Down the Tube 5: Don't Jubilee've It

As my story nears puberty I find that the memories are starting to fragment and it's becoming more difficult to construct a coherent narrative of my childhood relationship with the tube. Perhaps because this is because I started to see things in less black and white terms and could no longer access the mental space in which I felt the simple joy of losing myself in a complex but highly ordered structure.

In many ways it was liberating to move on from this absolute mental space as it meant I was less likely to get upset when this structure was disturbed. In retrospect such upsets were absurd, but they seemed very genuine at the time. One was when I discovered that the tube map was not to scale. Of course it should have been plain as a pikestaff given the regularity of the diagram, but nevertheless I was very resistant to the idea that the distance from High Barnet to Camden Town wasn't the same as the distance from Camden Town to Charing Cross. It was similar to the sense of betrayal I felt when I discovered the degree of distortion inherent in Mercator's Projection. My mental model of reality matched these maps - was it too much to expect that the real world follow suit?

But I was getting older. Now both my sister and I were both travelling to school by tube although hers was the longer journey (all the way to Camden). One evening she told me she'd seen a map with a new line marked on it "under construction". It was silver and called the Jubilee Line. I didn't want to believe her; the new line was going to be called the Fleet Line, I'd known that for ages. And it hadn't appeared on any maps. This new information didn't make sense.

When my investigations the next day revealed that she'd been correct it felt as if the universe was conspiring with my sister to wind me up. But there the map was with the new "Jubilee" line clearly marked,changing its name bold as brass without so much as a by-your-leave. I was upset that the Fleet Line of my imagination had been written out of my future, replaced by this gaudy "Jubilee" upstart in an attempt to curry favour with the Queen. I discovered that I wasn't the only person who felt this way when I spotted stickers on some of the tube maps bearing the legend "Don't Jubilee've it! - FLEET LINE - Movement Against the Monarchy".

Eventually I swallowed this disappointment and began to get excited about the imminent arrival. I was to get an inkling of the shape and colour of this new line due to my regular use of Green Park station. This was because (rather nerdily I have to admit) I had recently become a "JARI", a Junior Associate of the Royal Institution. This had come about as a result of my attendance at the infamous Christmas Lectures during the 1970s when I'd met such luminaries as David Attenborough and Carl Sagan. Of course the membership meant far more tube journeys for me as I travelled there to use the library. It was a strange and solitary experience, wandering amongst the stacks of ancient scholarly works daydreaming about how Michael Faraday had once prowled the same corridors.

The nearest tube stop was the aforementioned Green Park which happened to be one of the places that the Jubilee Line was going to stop. Gradually over the course of a couple of years a new passageway appeared in the ticket hall, fenced off with stainless steel scissor-gates and decorated with bright orange tiles. The colour scheme was a long way from the austere blue grey of the Victoria Line. It felt obscurely unfaithful starting to get enthusiastic about a new tube line, but I couldn't help it. It was fresh bright and exciting and the best thing of all was that I'd be there at the birth.

On the first day I caught the tube down to Charing Cross on the Northern Line (formerly Strand station which had been closed for the duration of construction) and walked down the new interchanges following the signs that said Jubilee Line. I was almost shaking. There was a thrilling smell of fresh rubber and plastic in the air.

And then there I was standing on the platform of a brand new station on a brand new line. I noticed a number of other people who were obviously there for the occasion, nerdy looking men in anoraks with satchels and oversized cameras. Was I one of them? Was this to be my fate?

I looked inside the train and my heart pounded. The internal line maps looked far more complex than maps of the Jubilee Line had a right to be. Did the maps show all future stations planned for the line? Ah, no. They were just Bakerloo Line maps. The rolling stock had obviously just been transferred from the Jubilee's older brother for the occasion. This was annoying. Upsetting, even. It wasn't proper.

The stations more than made up for it. The idea of motifs was obviously still fresh in the designers' minds, but here they'd really let themselves go. Taking critical comments about the clinical appearance of the Victoria Line to heart, they'd decorated their baby in shocking orange, turquoise and green with some of the new motifs eschewing the old fashioned medium of ceramic tiles for melamine, a hard modern plastic material I associated with mugs.

And the redesign hadn't stopped at the Jubilee Line platforms. When the Northern Line's Strand station had reopened as Charing Cross  a gigantic medieval tableau dwarfed passengers standing on the platform and made a pleasant change from the rows of movie posters. In stark black and white, Tottenham Hale's Jesus in a Boat wouldn't have looked out of place here. By contrast the Jubilee line platforms were comparatively subdued with fairly bog standard portraits of Nelson, pigeons and other naval themed images.

At Green Park leaves were very much the order of the day. They even changed the Victoria Line motifs to match. This didn't sit well with me. Much as I had disliked the original Green Park motif on the Victoria Line, it felt wrong just changing it like that. Why couldn't they just leave things alone? Whilst the new things were very exciting, the retconning of the rest of the network in this way felt wrong. Things should remain how they had been during my childhood, I thought, that way I need never really age and could tap into the uncomplicated happiness of that time.

Not that I articulated it in that manner (or even realised it consciously).

At Bond Street there were presents, implying not that it was Christmas every day, but as a nod to the shops up above. And at Baker Street, rather than celebrate the birth of the London Underground in 1863 at that very station, the designers chose to invoke the district's most famous fictional cocaine addict Sherlock Holmes with illustrations from his exploits.

And that was it really, only four stops, all of which had existed before. The Stanmore branch didn't really count because it was just resprayed Bakerloo line. It felt like a bit of a let down really. Was I outgrowing the Underground's mysterious charm?

Perhaps not. A booklet I bought at the Tourist Information Centre in Charing Cross revealed London Underground's plans for the latest addition to their network. Even though up until now it was little more than the Bakerloo Line's more glamorous conjoined twin, plans were afoot that would take it into uncharted territory. STAGE 2 beckoned.

Apparently the line was to continue beneath the Strand and Fleet Street to Aldwych and a brand new station at Ludgate Circus, from there cozying up alongside the Circle Line at Cannon Street before terminating at Fenchurch Street "the only mainline terminus not served by the tube" trumpeted the booklet.

And STAGE 3! That was the really exciting part. From Fenchurch Street the Jubilee was to wind itself around the Thames like a boa constrictor before terminating at Thamesmead and Beckton. I couldn't wait.

Or could I? There was no indication of how long this was actually going to take. And in the meantime the frightening but fascinating looking punk girls I'd spotted on my travels around the network had started to attract my attention. Perhaps the tube could wait...


Anonymous said…
Hey Chris, trying to contact you about an image on your site, like to get your permission to use it elsewhere - please can you email me?
Due to spamming here is my address written cryptically: I'm using
The first part is the following three words joined together without any spaces followed by the at sign

(It's a shame there is not a "contact author" on most blog sites eh?!) LOl

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