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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

Every morning when I reach my tube destination, and am going up the escalators breathing a huge sigh of relief because, once again, I have not been blown up by a wicked man with a violent rucksack, there is a voice that echoes around the walls, creeps into my ears, and fascinates my imagination beyond measure for the two minutes it takes to get from station platform out to the real world where irritating people from Fitness First wait, every morning without fail, to hand out their ridiculous flyers. This voice, in my half awake state, sends me into ribbons of reflection, wondering who the owner is, what he looks like, what he does when not making these pronouncements that shape my early mornings and waking moments. The news he has to tell us never changes, his announcement is complete and wholly composed, there is not too little or too much information, and in a world that is ever changing it is almost a mantra of comfort and security to me that this man will be there every morning for as long as I need him to be.

The man tells me, in that particular way of his, that, due to escalator repair works, Chancery Lane station is an exit-only station, that is, no exit from this station between the hours of six and ten thirty am Monday to Friday. Furthermore, he tells me, every morning without fail, at least four times before I’ve managed to negotiate the two working escalators, the ticket barriers, and the masses of people flooding up the stairs and out into the open, if we want to continue our journeys on the Central line, we can do so from St Pauls or Holborne station. And then, dear ladies and gentlemen, he thanks me. That man thanks me four times every morning.

It’s something in the inflections he has given to certain words. “Monday” is pronounced “Mmmmonday” for no good reason. “No exit” is “Nnnno exit”. He sounds so happy it’s like there is no wrong side of the bed for him. All sides of this man’s bed, it seems, are the best side to get out of every morning. Not that I’m beginning to think about this man’s bed. Because I’m not.

The whole announcement has the tone of a friend telling another friend some good news, as if it’s something that should be celebrated long and far, the fact that Chancery Lane is an exit-only station from Mmmmonday to Friday, and will be until 2006. The tone he has applied gives it an informal, jocular manner. Every time I hear it – and that is four times every morning, Mmmmonday to Friday, twenty times a week, for the last five weeks, I’ve heard that announcement now over 100 times – and each time I hear it, it’s as if I’m hearing it for the first time, due to the strange inflections. Why did he choose to put such a strong inflection on the “that is” that comes between the words “exit-only” and “no exit”. Why would he choose to say “that is” at all? That can’t have been scripted.

Is this man an actor? Is he paid by London Underground to read out extra special announcements, like the closures of stations or temporary track works? I haven’t heard his voice at any other station, and I’ve made a point in the last five weeks of travelling on the tube more than is necessary, in that defiant manner of mine. He has never told me to mind any gaps, or to mind any of the closing doors. I’d be more than happy to have him tell me, in that jocular manner of his, that the next station is Liverpool Street and that I should change here for mainland and suburban rail services. But he hasn’t. He is there to tell me about escalator works, and that, for me, is more than I can ask for in this world.


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