As I reached the bottom of the long escalator at Angel station (I always have to walk – rather, trot – down it perhaps because it takes so long otherwise), I was caught up in the sound of Jesus playing the piano. It wasn’t really Jesus, of course, but a darkly handsome young man with long hair – looking rather like pictures of a youthful Jesus – who was playing his electronic piano in the buskers’ spot as he often does. On reflection, if he is Spanish or Latino, as his complexion suggests, he might well be called Jesus.
You could call this spot Variety Corner as it is graced by quite a few performers. Most are instrumentalists, like Jesus, playing guitars, saxophones, clarinets, violins and even harmonicas, but there is also the occasional vocalist giving vent to operatic outpourings that echo strangely along the tiled passageways. Then there is the blind man who also uses his mouth as his instrument: he whistles his tunes. Some are expert and some are tooth-grindingly amateur. It takes all sorts, I suppose.
Down the second, shorter escalator and we reach the platforms, left for southbound, right for northbound. The northbound platform is as narrow as that of the average suburban station, strangely for the busy hub that Angel is. The southbound platform, in contrast, is very wide. You could hold a decent party down there or perhaps a skateboard convention. I usually stand just beyond the train describer, on a level with the third Underground symbol. That places me opposite the exit when I reach the station I travel to most often, Borough.
It also means I have a good view of the train describer showing the timings of the next three trains. Unexpectedly, this has caused me to meditate on human behaviour. I will explain why.
The London Underground seems to work to its own arcane rules. Unlike buses, tube trains do not encounter traffic jams and so, barring breakdowns, should run regularly on clear lines. On a good day, they do. At Angel, during a weekday, you can expect a train, on average, every 3 or 4 minutes. But there are hiccups. There are sometimes gaps in the service when you may have to wait 10 minutes or even more for a train.
Angel is a busy station and a gap of 8 or 10 minutes means that the platform becomes quite crowded and when the train arrives, there is a rush and a crush to get aboard. The same thing will have happened at the previous stations, obviously, so the train will now be packed. There will be no chance of getting a seat and every chance that I will be crammed cheek by jowl with a mob of no doubt very nice people but in uncomfortable circumstances.
This is where the describer comes in useful. When a train is late, the other trains pile up behind it and it is likely that I will see there is another train a minute or so behind this one. This is good news because the short interval means it will have called at sparsely peopled stations and be relatively empty. A couple of minutes isn’t going to make that much difference to my journey time so I might as well wait for the next train. Then I will get a seat and have room to stretch my legs.
So I stand and watch the people crowding onto the already crowded train, jostling and trying to find a couple of square inches of floor space to stand on and I wonder. I wonder “Why do they do it?” and “Why don’t they wait for the next train as I am doing?” To be fair, one or two do so, but only one or two. Most scrape and shove their way onto the train.
Why? I just don’t get it. Is there something I have missed or are people really so impatient or just so daft that they are willing to travel in discomfort when they could wait a couple of minutes for a less crowded train? Short of commissioning an opinion poll, I doubt whether I will find out the answer.
I shouldn’t grumble, of course, because this behaviour means that I get a seat and travel in relative comfort. But it intrigues me. There’s nowt so queer as folk, as the saying goes.