Sarah Each morning I join the Northern Line at Finchley Central. Occasionally I get a seat, but usually even in Zone 4 the 8 carriages offer standing room only. I move into the middle of the row of seats facing each other. Here I will be able to dangle from a handhold, paper folded to read, without getting crushed when the train reaches Kentish Town.
I spent 40 minutes each morning and evening on the tube. Many times I share a carriage with the same people each day. We all have a place on which we stand at the platform to each step into our chosen carriage; the rude Japanese woman with spiky hair, the girl who looks like Joanna, the New Zealander with unwashed curls and Blundstones, and the women who reviews CV's on the way home.
By the time the train has pulled into King's Cross the end carriage is so packed that the people who stand by the doors are pressed against the glass, like bottled people, hair and coats flattened. Each person presses their body into the next, each person holding their head just so as not to catch anyone's eye, bad breath, or scent of perfume in the hair that brushes against your face. None of these people are reading, there is not room to hold the paper far enough from the eye to focus.
The tube is always silent, for how can you speak to the perfect stranger whose thigh and chest presses against your back and legs. Without words, without eye contact there is no acknowledgement that this intimate stance is with another person rather than a wall.
At King's Cross the train releases its load. We gush out of the carriage between people divided into lines waiting to enter the train. Sometimes I must push to get out the door, pulling my bag behind me as the people on the platform surge into the open door. From the platform exit, I join the stream of city suit legs and leather shoes along the corridor and up two escalators. Everybody moves quickly, queuing to join the escalator - stand to the right - so important suit legs can walk up the left. I always walk. By the time that I have reached King's Cross adrenaline does not allow me to stand still for the 90 seconds it takes to reach the top of the escalator. I look at the shoes as I progress to the top.
Many non-Londoners are frightened of King's Cross. Middle ages couples struggling with suitcases stand an island between the flow of commuters to puzzle the way to the Piccadilly Line. Do I take Piccadilly west bound or east bound to Heathrow? Families down from Yorkshire doing their Christmas shopping stop to read the adverts and cause a queue to form outside the exit to platform 2.
I change lines at King's Cross. Up two escalators, through the ticket gate, down a flight of stairs and though another ticket gate to head Eastbound to Faringdon, one stop away. The train is always very full. I know exactly how many square centimetres by body takes up. I know that if I step into an empty triangle of space, just so big, I will not be touching anyone else and I can take this train to Farringdon. Sometimes I have to wait for 2 or 3 trains to go past before there is just a tiny space for me.
If, as on some days, a driver does not show up for work and the train is cancelled, the number of people waiting on each platform swells. Even at Finchley there is no longer standing room between the rows of chairs. By the time we reach zone 2 there are so many people on the trains that the force of people pushing against the doors causes the train to emergency stop. We stand in the dark as the driver urges commuters to press closer together and away from the doors.
Our stopped train slows all the other trains on the line. More trains stop in the darkness. Someone faints from the heat and the crush and all the trains wait even longer while an ambulance is called and the person evacuated from the train. The crush on the platforms grows and sometimes the police are called in to keep people moving, keep the exits clear. Trains are delayed for a couple of hours and thousands of people are 5 minutes late for work just because a driver or a signal controller couldn't make their train.
We are about to see a second round of strikes. London Transport workers are striking over hours and fear that redundancies will be made in an effort to improve efficiency. I have read in The Times that the average train driver earns £25,000 a year and the average tube commuter £18,000. The drivers are striking to work 32 hours a week instead of 35. As an average commuter, I spend 7 hours a week on the tube, after working a minimum of 37.5 hours and I pay £5 a day or £1224 a year for the service.
I am not sure whether it should be the drivers or the commuters who should strike.