The mission Sit in silence, avoid eye contact, goes the London Underground etiquette. Chatty Mathew Sweet is having none of it

Talking on the Tube is a cardinal

sin, like kicking a vicar. It's just not

done. Etiquette demands that you hang on to your strap like something in an abattoir. Unless, of course, you're on a mission to get people talking.

I hop on the Circle line at Embankment. It's a clammy August day, and my carriage is full of men in nylon shirts with arrowheads of sweat pointing towards their bums. When your face is being pressed hard against some suitboy's ripe armpit, it's difficult to breathe properly, never mind dispense bon mots. "Hot in here, isn't it?" I venture. Everyone assumes that I'm talking to somebody else, so I home in on the man next to me. "Now you know how a lobster feels." He's not playing.

We reach Victoria, and the doors slide open. "Passengers are reminded that there's plenty of room in the rear carriages ... and on the roof." A godsend. A witty remark from the station announcer. A talking point at last. The man with the armpit is still standing next to me. "Did you hear that?" I breeze, giving him a verbal nudge in the ribs.

"What?"

"He said there's room on the roof."

"He can't have done."

"He did."

"Well, why don't you go and sit there, mate?"

He shuffles off at Paddington, where I'm able to nip into a seat. I'm now placed next to an impossibly ancient old lady. In my experience, old people need only the smallest encouragement to ramble on about their personal experiences.

"Bet you've seen some changes, then."

"Yes, dear, I get off here." And she's off at Edgware Road, moving quicker than an octogenarian probably should. So I turn to the woman on the other side of me. She looks like a tourist, and is therefore probably less likely to think I'm a patient on day-release or a psychopath out scouting for victims. "Are you on holiday then?"

She looks round nervously, with an expression that suggests she thinks I'm about to go for her neck. "Yes," she responds, nodding. Bingo! And she can't speak English very well, which in these circumstances makes for a better conversation. In a quarter of an hour I have shoehorned the following information out of her: she's from Germany, she admires Princess Diana and she's going to the Tower of London. "If she'd lived I suspect that's where she would have ended up," I joke, unwisely moving beyond the comprehension level of Unit Six: At the Railway Station. She leaves at Tower Hill.

Moments later, a Sikh man asks me if he's going the right way for Embankment. That's right. Asks me. So this is how it ends. An hour of rebuffal, someone starts making conversation with me unprompted. My new friend has been over here from Toronto for a wedding. A big family occasion. A whole gang of relations travelled from Canada. "Seeing them next to my relations who've settled in England, they seem so Canadian," he remarks, and I'm suddenly struck by an image of all these people in turbans and dungarees, doing a hoe-down in an Essex churchyard. I would have liked to have gone. "A great pleasure to meet you," he enthuses at Embankment, warmly shaking my hand and clambering from the carriage with his suitcase. The doors slide shut. I look around at my fellow passengers, who are all poring over Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the London Evening Standard or one of those idiotic adverts for car insurance (the one where the man explains to his dog that his girlfriend left him because they fell out over which policy to choose). And I'm feeling rather superior to them. I want to tell them that they should put down their books and learn to talk to each other. But I don't, or course. And for the rest of the journey, the carriage remains as silent as a Buddhist meditation centre on the Isle of Arran

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

    Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

    Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

    Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition