Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Northern Line: adventure and delight

 You can keep the Metropolitan, Piccadilly or Circle Lines, along with the Central, Bakeloo, Jubilee and Victoria Lines. To me, in the London Underground system, the only one that really counts is the Northern Line. As its name implies, it's the line you take to travel North. Except when you're on it to travel southwards. It covers all of London right out to the northern suburbs. And right down to the southern ones.

The Northern Line, serving North London. And the South

It was the line that my mother used when she was living in London, at her parents’ place more or less half way between Golders Green and East Finchley stations. And so it was the line that we used most frequently on the many occasions in my childhood when we went to stay with my grandparents.

It was the scene of a significant rite of passage of that childhood. One day, when I was eight (if my memory serves me), I helped myself to some money that my father had left on his bedside table. I think it was about two shillings, which translates into ten (new) pence in today’s currency, which would cover one tenth of the cost of my daily newspaper.

With this fortune in my pocket, I walked resolutely to the 102 bus stop on the main road and waited for a bus to Golders Green. I particularly liked this trip because there was a stop, at what later came to be known as ‘Henlys Corner’, which was close by a statue of a sartorially challenged winged female representing Victory. She gave the place the name we used then, which was ‘Naked Lady’. It always tickled me to hear the conductors yell those words up the stairs, in their distinctively London accents.

At Golders Green I did my calculations carefully. I could get a child ticket to Chalk Farm, for four (old) pence – basically nothing in today’s money – and still have enough money to get back, including the bus fare. So that’s what I did. Not because I wanted to go to Chalk Farm, but just because I wanted to prove that I could get all the way there, and back again, without any catastrophe and without getting lost.

I have to admit that at Chalk Farm, I came to the surface, looked around, bought my return ticket and headed straight back again. I couldn’t actually think of anything to do at Chalk Farm but, more to the point, I also began to get nervous at having travelled so far on my own, if the truth be known.

Anyway, I walked back into my grandparents’ house not long after, full of pride at having pulled off this achievement, a real journey involving two modes of transport, all on my own, without suffering harm or losing my way. Brilliant. My sense of triumph was slightly marred by the realisation that no-one had even noticed my absence, but hey, that didn’t reduce the scope of the achievement at all, did it?

Today all this came flooding back to me as I spent nearly an hour and a half on the Northern Line. That’s because I went from Kentish Town in the North to Tooting Broadway in the South and back again – forty minutes each way.

And the line didn’t let me down. It gave me another one of those little moments to savour. A highly pregnant woman across the aisle from me was wearing a badge bearing the official logo of London Underground and the legend ‘Baby on Board’.

Wonderful, particularly as she had, indeed, been given a seat. It seems so much more sensible a use of the ‘Baby on Board’ message than putting it on the back of a car. After all, what’s that suggesting? That if you didn’t have one up I’d happily run into the back of you?

A pregnant woman wearing the badge on a coat. Now that’s useful, original (for now) and, most important of all, witty. Good old Northern Line. It hadn’t let me down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aye, my favourite Line too. I lived for 3 years in pre-Payne Streatham in the sixties and every time my 109 / 159 bus stopped at The Oval, I experienced that tingle one feels on seeing an old friend. I could never sympathise with people having a go at the Tube... dirty, dusty overcrowded, stuffy...
I too remember "The Nyekid Lyedy"