Stories are always bigger and more complex when you don't know them. A clip from a new film shown on TV somehow manages to make the film appear much more epic and far reaching than it in the end it actually turns out to be.

Take Star Wars. This was big news back in 1977 and endless showings of the same clips on TV somehow made me think of it as a grand epic tale with the scope and intense world building of Frank Herbert's Dune (although I hadn't read that either). Those clips. This was surely going to be the best film ever? I couldnt wait. That bit they kept showing where the two droids crash landed a spaceship in the middle of the desert. Wow. Obviously somewhere in the middle of the film; the droids on a mission of some importance that must have been interrupted somehow.

But when I eventually saw the film the clips I was already familiar with from TV (not to mention the pictures on the bubble gum cards) were somehow diminished. Too near the beginning, too close together or not imbued with nearly as much significance as I first thought they might have. The story seemed too short and above all too simple.

It just goes to show that even when you're watching someone else's vision translated into big budget 3D widescreen, your own mind still somehow does a better job. Star Wars was always better before I actually saw it.

This doesn't happen quite so much these days because your expectations are managed by high-octane jump-cut trailers with deep voiceovers (now almost always ironic):
One man...

MAN JUMPS OUT OF FIREY EXPLOSION

...is about to discover...

MAN ABSEILS DOWN SIDE OF BUILDING

...that the one thing...

MAN MACHINE GUNS OPEN A DOOR

...his training can't prepare him for...

MAN JUMPS DRAMATICALLY INTO ROOM
WITH A GRENADE IN HIS TEETH

...is a baby

SHOT OF CRYING BABY
MAN PULLS COMICAL 'SHOCKED' FACE
MUSIC GOES SILLY
And so on. Of course perhaps I don't watch enough TV these days and should tune into Film 2011 more regularly. I am sure they show proper clips. But half the time it's of films I don't really care about and Harrison Ford is suddenly an old man talking earnestly to some Hollywood clone woman about Issues.

But I don't even go to the cinema that often any more. There's something about the narrative structure of most films these days that is the same and makes it seem as if its straight of out a text book. Too many reversals of fortune whilst heading towards the denouement. Perhaps sometimes this is done with the best of intentions, but half the time you think that they only did this to spin it out for another ten minutes because the studio felt that the running time was a bit on the low side.

And as for alternate endings because a test screening went wrong... I'm sorry but it's the audiences at the test screenings that are in the wrong (even if they're right if you see what I mean). The ending of the film is the ending of the film.

However shit that might be.

Awoke early this morning and spent a miserable couple of hours tossing and turning whilst hoping that the severe headache that had me in its grip would just GO AWAY.


In the end it didn't which was most unsatisfactory. I had to get up and go in search of painkillers. Luckily I didn't have to go very far - they were in the kitchen. This is a marked improvement on the occasion when, whilst still living in Astra House, I had to actually get up at 3.30am, get dressed and stagger up Preston Street and along Western Road and into actual Hove before I found a twenty four hour store where I could buy some piss weak generic painkillers (not even something with added codeine oomph). I learnt a valuable lesson that night; always keep painkillers in the house.

You'd have thought that by now we'd have evolved out of tension headaches which are no good to man nor beast. I mean, from an evolutionary point of view they're a terrible burden...
Thugg the Caveman sleeps in a draft and as a result gets a neck ache the tension of which translates into a full blown behind-the-eyeballs throbber. However, the problem is that he's on sabre-tooth tiger hunting duty today and back in prehistoric times you couldn't call in sick. There were no phones, for a start.

So he drags himself out of the cave and goes along the path to the pharmacy-witch who gives him a willow infusion. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to shift the pain and, given that ibuprofen won't be invented for tens of thousands of years he's just going to have to grimace and bear it. So he joins the group standing nervously by the big tree slapping each other on the back, bantering and asking each other if they saw the big fight last night. Thugg doesn't know what they're talking about as he doesn't get Sky (the mouth of his cave points downwards) but apparently there was a big ding dong between Chief Grillogg and up and coming young buck Drigg up on the ridge the previous evening. Moonlit and everything.

Thugg doesn't like fighting and anyway, this headache is making it difficult for him to see properly, let alone engage in mindless small-grunt. He's starting to see things and suspects that the headache is turning into a full blown migraine or "Invisible-Stone-Axe-Buried-In-Skull" as his tribe knows the condition.

