24 hour London Tube: the cocktail of characters on the great leveller underground

We spend so much time on the Tube that for most of us it’s a second, rather crowded living room, filled with guests you would not usually invite over

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The Independent Online

Boris Johnson described the Tube as the “throbbing cardiovascular system of the greatest city on Earth”.

And now this great visceral pulse of London is going to beat throughout the night, with weekend workers, revellers, the tired and the emotional piling onto the underground 24 hours a day, from Friday to Monday.

Boris can be as bombastic about the Tube as he likes but for most Londoners it’s a rattling wagon of necessity.

We spend so much time on the Tube that for most of us it’s a second, rather crowded living room, filled with guests you would not usually invite over.  And either through boredom or sheer wilfulness, most London commuters try and pretend they aren't on the Tube at all.

There’s the businessman who is trying to complete complicated accounts with a PalmPilot and a rustle of papers, despite having less room than a mouse mat. Next to him a girl is showering her fellow passengers with nail dust ash as she files her manicure. There’s the woman with the impossibly large hardback, that needs fitting with wheels and an extending handle. 

There’s the short teenager with the giant backpack who you don’t notice until they whack you round the middle. There’s the irritating tourists travelling at commuter times despite the fact you know they can lie in. Then there’s the commuters who believe themselves ‘natural leaders’, trying to hustle everyone down the carriage (but there’s no space...someone tell them there’s no space!).

The seat competers mount the Tube with shrewd glinting eyes, waiting to slide into the first seat available. They think they’re clever, but they are usually new to London.

In their combative panic, they tend to plonk down as soon as possible, meaning if you are behind them you miss out on any seats further down the carriage.

In the morning, it’s fun spotting people who just weren’t ready to leave the house yet, those yawning souls with great globules of hair gel stuck on their neck, toothpaste crusted round their mouth, or with their eyelashes glued together.

Now these underground Cannulas are going to jolt and judder all weekend, carrying a different kind of cargo. A younger underground perhaps, filled with people who want to stay out past one, but don’t want to pay for a cab home. It’s a great idea, as long as the stations are properly staffed. What is sad is that the atmosphere of the first Tube will be lost and with it that melting magic of day and night. On that first train you get the early workers, the builders and the bankers, sitting next to the glitter of the girls still in party dresses falling asleep on the boys ready to go back to bed.

Yet the news of the Tube being open all night is something that all Londoners can rejoice in. It might be underground, but it’s still the capital's greatest leveller.