This article originally appeared on VICE UK
These are mixed times for the Tube. You're thinking: Oh, he means because of the strikes. No, I mean because people keep masturbating on it, and groping women on it, and taking class-A drugs on it, and yet the person who seems to have come off worse thus far this summer is an artist who used one of the free plug sockets to charge his phone.
It feels like it might be time for a Tube etiquette refresher. For example, Rule #1: no wanking. Not even a little bit. I know: Your boss has really been riding you hard, hasn't he? He really wants that spreadsheet, or whatever it is you do. (I assume any job that isn't my own is just the colossal and infinite construction of spreadsheets.) So you have really nailed a tricky VLOOKUP, and you're on the Tube home, and you have forgotten your book, and... would it be so bad to slide one single hand down your trousers and manipulate your genitals in the direction of a lonely orgasm? A stress reliever. A little jolt of ecstasy. Would it be that bad, if you hide behind a Metro? I am here to tell you yes; yes, it definitely would.
See, a lot of people don't know about the non-wanking on the Tube rule. It's one of those unwritten ones, and TfL do not issue pamphlets warning us all not to do it. What else are we doing wrong? How else are we abusing one of the greatest, dirtiest, worst public transport networks on Earth? Let's find out.
LEARN TO WALK THROUGH A TUBE STATION WITHOUT STOPPING ABRUPTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING CONCOURSE, YOU FUCKING PRICK IDIOT
I always wonder, as I clatter into them terrifically from behind, about the psychological profile of these people. These are the slow walkers and the idiots. The people who loiter in shop doorways, not sure whether they want to go in or not. The people who hold doors open for you when you're not close enough to the door and you have to do a little half-run. Where did these people come from? Their spatial awareness is fucked.
The central truth of using the Tube is: You, like the trains, need to move quickly and precisely. Anyone who cannot grasp that fact needs to have their Oyster card violently snapped in front of them and their Tube rights revoked. I'm talking to you, Out-of-Town Theater Nan, loudly and pridefully tutting as you wander blindly into the throng, as if it is somehow the city's fault, a metropolis that must descend humbly to one knee to apologize for being busy. You, Theatre Nan, and those dreadlocked Spanish tourists who saw Stomp and mistook it for a life-choice.
EMBRACE FREE NEWSPAPERS; SUCCUMB TO FREE NEWSPAPERS
The Tube lines are London condensed into a hall of mirrors, the city's diet reflected in scream balloons of vomit and McDonald's debris, its chaos reflected in violently patterned seats and a vista of free newspapers as far as the eye can see, free newspapers contorted into such shapes you've never seen, free newspapers rolled into batons, free newspapers flayed on the floor, free newspapers pulled from the staples outwards and crucified upon dusty seats like inky Jesuses, free newspapers kicked around so much they are now just a single shrill headline about the possibility of Robbie Keane joining Fulham. Free newspapers are the prison currency of the Tube. You will fight over free newspapers. You will read the free newspaper's digest of the news you already read on every news app you have on your phone. You will wonder what the point of the free newspaper is. You will flick to the back, where brand new properties near Leyton are advertised at a starting price of $900,000, and you will know with no hope in your heart that you will never be a Leytonite. Welcome to London, where even the litter reminds you you're poor.
GIVING YOUR SEAT UP
Listen up pregnant ladies: I got mad respect for you. Your bodies are doing something insane right now. You are literally cooking a baby in your stomach like a pie. You took some jizz and made it human. It is a wild and crazy and beautiful time for you. But I am hungover and I really need to sit here. I need to wear my sunglasses and not move even one atom and yet somehow ingest this Lucozade, or I am going to die.
Because in the seat-giving-up hierarchy, pregnant women win. They always win. And that's fine. But people who are still processing a dangerous amount of alcohol or drugs from the night before need special treatment, too.
