True Gripes: Get a grip and hang on: Escalators can leave you out of step

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Have you ever suffered the horrors of out-of-synch handrail syndrome? It is a curse which befalls unwary Tube passengers and department store shoppers. It can strike any time you board an escalator and its effects can be devastating.

For some reason best known to machinery, escalator footplates and their adjacent black rubber handrails do not lead parallel lives. You might be forgiven for thinking that they travel at the same speeds, upwards or down. Not so. Most handrails I know play the part of the hare, thrusting forward ahead of their tortoise-like rivals the metal steps, which are weighed down by people and baggage.

During the morning rush hour, while trying to banish sleep from your brain, you ride the escalator up from the Tube line. A moment's lapse of concentration, as your eyelids close, and before you know it your right hand is probing the armpit of the person in front.

Your arm is stretched to its full length, as if rehearsing a feasible impression of an elephant's trunk, when your aggrieved neighbour turns and challenges you. No amount of apologies will calm the irate commuter whose space you have just rudely, if inadvertently, invaded.

An out-of-synch handrail? They've never heard of such a preposterous idea. You're lying. You'll be lucky to avoid a public scene - to say nothing of a visit to the nearest British Transport Police kiosk.

Downhill escalator races on the homeward leg of a commute are no better. The ride usually begins smoothly and safely enough with a fairly even flow of plate and rail.

But then the latter speeds up (or the former slows down, depending on your preference) and before long you're leaning forward at an absurd angle as if trying to conquer a bout of late afternoon wind.

Your shirt sleeve pops out of the stretched arm of your jacket revealing the food stain from lunchtime you have spent all afternoon trying to conceal.

You slide your hand back up the rail, but it's off again, heading straight for the side pocket of the overcoat being worn by the man in front.

This morning an armpit molester and now a pickpocket] At this rate you'll be Crimewatch UK's worst urban nightmare. There will be photofits of you all over the Underground with public warnings: 'Don't stand in front of this commuter. And don't believe that old 'handrail moving faster than the footplate' excuse either.'

If this unfortunate aspect of city life has not yet befallen you, beware. Out-of-synch handrail syndrome knows no prejudice and can strike people of any colour, creed, sex, race or age.

The cure? Smile profusely and get yourself a good lawyer.