Simon Kelner: Why I don't want to shout 'I'm not on the Tube!'

Kelner's view

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The Independent Online

Here's a quote to conjure with.

A spokesman for Virgin Media said that the arrival of wireless connection at selected London Underground stations was "a truly historic moment, as we connect millions of Tube passengers to the wonderful world of the Internet for the first time". Now, I don't know about you, but I'm rather used to the wonders of telecom technology. I can have a free video-call to my daughter on another continent; I can telephone someone from halfway over the Atlantic; I can even have a device that rings home and tells my television what I'd like to record. So the idea that I can call someone from the platform at King's Cross to say that I'm going to be five minutes late is not my idea of pushing forward the frontiers of discovery.

The other thing, Mr Virgin, is that most of us have been acquainted with "the wonderful world of the Internet" for some time, and have found it to be not without its societal disadvantages. But that's for another day.

We are asked to applaud the arrival of wi-fi hotspots at 80 stations in time for the Olympic Games (it won't be available on moving trains just yet) as if we had just been presented with a cure for cancer. I don't want to appear ungrateful – it is a free service until everyone's gone back home after the Games – but I can't be alone among the capital's travellers in believing that one of the attractions of the Tube is that, unlike on a bus, you don't have to listen to other people's tedious telephone conversations.

It is rather comforting to encounter a whole carriage of commuters engaged in the old-fashioned pursuit of reading, whether it's newspapers (free or paid-for, it's all the same to me), books or e-readers.

Boris Johnson says "millions of passengers will now be able to connect to their work, friends or access the latest news and travel information", but would it really be such a disaster not to be connected to the wider world for the 15 minutes or so of the average Tube journey?

The other slight problem with Mr Johnson's statement is that he obviously hasn't travelled around the capital very much recently. On the move? You must be joking. The combination of the June monsoon, Diamond Jubilee road closures and ongoing works for the Olympics means central London has resembled a huge car park for the past few weeks.

Is it unpatriotic to feel an antipathy towards the Olympics before it's even started? The Tube workers and the bus drivers are all getting paid bonuses for the extra work caused by the Games. What about the hard-done-by citizens?

I think we deserve compensation for the inconvenience, for the weeks of traffic jams, for the forthcoming hike in prices, for being force-fed what a brilliant thing it is for us all and, now, for having to hear someone on a Tube platform shout: "I'm not on the train!"