Night Tube: why I won't be joining London's perverts on Sadiq Khan's late night train service

The night tube sounds like a perfect snapshot of modern London – dark, problematic, sometimes exhilarating, ever-changing and forever awake

Grace Dent
Friday 19 August 2016 17:32
The Night Tube is due to open tonight, on the Central and Victoria lines
The Night Tube is due to open tonight, on the Central and Victoria lines

Sadiq Khan, stood before the glittering, intergalactic themed Night tube logo might be overplaying the glamour and spectacle of taking a 3.07am tube from Oxford Circus to Leytonstone. The sparkly graphics, used on posters and ads seem to hint using the new all-night Central Line will feel like DJing after Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike at the Tomorrowland festival. Or even starring in the 1979 Walter Hill movie The Warriors where young, reckless, cheek-boned types try to get from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to Coney Island overnight on the New York subway stalked by bloodthirsty graffiti artists and hot, honey trap lesbians.

I fear it may be a little more boring than this.

The majority of people presently in dire need of a tube service that never stops are the wily, industrious folk who keep our Capital city afloat by opening the 5am coffee kiosks, scrubbing floors in our endlessly built shiny, soulless sky-scrapers and foot soldiering in umpteen thousand hot, thankless kitchens. Yes, a skeleton night bus service does run already, but until now, nobody has given much of a flying stuff over how the city’s minimum waged backbone magically materialises each day at 5am in Bishopsgate or 4am in Ealing. It’s certainly been a point overlooked during the endless ruminating over “female only” carriages or whether timetable changes will stifle the precious London Underground staff’s work life balance.

Night tube

The vast majority of these nocturnal workers, incidentally, are not British. If we’re planning post-Brexit to “send them all home”, then it will be an amicable gesture to give them night transport in the meantime. That is, of course, until swarms of indigenous British Brexit voters head towards London determined to man the fortress, serving coffees at 5am, seven days per week, at Euston Station for £6.70 per hour. London expects you.

The night tube, of course, will also be terrifically handy for anyone else planning to be out and about late. Millennials, mostly. Not me. As one ages in London, the impetus diminishes to be loitering around Soho at 3am with Merlot stained tramps lips and swirly Mr Bean eyes, clutching a giant pretzel, demanding to be let into other later unlicensed drinking dives.

Millennials claim that late night London is soulless, which may be true, but overlooks that nothing good, decent or spiritually nourishing has ever happened in London nightlife after 2.20am in the last four hundred years. Only murkiness, skullduggery and regret are abundant in these hours, which for a while is the whole point of being there. London’s night tube, I suspect, will be awash with the cream of London’s young and hammered, doing what is traditionally expected on late night transport – singing, screaming, throwing kebab, copping off, falling asleep and, of course, soiling themselves.

The final two sub categories of London night tube user are “the homeless” and “perverts”. I can think of nowhere more toasty and secure, if you are without a home, on a cold December evening than riding the Central Line from Loughton to Ealing forwards and back. It will be hard heart that ejects the most vulnerable Londoners from their heated tin subterranean cocoon when the snow is falling and the wind is bitter. I know I couldn’t do it.

From Mid-November onwards staffing the London Underground nightshift will feel like starring in a ghoulish reenactment of The Little Match Girl.

As for the perverts, it will be noteworthy to see whether the grabbers, the gropers, the masturbators and the upskirt photo-snappers are planning to do put in an all-night shift. To me, chivvying all of us women into one “safe” carriage, out of harm’s way, seems counterproductive. It sort of says that the other nine carriages are the Perverts carriage. It suggests that if I’m not locked safely in my secure, fragrant, transportation unit if some mouth-breather with mummy issues opts to masturbate into my handbag just past Holborn, then I have been somehow consensual.

All said, the night tube sounds like a perfect snapshot of modern London – dark, problematic, sometimes exhilarating, ever-changing and forever awake. It’s why the majority of the UK simply cannot stand us and those of us who became Londoners just can’t quit. London rarely feels like “the easy life”.

All night travel is a rare, welcome glimpse.

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