U is for the Underground #AtoZChallenge
I’m doing the A to Z Challenge in April, using the theme of the UK & Ireland. For U, I’m sharing my fascination with the London Underground, aka the Tube, London’s transportation by train.
Before I went to England, I read two books focused on the subterranean world of London, sewers and hidden rivers and the vast network of Tube tunnels, developing a fascination that I’ve had since college:
- London Under by Peter Ackroyd
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Those books led me to The Lure of the Underground, a weekly walking tour by London Walks. Except that this tour isn’t just walking, it’s hopping on Tube trains and visiting different stations while learning the history. I took the tour on my second full day in London, hoping that it would help me get comfortable with the practicalities of using the system — it worked!
I first learned about the map of the London Underground in a computer science class to illustrate the concept of abstraction. Harry Beck, an electrical draftsman, used circuitry as his inspiration to design the original map in 1933. The map ignores conventional map features like geography and distance to focus on lines and stops.
Of course, abstraction isn’t reality, so there are places where you would take two trains and a half hour to get between stations that are two blocks apart if you walk.
I learned on our tour that when a Londoner is asked to draw a map of the city, the result, invariably, looks more like the Underground map than it does like the real map. Of course, for Londoners, having the Underground map in your head is useful every day.
The next time I go to London, I want to visit the London Transport Museum and take one or more of their Hidden London tours of disused stations.
Are you a fan of the London Underground?
I love all subways and undergrounds. I have a horrible sense of direction and it is always a challenge for me to come up the correct stair on where I want to be going!
I also read London Under by Peter Ackroyd, 2011. When I looked on my blog to link you there, I see that you commented on my post, saying you were also reading the book:
Let me suggest another book for you: Imagined London by Anna Quindlan, 2004.
Maybe the next time you’re in North London, you can find Jen Campbell. She’s an author who worked at a bookstore called Ripping Yarns when I corresponded with her in 2013, the summer before I moved here to St. Louis. Read about her here, where I also have a link to the bookstore’s web page:
Hey, hey! I just googled Jen Campbell and found more recent pictures of her. She still lives in north London where she works at Ripping Yarns bookshop,” and she has written more books. Looking at some of them, I’ve decided to read “The Bookshop Book,” even though my library does NOT have a copy. I guess I’ll have to buy it for my Kindle. Here’s her web site:
Your guardian thinks I had already posted the same comment and stopped me. I’ll post this and try again.
Sorry for the confusion. The comment guardian thinks that posts with lots of links are spam — but not in this case! Thanks for all the great resources!
I love the Tube … and the constant refrain “Mind the Gap” 🙂
I’m familiar with both the authors but not those specific works. I look forward to taking a literary vacation to London’s underground this summer!
I love the London Underground – and the map! Thanks for the book suggestions. I’m going to go back and read your posts – just found you today.
Stop by my blog if you like maps in children’s books. Maybe you have some suggestions for me.
I have to say, I am not a fan of travelling on the underground. I find it crowded and claustrophobic and I’m always grateful to get out in the fresh air again! I can never understand the maps and I’m always fearful of getting lost.
When in London I always found it easier using the Underground than trying to work out what bus to catch. I’ll have to look out for the book you mentioned by Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere.