Can Sartre and Gandhi really make a Tube journey fly by?

London Underground plans to regale passengers with philosophical sayings. Stina Backer tries them out

"Hell is other people" – something London commuters may be forgiven for muttering to themselves on their daily Tube journeys. It is certainly not a phrase they would expect to hear the driver announce, not without feeling a slight pinch of panic.

Yet these words, from the Parisian existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, are part of a book of sayings given to London Underground staff, who are being encouraged to dispense them over the Tannoy to try to spread some joy and intellectual inspiration.

At the moment these pearls of wisdom are only being communicated to the lucky passengers on the long and winding Piccadilly line. So, to ensure travellers on the rest of the network did not miss out, we decided to spread the word on the Circle line – one of London's most-hated Tubes because of its infrequent service and frequent signal failures.

Nearing rush hour on a hot and sweaty day, I try out one of the Gandhi quotes chosen by Transport for London (TfL) to create a relaxed and soothing atmosphere. "There is more to life than increasing its speed," I announce loudly to my fellow commuters, only to be met with endless death stares mixed up with the odd why-did-I-have-to-choose-the-carriage-with-the-crazy-person sighs.

Perhaps the idea of being told to slow down when stuck on a packed and clammy Tube does not sit well with everyone. "I think it's a ridiculous idea and a waste of money," moaned Jo Byrne, 37, a payroll officer from Romford, Essex. "Surely it's not safe either, the Tube driver should be concentrating on driving the train rather than reciting some philosophical quotes."

Others seemed to love the idea of having their minds expanded by the wisdom of Einstein and Dostoevsky. "I think it's great as long as they don't do it too often, because then it risks becoming a bit annoying," said Anna Waterer, 34, an architect from Putney.

"I always like it when Tube drivers say something spontaneous, it brightens up your day a bit. Commuting can be such a solitary experience so when you share a laugh with a stranger because of an announcement, it takes your mind off the slightly absurd situation you face when you are on a packed train deep underground."

The quotes are collected in a passport-sized pamphlet, What is the city but the people? (from Shakespeare) that has been handed to Tube drivers and platform staff on the Underground. The project is the brainchild of the Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, who said he was motivated by annoyance at the recorded announcements that bombard Tube passengers, such as "mind the gap" and "stand clear of the closing doors".

His original idea, a day with no announcements, was rejected by Tube bosses, "so I came up with the idea of giving staff a collection of quotes and the idea grew from there".

"I often wish announcements were more personal and reflected the realities and absurdities of living and working in a big city," Deller said. "The travelling public enjoys some humour and unexpected insight during their journey."

Drivers who agreed to take part were given tips on delivery by the stand-up comedian Arthur Smith. Piccadilly line driver Susy Wells told the BBC that the sayings helped liven up a job that "can be a little bit monotonous at times". TfL has asked passengers who hear the announcements to send in their reactions by email.

Train of thought: TfL's philosophy quotes

Trouble will rain on those who are already wet – Anon

Never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins – Native American proverb

Those who lose dreaming are lost – Aboriginal proverb

It is no longer the time of day for making plans, but for having them – Greek proverb

Beauty will save the world – Fydor Dostoyevsky

Nothing is worth more than this day – Johann von Goethe

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test