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On Owning Pimlico Tube Station

17-February-2012
17-February-2012 0:00
in Curiosities
by Peter Berthoud

Over a billion Tube journeys were made last year.

Many of these were repeat journeys, people taking the same route to work or study and returning back home each day.

Most commuters undertaking such journeys will have at least two stations that they know inside out; their starting station and their destination, and of course they will probably also be intimately acquainted with any interchanges too.

I have just one common start and finishing point. I do use Green Park, Oxford Circus, Holborn, London Bridge and Temple a lot and I know them all pretty well but Pimlico is my home station and it’s the only one on the network for which I have developed a sense of ownership.

Pimlico Tube StationPimlico Station

Perhaps, because I only have one station to “look after”, rather than the usual two or more, my sense of ownership, being limited in its potential, has become amplified in its expression. Or perhaps as a lifelong non-driver, motor or pedal cyclist I have transferred some of the emotions others vest in their privately owned vehicles to this one little bit of the public transport system.

I am every bit as keen to use Pimlico station effectively as “The Stig” is to take “Gambon” with aplomb. I take the same pride in my tube-craft as Chris Hoy must take in pedalling or Ali took in his ring craft. Mastery of the network and “ownership” of Pimlico station in particular, is important to me.

One of the manifestations of my mastery and ownership Pimlico Station is the way I use its exits. I aim to always do so perfectly.

I am confident, that as a regular tube user, you will know that appalling, sinking, feeling that envelops you if find that you need to walk any distance at all along a tube platform, either to exit or to change lines.

I know I am mortified if I find that the carriage door I had chosen to enter does not, at least approximately, align with any desired exit at the destination station. In such circumstances, I will stand stock still at the destination until the platform empties before daring to make my “walk of shame”.

“How could I have been so stupid?” “What will all these people think of me?” Am I to be taken as a visitor or newbie?” “What if a fellow guide saw my faux pas; will I be drummed out of the Association?” These are the kinds of thoughts and emotions that I am sure all regular tube users can identify with.

If I find myself directly opposite the entrance to another platform, even if it is that of line I hadn’t intended using, there is an opportunity to limit the damage.

What I do is walk purposefully towards it, hoping that nobody will guess that this is just a cover for underlying basic ineptitude and catch the next incoming train of whatever hue.

So for example I might have meant to change to the Central Line at Oxford Circus. But if I’ve messed things up then I’ll cover my tracks by going to Baker Street on the Bakerloo instead. Obviously I’ll nip out there and let any potential observers disperse before resuming my original and intended journey. Believe me I have never misaligned the Central Line exits twice in row when employing this face-saving strategy!

Feelings of guilt, stupidity and fears of public ridicule are hard enough to “get one’s head around” if the station is one you know pretty well but they are almost unbearable if they involve one of your principal stations, or indeed a station that you own. Then there is really no excuse whatsoever for not getting off the train precisely beside the exit.

Owning just one station I have set myself particularly exacting standards; to be happy I must be inch perfect.

Now the mere casual user of Pimlico, travelling south on the Victoria line, might be content with entering the train somewhere in the second or third carriage, knowing that this will result in them alighting at Pimlico in the rough vicinity of the exit (there is an app for iPhones that gives such approximate detail for every possible tube journey.)

For me, this is a deplorably slovenly approach to take. With very little additional effort one can act like (and very importantly for one’s self-esteem) be acknowledged by others as, a person who has fully mastered any given station.

I have made it my business to learn that when going south, by using the final door of the second carriage I will be positioned, when the time comes to alight, precisely by the exit nearest to the escalators in Pimlico. (It is the first door in the second to last carriage when travelling north by the way.)

At all other Zone 1 Victoria Line stations I have memorised the location on the platform where this second carriage will come to rest and exactly where this final door will open; a time-saving and kudos-boosting tip I am happy to share with you all.

So, as soon as the train pulls into Pimlico station, I prepare to leave the carriage. I never stand up too early as this might give the impression that I am not familiar with the route, nor do I leave it too late and risk looking totally incompetent. The ideal I aim for is to stand up and walk at a measured pace towards the target door, arrive just as it opens and without even breaking my stride, leave the train with dignity intact and permit myself a slight, smug, smile.

Next, I am always very careful to ensure that I am noticeably not looking at the exit signs. I need to walk towards the exit with the confidence of a somnambulistic toilet visitor. Sometimes I ostentatiously read a paper just to emphasise the point to onlookers that I for one really do know where I am going and don’t need to look. At other times I might pointedly feign to inspect a message on my mobile phone for similar effect.

If all goes according to plan I will know that in just 31 paces I will have reached the escalator utilising the most supremely economical of routes and I will be able to hold my head high for another day. Life is good.

I have a friend and colleague who lives in Brixton. Sometimes after an event we will travel back along the Victoria Line together. Her priority is a seat and she does not care for my “little game” as she mockingly calls it. So often we end up sitting but we do so right at the rear of the train. This of course, inevitably involves me leaving the train at Pimlico as far away from the exits as it possible to be.

On the subsequent long, grim, hang-dog walks along the entire length of the southbound platform I naturally blush and sometimes I even have trouble holding back a tear or two. Even when the platform is empty there are always the ever present CCTV cameras and a familiar member of staff might notice me and record my ignominy to show to others or maybe even upload it to YouTube and shame me globally!

On such occasions I attempt to console myself with the words “Grief is the price we pay for love” but that doesn’t always work. Still I know that there is a time for pride and a there is a time for self-sacrifice; I try to respond appropriately.

But I shouldn’t end on a glum note. Almost all of the time my journeys are really slick and professional affairs. I would like to think that by making them so, I have won the respect and admiration of both fellow Pimlico travellers and that great station’s staff alike.

There are of course many other aspects to owning and mastering a tube station. It is essential to know the locations of all possible Metro dispensers and Evening Standard issuers for example. And naturally, a complete knowledge of all possible exits and what lies beyond is also a pre-requisite of true ownership. I also have made something of a hobby helping lost people and my work at Pimlico Station in this regard is an ongoing project of which I am especially proud.

But for me the concept of ownership also entails an essential element of responsibility, custodianship if you will. So I try to do my bit to help London Underground operate with maximum efficiency and minimal discourtesy. I am far too busy to do this at every station but I do think my regular “vigilante escalator” work at Pimlico has had a lasting impact and has been genuinely valued by those who have noticed it.

Anyway, I’ll write more about the ownership and mastery of Tube stations and about the art and science of helping the lost at a later date.

In the meantime, if you have your own experiences of either tube station ownership or working with the lost, please do share them here. Maybe you own another part of the transport infrastructure, a bus stop or a Boris Bike rack perhaps? If so, it would be fascinating to learn about your work.  If you prefer you can always email me your stories for anonymous inclusion in future posts.

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