Five minutes ago he could have sworn he saw a Boeing 747 fly past, which is highly unlikely as Boeing 747s won't be invented until round about the same time as ibuprofen. Perhaps it was a big bird, he thinks, that bloody eagle that carried off Footwatcher the other month.

But staring at the sky becomes too bright for him so he looks at the ground instead.

"Cheer up, it may never happen!" 
Thugg feels a blow to his shoulder and peers up to see Guntt, the tribal wiseboy grinning foolishly at him. He murmurs incomprehensibly back. He just wants to be left alone and to spend the day under his bearskin quilt until this terrible headache goes away.

What a bunch of shitheads the rest of the tribe are, he muses.

They set off towards the veldt. Well they call it a veldt. To be brutally honest it's more of a common. Even the tigers seem embarrassed to stalk across it. Thugg is having a bad day. He stubs his toe on a rock, falls into the stream and then accidentally whacks Hugg over the head with the shaft of his spear and receives a punch in the face for his trouble. That really doesn't help Thugg's mood.

Thugg thinks it would be nice to have someone to blame for all this misfortune and invents God. Thanks, God, you stupid bastard. Why have you got it in for me? If it wasn't for me you wouldn't exist, I only invented you a minute ago.

Thugg trips and falls down a hill, sliding through the scree and ending up in heap at the bottom of the hill. He is beginning to suspect that his arm is now broken. What a brilliant day, he thinks, inventing sarcasm. At the top of the hill the rest of the tribe are laughing at him, but their hoots of derision turn into chimpanzee shrieks of fear. He turns to see a tiger bearing down upon him.
Is Thugg dead? Tune into the next exciting installment.

However, there's a very important point here. Tension headaches are definitely, absolutely and without a shadow of a doubt, very very bad for you. There are absolutely no circumstances under which they could be advantageous. So I don't understand why it is that they haven't been selected out, As I discussed only the other day, evolution is a straightforward, by the numbers process - so why isn't it working here? After all headaches are also famous for preventing sex.

Either headaches are an unavoidable side effect of intelligence that used to be a lot worse (and this is as good as it gets) or there's something else going on. Something slightly sinister.  Maybe headaches are something new, something that has arisen in recent years and as such haven't had time to be addressed by numbers and time. Perhaps an unavoidable side effect not of intelligence but of modern living?

The most significant change over the past couple of hundred years is the exponential human population explosion. We have to face facts - there are now simply too many people. If we reduced the planetary population to a tenth of its current level (over the course of a couple of generations - I'm not proposing a cull) civilisation would still be perfectly sustainable and yet we almost certainly wouldn't have to worry about environmental issues or even the global financial crisis.

Perhaps tension headaches are a side effect of this overpopulation. Interference from too many other brains in the immediate vicinity. Neural activity is electrical in nature and electrical currents generate fields. Put enough brains in one room and it's the mental equivalent of trying to read a book when you're surrounded by a crowd of people shouting.

Hermits don't get headaches.

stone headache picture from geograph.org.uk by Chris Downer

Just as moving house had opened and closed the first book of my Tubehood, The Case of the Victorian Zodiac, so moving house once more at the close of the seventies would bring the second book, The Case of the Dism Rly, to an end and set the pieces up for the third and final book in the trilogy. We weren't moving far, just a mile or so down the road to Cranley Gardens. This was near Highgate tube and Highgate Wood (two of the primary locations of book two).

Nevertheless things were very different now. For a start I was growing up. Not only had I recently discovered the allure of spiky women in general and Toyah Willcox in particular which had put an entirely different spin on things, but I'd also moved up into the senior school.

This latter move was an extremely unpleasant one (at some point I will write a comprehensive blog entry explaining why), so suffice to say that I decided to continue concentrating on my inner life and as a result my enthusiasm for all things London Underground remained, albeit in a diminished form.

One of the best things about the location of Cranley Gardens was that it had been on one of the great lost lines that originally flowed outwards from Highgate. Imagine that; I was living in a road that had once had its own tube station but which was now derelict. I even worked out where the station had been.

Right up at the top of Cranley Gardens diagonally opposite one looming corner of Highgate Wood (still dark and primeval to me) and across from number 23 (which would become famous a few years afterwards for very different reasons) lay a garden centre. They were all the rage back then. Behind the garden centre was a sunken path.

The layout and feel of this path was very familiar to me from my earlier explorations of the hidden places in Highgate Wood. This was quite clearly the route of an abandoned railway, the unnatural curve of the path gave it away, the rubble of pumice underfoot. It disappeared off behind the houses through thick trees before rising above them on a viaduct that gave commanding views of East London and Essex. The route was lined with rusty metal signs warning of 50,000 volts amongst the weeds and stanchions that had obviously once carried cables, but like its cousin across in Highgate Wood, this Dism Rly had no actual sleepers or tracks, no real live rail despite the warnings.

