustle with early morning commuters on their way in and night workers heading for home. Five-year-old posters line the walls.
The litter begins to blow about a little faster, then faster still as an air current disturbs the peace. Soon after, the unmistakable rumbling and clattering of an approaching train echoes from the tunnel and sure enough, the headlights of the day's first southbound Jubilee Line train appear in the distance before the train itself nervously pulls slowly into the station and stops.
Confused travellers stab at the "door open" buttons and peer at the station signs, trying to figure out exactly what it is they can see through the windows. The driver switches on his PA.
"Er, ladies and gentlemen, as you've probably noticed we seem to have arrived at Charing Cross, where I guess this train will terminate. I'm keeping the doors closed while we work out what to do. I'll be right back with further information as soon as I've asked the signallers exactly what they're playing at. Thank you."
A woman walking down the passageway to the Bakerloo suddenly stops dead, causing the three or four people behind her to pile into her and each other. "Oh!", she says, and apologises, removing her headphones. "I was miles away - pardon me."
The inconvenienced passengers mumble their own apologies to her, the others, and to London Underground, and continue on their way while the newly awake woman looks around her. She's done this journey so many times she can do it entirely on autopilot, but now she wonders if maybe it's time for a change. Yes! she decides. She will have a change. She'll go via the Northern Line instead of the Bakerloo today - it's an extra change but hey, you're only young once.