Currently, the sitting down hierarchy goes like this: pregnant women > old people who look especially likely to die soon > other old people > people with lots of bags. This is fucked up. What about the hungover, the lazy? What about the people who played football three days ago and their legs still don't feel right? TfL, a petition: Give us a hangover carriage that plays rain noise and "Xtal" and Deacon Blue. Till then: I am not giving up my seat unless you are visibly giving birth.
JOLLY PLATFORM ANNOUNCERS
You know the ones: They say things like, "I hope you all had a lovely day at work." And you are like—some of you, the less cynical, the ones who have lived lives less miserable—you are like, "Oh no, don't be mean about the Jolly Platform Announcers: They brighten my day." No.
Think about it like this: These people are locked underground for eight hours a day. The air they breathe is dusty and hot. Their job is, primarily, to stop you trapping your arms in a robotic door. Their only friends are the dirty blind mice that somehow exist on the Tube line. And these people are happy, on top of that? Think again about those four base facts. Now throw happiness on top of it. The evidence is clear: anyone who can be happy, anyone who can be jolly under those stressful circumstances, is a fucking nailed-on, definite serial killer. Ban Jolly Platform Announcers, before they murder us all.
If you're deliberately falling asleep anywhere in public, you're a wanker. If you're falling asleep by accident on the Tube, you will probably get robbed.
With all of London being a fucking viral video set now, there is a constant buzz in the background, an audible 70 percent chance that everything happening around you is a tightly choreographed routine conceived by medium-profile vloggers or EE. That every old woman you help up some stairs is going to turn around and start singing gospel songs at you as a sign of gratitude, teens in beanie hats rushing in with GoPros, your heartwarming moment of basic human decency a simple ploy engineered by hands unseen for obscure corners of Mom Facebook to click "Like" on.
What do you do when you are caught in a viral video prison on the Tube? Very simple Do and Don't:
DO: Start swinging, with wild abandon, your fists and your legs, until at least one vlogger is mortally wounded
DON'T: Rant about immigration in a way that goes viral and makes you lose your job
You shouldn't need telling the Don't, but if more of us do the Do then maybe we can all get back to real life and out of this Grand Guignol Beadle's About facsimile of it.
Have you ever been trapped in a Tube door? You have to think about your life and where it's going, if you have. Doors are up there with utensils and toilets as some of the most basic tools you will ever interact with and you just got your coat trapped in one because a beeping robot shut it on you. Thousands of people with Kindles are mad because your inability to walk through a door like a human has ground a vital part of one of the biggest cities on Earth to a halt. Think about your life and where you're going. You are so bad at doors it is close to being a crime.
The only people who make eye contact on the tube are fugitive war criminals and Australians.
Flirting on the Tube is like flirting with someone while they're on the toilet, or having a knee glued back together by a perfunctory nurse: possible, yes, but essentially you are just bothering someone with your floppy-haired goofiness and Hugh Grant-esque "I–I–actually" shit while they are doing something necessary but also kind of awful. If you're about to flirt with someone on the Tube, just run this quick quiz by yourself: Would I say this to them if they were currently shitting? Just ask, internally, inside-voice: What about if they were having their shoulder popped back into its joint? If the answer is no, probably best to leave it. If you fancy them that much, just submit yourself to the public police database that is the "Rush Hour Crush" section of the Metro.
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AVOID THOSE BLOKES WHO KNOW EXACTLY WHERE TO STAND WHEN THE TRAIN COMES SO THEY CAN STEP IMMEDIATELY ONTO THE TRAIN AND ONTO A WAITING EMPTY SEAT
Sand colored overcoat, pen in the pocket, react-a-lite lenses, a haircut, a pink capillary blush around the nose that suggests a lack of dietary roughage, and standing there, in his piss-stained desert boots, in the exact same spot he always does, and the doors unfold open with a kssh, and he thinks: Is it really worth it? Take a look at that dusty man. He is Future You. Do not get too near to him, lest you become him.