Such was the unevenness of ground level in Muswell Hill that even after being so high up the track shortly afterwards found itself looking up at the backs of houses and shops on Muswell Hill Broadway before coming to a end at a pedestrian subway under Muswell Hill itself.

There was no sign of the actual stations themselves and from this point onwards it became difficult to follow the route to the terminus at Alexandra Palace. There was a school in the way for a start. If I wanted more I would have to look elsewhere.

Heading east from Highgate I soon discovered the rest of this ancient route curving round from the junction of Archway Road and Jackson's Lane, another stretch of abandoned railway bed that would one day become known as the Parkland Walk. Through cuttings and across narrow viaducts this route took in Crouch End station, the only place aside from the secret platforms at Highgate that still resembled a railway station. In some ways the discovery and pinning down of the solution to this childhood mystery was the end of the line for me. I could move on, although for years afterwards the route was one of my favourite walks.

But there was one place - in fact there still is one place - that the more mythical Tube has persisted. Inside my head. In dreams. Night dreams, not daydreams.

There's a somnambulant network there, reflecting but somehow far more exciting than the real thing could ever hope to be; in the dreamworld you don't need to get planning permission and as such things are bigger and better. Furthermore, these lines are all part of what appears to be a very consistent dream world (see earlier blog entry Dancing the Dreamscape for more detail of this).

There's a distant version of the western outreaches of the Metropolitan Line that takes days to get to and from. There are vast swathes of tracks filling an entire valley alongside the main route somewhere near Crouch End station, an idealised version of the stillborn branch line I discovered so long ago.

There are versions of the Circle Line in which the tracks run alongside mysterious caverns inhabited by strange manlike creatures; a Victoria Line that somehow manages to run as far south as Luxor in Egypt. And often there are dreams of the retooling of the whole network, vast building works threading myriad extra lines through the congested cats cradle of central London with complex new branches of the District Line sprouting like vines across the barren tubeless wastes of South London.

It may not be real but I'm certainly not the only person to have imagined such a Neverwhere, such an Un Lun Dun. There's something about such a subterranean network of tunnels that has fastened hooks in our imaginations since the first tube opened in 1863. Something about that familiar brightly coloured wiring diagram that speaks to us on levels we don't fully comprehend.

They've ruined it now of course. The magic map now lies defaced by the ugly scrawls of Docklands and Overground, a mere parody of its former self.

Harry Beck would not be pleased.

Crouch End station photo by Steve Way

"God does not play dice with the universe"
Albert Einstein
I find it astonishing in this day and age that the whole business of "should Creationism be taught in schools?" is even discussed. It's not an issue of religious freedom - people should free to believe in whatever they like however stupid it is. It's an issue of whether what should be taught in schools should make fucking sense.

By all means teach people about religion in schools (some people believe this whilst other people believe that and sometimes people kill other people for not agreeing with them) but anything about the way the universe actually works should be based on facts or at least as close to facts as are currently available. When something is unknown that too should be made clear.

But, argue the Creationists, Evolution's just a theory too, goldarnit!

No. No it isn't. It's just logic. To be honest I don't even think it should be dignified with the epithet "theory". After all, we don't talk about "The Theory of 2 + 2 = 4" and it really is as simple, straightforward and logical as that. Later on I will demonstrate why.

Another argument used by the bible-bashing squad is that scientists are somehow spoiling things and taking the magic and wonder out of the world with their steadfast refusal to have truck with anything but facts. This has an unfortunate side effect. In an attempt to derail this criticism, scientists are prone to start waxing lyrical about "the wonders of evolution" and so on and so forth. Whilst this can be quite effective when making a popular documentary series (especially if accompanied by stirring incidental music) I think that on the whole it gives science a bad name.

You don't have to duplicate the shock, awe and alleged "wonder" of religion to supplant it.  If anything these irrational emotional responses are what keep people clinging to the old ways.  Evolution is numbers and common sense. There's nothing breathtaking about it. Given enough time and a complex mathematical system then of course we're going to see the diversity and multitude of forms of Life on Earth today.

However, we shouldn't be in awe of the results. This kind of gee whizz is a way of saying that a god did it without believing in a god; evangelical marvelling at the "wonders of evolution" is simply giving god another name.  The awe should be reserved for the two things that really make all this possible. Two things that are awe-inspiring and if we're honest actually rather frightening.

