Read all about it - Tube to get old-time vending machines that sell you a story

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The Independent Online

"Don't Genoa Good Deal When You See One?" demands a poster on London's District and Circle line platform at South Kensington, a commercial abuse of the language that would make the more aesthetically-sensitive traveller consider throwing themselves on the track.

"Don't Genoa Good Deal When You See One?" demands a poster on London's District and Circle line platform at South Kensington, a commercial abuse of the language that would make the more aesthetically-sensitive traveller consider throwing themselves on the track.

For many years the only alternative to such atrocities was Poems on the Tube, tiny puddles of literature for those bereft of reading matter between stations. If Travelman Publishing gets its way, though, another kind of aesthetic oasis will spread across the tube.

Yesterday they launched the first of a chain of short-story vending machines, a device which will dispense enough reading matter to do you one journey without having to resort to adverts for Laser Hair Removal to stave off boredom.

The machine, with its green and white livery and a curved top, manifestly thinks things have gone downhill since the first Labour government and the nationalisation of the railways, which is why it seems to reflect the broad prejudices of its promoters.

Alexander Waugh, son of Auberon, grandson of Evelyn, and founder of Travelman in 1998, maintained the family tradition of patrician contempt for public taste yesterday by telling Radio Five Live listeners that 90 per cent of us were too stupid to appreciate good literature and the success of his enterprise would rest on the remaining 10 per cent.

Certainly, during my 40 icy minutes of vending machine inspection only one man stopped to buy. He said he had been alerted by the radio broadcast. Clifford Harris confessed he didn't greatly care for Conan Doyle, Travelman's strongest seller and the only title on offer in this machine. But he thought coin-operated storytelling was a "fantastic idea" and seemed happy to part with a pound to do his bit for subterranean literacy.

William Mollett, Travelman's marketing director, said South Kensington had been selected as the pioneering outlet because its passengers most closely matched their existing reader profile. Early returns from the machine appear good.

The company was inspired in part by Rudyard Kipling's success in selling two-penny short stories on Indian railways, but whether London can offer a readership as discriminating as that of India during the Raj remains to be seen. But

Alas, there are only two titles in the list's sex category, Roald Dahl's Switch Bitch and Ivo Mosley's Christmas in Africa, but the Underground has firmly declined to allow either into the vending machines. Exploiting sex in posters is one thing, it seems, but having people actually read about it is quite beyond the pale.

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