LEARN THE FINE ART OF TUBE DRINKING
Oh, you're thinking, but drinking is outlawed on the Tube. Drinking is outlawed on the Tube for the weak and the cowardly. For anyone willing to hold a little tinny in a black plastic bag or drink wine straight from a bottle disguised in a backpack, it's still Party Central, particularly the overground lines. I'm not saying Tube carriages should descend into actual, organized event drinking—I've seen footage from the Circle Line Party in 2008, and it basically looks like every twat you've ever met happening at once, like a massive twat firework display—but if we cannot enjoy the hot thrill of pre-drinking some vodka in an Evian bottle when traveling from Morden to Camden, then what, truly, do we have? Drinking in public is the only thing keeping London from being as shitty as New York.
It's not that bad, vomiting on the Tube. We've all gone a bit too hard on a school night. And then we find ourselves, clammy in the hot, thick air of the Tube line, gently rolling and lilting in time with the motions of the train carriage, last night's lahmacun getting all mixed up in our guts, the urge to expel overwhelming. So just vomit. Vomit in your bag or your hands, and then slowly look up, palms still outstretched, at the person opposite you, and sweetly smile because: Are we not all humans toiling wearily beneath the yellow sun? Are we not all, at one time or another, vomiting lavishly on the Tube?
There is that curious wording to describe a death on the line that holds a train up, a curious wording telegraphed over the announcements as you idle in a grim dark tunnel: We've got a person on the tracks. That strange, bloodless description, as though someone might just be standing there, on the tracks—alive, vital, just furiously staring down an immovable train—and not immolated and in need of scraping up. Thing is, someone just died. Thing is, nothing you're really rushing to is that important any more. So just sit in your tunnel of purgatory and try not to roll your eyes and say "there's always one." Just sit and read your free paper and try not to be the enraged prick in a suit I once shared a carriage with who kept loudly repeating the word: "Selfish. Selfish, selfish, selfish, selfish."
TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOUR MATE, YOUR MATE SWINGING ON THE RAILINGS, YOUR MATE LOUDLY TRYING TO ASK YOU YOUR WEEKEND PLANS OVER THE ROAR OF THE ENGINE AND THE RATTLE OF THE CARRIAGE THROUGH THE TUNNELS—OR, WORSE, WORSE THAN HELL ITSELF, NOT A MATE AT ALL, BUT ONE OF THOSE COLLEAGUES YOU HALF-KNOW, ONE OF THOSE COLLEAGUES YOU—AT BEST—NOD AT IN THE KITCHEN, AND TURNS OUT THEY LIVE IN ACTON TOO, AND SO UH, SO WHAT... WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON LATELY? WHERE IN... WHERE IN ACTON ARE YOU? OH, RIGHT BY THE... YEAH, I KNOW THAT ROAD
No. Do not do this. This is not the place for this. Silence on the Tube, nothing but silence.
Ohhhh, so you think you're hot shit, don't you? You think you're the King of Standing Up: try it on the Tube. Or just watch others fail: you see them, knees trembling outwards, holding a leather bag between their thighs as they jab their arms desperately towards one or more handrail, and they miss, and the train jolts forward, and they tip headfirst into the crotch of the nearest terrified night cleaner.
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REALIZE THAT THE SHAPE OF THE TUBE IN NO WAY CORRELATES TO THE SHAPE OF LONDON
The Tube map is an Impressionist vision of London. The Tube map is Picasso drawing women made of triangles. The Tube map is an aesthetically elegant lie, all of the 20th century's most significant art movements leading you astray at once. Learn its mischievous crevices. Walk from Leicester Square to Covent Garden.
Finally though, one day, you will figure out the Tube—you will shoot through shortcuts inherent in the labyrinth beneath Kings Cross station, you will scoop onto the Central line and then off again because you know it travels faster, you will stride heroically up the fourth-longest escalator in western Europe—your body at one now, with the Tube, its connections are your connections, its announcements proclamations on your soul—and you will emerge, blinking into the light, magnificent, huge, powerful, and a man in a cap and a tabard will offer you a copy of a magazine that's just called Sport, and you will lean close to him and whisper: no. Take a swig from your discreet train beer and lavishly vomit it on some static tourists, buddy. You just won the fucking Tube.
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