Down the Tube 4: Charley Says

It hadn't occurred to me that wandering around old tube lines might be dangerous. Even though I lived in a world shaped by the terrifying images drummed into my head by public information films I didn't think it applied - I wasn't messing around with a kite near pylons or fooling about by some deep water. True, there had been an supposedly hard-hitting one about children getting killed playing on railways. The mere concept of this one had so terrified me when it was discussed on Nationwide that when they actually showed it I ran and hid.

But this was the Tube. It was different. Besides, the ghost railways I had discovered didn't have any sleepers or tracks. I wasn't going to get run down now, was I?

I finally discovered the secret behind these old lines purely by chance when going to visit a Great Aunt and Uncle in Fingringhoe. I found their bookshelves fascinating, just like the bookshelves of my grandparents. And what was this? A London A-Z from 1947. I turned it over to look at the tube map and my heart stopped. The Northern Line had two extra tendrils, flung out from Highgate. So what if they were now long since amputated? I felt how I imagined famous scientists must feel when finally obtaining proof for long held theories. But this still left five ghost stations unaccounted for, all somewhere nearby.

The live tube too still had me in its thrall. By now not only was I going to Bond Street and back every so often for the Children's Theatre Workshop but I also undertook other expeditions. To the museums at South Kensington for one. That meant that I had to travel on the Metropolitan, District and Circle lines, a family of routes with a very different feel. The tunnels weren't really tubes at all, but wide subterranean thoroughfares in which trains travelling in opposite directions passed each other in the darkness, the glimpses into counterwise carriages like looking through a chink into a parallel universe. Even the rolling stock was different; bigger taller carriages that whilst obviously close relatives of the smaller trains I was used to, felt more like African Elephants to the regular tube's Indian.

Other regions of the network also beckoned and one weekend I decided to take a trip to Ongar. This station, now closed, was on the outermost reaches of the Central Line in deepest darkest Essex. It was the tube journey equivalent of travelling to Pluto.

I managed to pick up some further information on my travels from the posters and leaflets scattered around the stations. Apparently there was going to be a new line, the Fleet Line. This was going to go from Baker Street to Trafalgar Square and seemed a bit of an extravagance given that the Bakerloo Line already served those stations. Nevertheless it was exciting. A new line! My hobby of drawing imaginary tube lines was boosted by this instance of life imitating art. And now an Under Construction line started to appear on maps in the stations, an extension of the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow. These were heady times to be living in, I decided.

I started at a different school which meant that I had to catch the bus or the tube to get there. Needless to say I caught the tube, despite the uphill walk at the other end. Just like the British rail suburban lines, I disliked the buses. They weren't proper.  So it was that I began commuting at the age of ten albeit only from East Finchley to Highgate and back.

East Finchley station still seemed too big than it needed to be. Even though I'd discovered the purpose behind the two extra platforms, there was far too much of it. What was through those windows in the upper floors of those red brick buildings that loomed over the platforms? And where did that extra passage go? Exit from the platforms led into the ticket office and then out onto East Finchley High Road, but there was another passage heading the other way.

One day I decided to investigate.

It ended in another station entrance, one of which I had hitherto been unaware. This opened, said the signs, onto Hampstead Garden Suburb. But surely Hampstead was several miles away? Was this more arcane tube magic?

I remember this hidden entrance as having a high ceiling with a glass cupola through which light shone, but the memory may well be cheating.  It did have a newspaper kiosk in one wall, but this looked as if it had been boarded up for years. I looked outside; in contrast to the front it led to a quiet pathway, lined with tall hedges, there was a man in a raincoat lurking outside who reminded me vaguely of the singer from Thin Lizzy. I went back inside. Apart from the kiosk, the only other feature of note was a toilet. I decided to make use of the facilities, it seemed silly not to having discovered another secret part of the underground.

I finished at the urinal and turned around only to see the False Lynott standing against the wall just inside the doorway with his penis out.

I tried to rationalise this. He was, I supposed, desparate for a pee and was cutting all the corners he could, getting his dick out early was just one of these measures. That didn't explain why he was just standing there though. Something felt nasty. I decided to leave.

As I walked past him he abruptly peed on my raincoat (or at least that's what I thought it was, not having heard of ejaculation at that age). I felt a numb distaste and hurried out, back down the passageway to the front of the station and out onto the busy High Street which felt safer. I crossed at the pelican and began walking up to the side street that led home. I didn't really know what had happened but I did know that I wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

There was a wolf-whistle. I looked across the road to see False Lynott keeping in step with me on the other side of the road, staring at me and grinning. This didn't make sense to me. He wolf-whistled again and this time I ignored him , staring at the pavement in front of my feet and turning gratefully into Baronsmere Road as the turning came into view.

Needless to say I didn't tell my parents, even when my mum complained about the stain on my raincoat. I felt I'd probably get into trouble, that it was somehow my fault. We'd all been warned about not taking sweets from Strangers, but he hadn't offered me any sweets. What to do if a Stranger peed white onto your coat as you walked past was something Charley the Cat had neglected to mention.

I never went back to that toilet again and have never really been able to enjoy the music of Thin Lizzy. Furthermore, East Finchley station was tainted and I lost interest in it.  But even this unpleasant experience couldn't dampen my enthusiasm for the London Underground itself.

Whispers of the Fleet Line grew louder, and when the Heathrow Extension was opened in 1975 I was one of the first passengers on it and despite the length of the journey through mysterious places like Boston Manor and Osterley it was worth it to arrive at this mysterious futureworld of Hatton Cross and Heathrow Central stations. There were even planes taking off to watch once you got there.

Like a seventeenth century explorer I was spoilt for choice when it came to deciding upon my next escapade. There was just so much of it. I wondered if I'd ever visit all the stations? My dearest wish was to get hold of a full sized map of the network, not just the black and white "historical map" that I'd borrowed off a friend and asked my dad to photocopy (although this document did have its uses, revealing as it did the existence of further closed stations although not for some reason the now solved mystery of the goings on around Highgate).

I wanted a proper colour print of H C Beck's design classic just like the ones on the station platforms.


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