Friday, 18 January 2013

Guest Post by R. A. Smith - Notes on the Underground

Notes on the Underground

I’m impressed. I started writing this post days before realising that the Tube is celebrating its 150th birthday this month But now that it has, it just makes this feel all the more special.

Now I’ve always had a thing for the London Underground. It’s a little weird how sitting in a grubby tunnel and a noisy can could produce such sentiment, but it holds fond memories for me from childhood. I still adore travelling on the Tube even now, and as long as I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere, I appreciate it all the more.

But I always found elements of it unique too. That warm blast of air you get when you’re standing near the platform waiting for an incoming train. The beautifully iconic red, blue and black logo. And that multi-coloured map with a vast array of options as to where to go.

There are a couple of anecdotes I will always have when I come to talk about the Tube. One of the reasons I loved it so in my younger days was that travelling on it was such a treat. My grandfather worked shifts for the Royal Mail and once a month, would take a long weekend in which he and I would traditionally go on a day’s adventure in central London. Living in Croydon, back then, he’d have a plan as to where we were going. We’d catch a bus reasonably early on a Saturday morning and take over an hour just catching the sights as you got closer to a useable Underground station. Sure, there were faster ways in, but this was all part of the adventure, right?

Once we reached the Tube station, I knew, that with a varying amount of changes, we’d end up somewhere nice and exciting. Take your pick of the tour places in London; we probably went there at least one time, if not several. The Tower of London? Definitely. Spoke to a Beefeater and had Mr Kipling Apple pies with my packed lunch. I remember a load of it. Planetarium? Yep; same day I did Madame Tussauds, as it was a double header ticket. I think it was roughly 40 minutes in the Planetarium and the rest of the day checking out waxworks. I met Michael Jackson, Madonna and I think the Prime Minister that day. Heck of a day. I don’t think we ever made the London Dungeon though, so I’ll have to take that adventure myself one day. I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list (trickier these days as I’m no longer London-based).

There was one day that we really weren’t sure what we wanted to do, so Granddad just said we’ll get on a line and see where we end up. After all, it’s not like we’d have been there before. It was the Jubilee Line. We changed at Bond Street, and carried on all the way up to Stanmore. I couldn’t tell you much about Stanmore, though. We pretty much got off the train, had a quick wander out of the station and around the block, then got back on to go the other way and find something else to do. But as a thing in itself, riding the end of a previously unexplored Underground line during the day can be an adventure in itself.

There was a time many years later, (I wasn’t with my grandfather, I shall state right now), when our train got stuck at an over ground station and I was delayed several minutes. The only other passenger in the car at the time, an attractive young American woman, had been talking to me for the time we were stuck there after initially asking the time. But it turned out she was running late for what was sounding like an exciting night out. To my great surprise, she started getting changed, and asked if I wouldn’t mind turning away for a moment just as she began to whip her top off. Gentleman that I am, I of course obliged – but not without a chuckle. Never did get her name.

It’s fond memories such as these which fostered my fond relationship with the London Underground. Which is one of the reasons I ended up with the Tube as a key feature of my first novel, Oblivion Storm. For me, that vile shriek that you get when a train is on its way from there, perhaps less so with the more modern trains, lent me the image of something considerably more horrific. That, coupled with a reminder of the rarely reported figure of fatal incidents they get at platforms, and I had something to work with. Macabre perhaps, but I just couldn’t shake it as a thing. You may now also know why Bond Street Station features so often, and why Stanmore is mentioned. A bit of story trivia only those who have read this will know!

Hence it became a significant part of my main protagonist’s ‘origin story’, as it were (I intentionally didn’t name her because actually, that’s part of the tale too!). It’s not so much a ‘near death experience’ as a miraculous recovery from death, but that of course is the part which sets her up on her quest.

What I can tell you is that the London Underground was a favoured haunt (pardon the pun) of the other person on the cover, Tally. Of course, it’s still the Metropolitan Railway in her time, the late 19th Century, and the resemblance between the two is somewhat limited. In fact, it’s due to Tally as to why the Tube bears such significance – but I’ll leave you to find that out for yourselves.

I shall leave you with a few links.

Oblivion Storm book purchase links:


Some on the Underground and related celebrations:

Transport for London anniversary links:

A wonderful post I found with a little anniversary history and stamps:

And if you would like to know more about me I can be found here:


  1. Hey Lisamarie,
    I must take this opportunity to say thank you very much for hosting me!