Huge lengths of time and vast unimaginable numbers.

Those are the things that quite logically make us feel small and insignificant. Our day to day existence, our whole lives are as nothing compared to the lengths of time required for evolution to work; likewise the vast numbers required are far greater than our minds can comfortably conceive.

The size of numbers we can visualise is actually quite low. We might like to think we can imagine what 100 looks like, but what about if it's not neatly lined up in rows of ten? We can certainly conceive of numbers higher than ten but can't actually visualise them. Try it. You almost always end up with combinations of other numbers - for instance twelve ends up being two sixes, often visualised as the faces of dice.

Dice can also be useful in demonstrating how simple evolution actually is, and to do so I propose a fairly straightforward thought experiment. The experiment uses what I call Tetrahedral Amoeba Dice (TAD or Tads).  Each Tad only has four equilateral triangle faces (and as such is a tetrahedron). Each of these faces has a letter of the alphabet at its centre, A, B, C or D. When you throw a Tad, the letter that appears on the face flat on the ground is the score. We observe the results by looking upwards though the floor, which is made of glass.

All quite straightforward, but wait, there's more. This is the first odd bit.

Each Tad has DNA, a simple genome that does no more than affect the likelihood of a particular face ending up flat when the Tad is thrown. There are only sixteen genes and each of these can only have one of four values, which by a handy coincidence are also the values that appear on the faces of the Tad.

An average member of the Tad population has a genome consisting of the following genes:

A A A A B B B B C C C C D D D D

Four genes for each of its faces which means that when thrown there's always a one in four chance of any number coming up. Think of the genes as weights in their corresponding face. Of course some Tads might be mutants with more of one type of gene and less of another - we can think of these as being "loaded dice".

The second odd bit is that the Tads have a life cycle. Every four throws they split in two, amoeba-like, both copies being exact duplicates of the original parent. And for the purposes of keeping it simple, every four throws there's a cull in which half of them die at random so the population remains stable. Sometimes genetic mutations occur during division - when, due to a replication error, a standard Tad might split into:

A A A A A B B B C C C C D D D D
and
A A A B B B B B C C C C D D D D

one of which is more likely to come up A and the other more likely to come up B. On other occasions mutations occur spontaneously, zapping an A into a B at random.

So far this is all very fine and splendid (if spectacularly pointless). Starting with a population of a million after 400 iterations the makeup of the population is going to be pretty much the same and any mutations get lost in the noise.  But suppose something changes?

Some factor in the environment favours Tads showing a C so that when the cull comes any Tad showing a C survives. Of course a proportion of these will be those that just came up C at random, but any Tads loaded in favour of C (and which happened to come up C on that occasion) survive. There are now a larger proportion of Tads in the population loaded in favour of C than there were.

And if this keeps happening? Provided the environmental factor remains the same, the proportion of Tads with five (or more) C-genes goes on increasing and begins to dominate. Of course some "normals" may survive at random every cull if they happened to come up C on that occasion, likewise any C-loaded Tads that happened not to come up C that time may die.

But given the sheer numbers involved, C-loaded Tads go on increasing.  Eventually the whole population will consist of Tads with five (or more) C-genes. But it doesn't stop there.

Every cull some Tads fall prey to this mysterious cyclic dice plague when they don't come up C at the roll of reckoning. A Tad with five C-genes will always come up C less than a Tad with 6 C-genes and therefore will gradually be weeded out of the population come Culling Day. The population will continue to change in this manner until eventually the whole population consists of Tads with six (or more) C-genes.

And this change with continue to favour more and more C-genes  until the whole population consists of Tads with sixteen C-genes, all of whom always come up C.

The Tads evolved. Purely due to the inevitability of mathematics. Just numbers. Cold equations. With vast enough numbers and even vaster amounts of time, such changes are not only unremarkable but inevitable.

The universe plays dice with itself.

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...

I get the feeling that I have already mentioned the whole issue of waking up just before the alarm clock goes off in this blog. It's exactly the kind of thing that it would have occurred to me to write about in the early days when I was doing it regularly.

Back in that heady time I used to get up at 6.30am, tap away at the keyboard and then hit PUBLISH POST without a second thought. Given that I'd so recently dragged myself up out of sleep it isn't at all surprising that I'd end up writing about alarm clocks. Nowadays I plan things more and write a blog entry over a couple of days so alarm clocks aren't so fresh in my mind.

It's odd when it happens though, this preemptive waking. Depending upon how deeply you've been asleep you snap or drift into wakefulness and wonder what it is that has roused you. Sometimes it almost seems as if you heard an alarm clock going off in the next room or at least dreamed that you heard one.

And then it actually goes off. There is an impression that what shook you into wakefulness was an echo of the alarm itself, a resonance of the shock you now feel as it goes off. But that would be ridiculous. Things don't resonate or echo backwards in time.

However, it starts to feel less ridiculous if we think of your mind (your consciousness, the thing that has been woken by the alarm) less as being a single point in space-time and more as being a wave of probability smeared across quantum reality.

This isn't unreasonable. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the sense of smell has been proven to work using quantum tunnelling, so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility to surmise that the whole of the brain works in this way. Perhaps that's just how nerves work? And if this is how brains work then consciousness - as a side effect of a complex working brain - is undoubtedly quantum-based.  If quantum theory has taught us one thing it's that nothing is clear and defined, hence the whole Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.  Everything exists as a probability.

One interpretation of this quantum reality of probabilities is that on a microscopic level what we're actually seeing is the effect of many worlds interfering with each other, the parallel universes so beloved of Science Fiction authors.

However I think the whole idea of parallel worlds being "parallel" is flawed. The model of a series of parallel universes lying neatly on top of each other like a ream of paper in a laser printer's feed tray might be an attractive one but I think it's far from the truth.

If anything this universe and its adjacent ones are merely ways of looking at an continuum of probability, a sea of might-be. Whilst you could indeed define a parallel universe as being 1mm away from this one along the probability axis, that doesn't mean it's next door. What about the level of probability 0.5mm away? Or 0.25 mm away? Or...

I think you get the point. And in this sheet of probability there's no reason why other universes need necessarily be parallel, either. You can slice it any way you like. This means that our consciousness extends sideways in time and that what we might think of as our self is merely a section of a spectrum of us-ness smeared across the nearest Many Worlds, a wave of probability sideways in time falling away the further we get from World Zero.

So our consciousness, our self, is not a point. It's a wave. The highest point, the probability factor of 1:1, is what we might think of as ourselves, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.
If we imagine a graph where the Y axis is probability of consciousness and the X axis represents universal probability with the origin representing this universe then our consciousness is a steep hill (a two dimensional picture of a hill) centred on the origin and disappearing off asymptotically to infinity and minus infinity. Our self is located below the curve and we are dimly aware of what goes on in our subconsciousness (below the waterline) even though some of it is taking place in other universes as our parallel selves go about their business.

Yes, very salutary, but what about alarm clocks and precognition and things?

Allow me to introduce you to the Z-axis. Let the Z-axis equal time.

We can now imagine our hill of self sliding ever onwards along the Z-axis like a painting being carried the wrong way by two rather inept delivery men, as if the graph above started sliding towards you out of the screen. However, this analogy doesn't really satisfy. If the frame of the graph has become three dimensional, then the curve of our consciousness should too and the most obvious shape to imagine this being is a complete three dimensional hill. A steep hill extending not only sideways into probability but also a little way forwards and backwards in time.

Just as we share some of our consciousness with our twins off sideways in the Worlds of If, then we also share some of it with our selves in the immediate future and the immediate past. Our conscious self (whilst centered on the here and now) extends not only sideways but also forwards and backwards in time. This means that we can be aware of things happening in the immediate future (below the curve) just before they happen. Especially shocking ones. Like alarm clocks.
Of course on the face of it the whole thing is totally ridiculous. Common sense dictates that time is absolute and you can no more see dimly into the immediate future than you could go for a walk on the ceiling.

Have a care though, because common sense also says that the world is flat.

This seems like a lot of trouble to go to to explain how the alarm clock wakes you up before it goes off, but I can see how it might have other applications.  It could be very advantageous to be able to predict the immediate future like this.

To a prehistoric mammal living on the edge such defocussed temporal perception could mean the difference between life and death: I might be about to get squashed by a dinosaur; better get out of the way then. And of course those mammals who are slightly better at it will survive to breed, meaning that eventually the whole population consists of such amateur clairvoyants. Of course it's not "real" clairvoyance with all the baggage of pseudoscience and technocratic heresy this would imply. All it means is that you can dimly see into your own immediate future. Useful though.

And strange as it may seem some experiments have already been performed and published that suggest that consciousness is not shackled as closely to the present as we might think.

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.