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Tribute to London – New perspectives on my last night here

Without realizing it, I have come to my last night of stay in London. Old London, I would correctly say. The buildings were old. The trains were old. The train stations were old. The Queen was old. Everything was old. In fact, it made me feel old during my stay here over the last 6 days.

[Now it is also clear that my favourite English product Naim is also old. The company approaches 40 years of history and bearing in mind that some of its models are basically unchanged over the last 20 to 25 years. The equipment and its models can certain suffice to be old England, though their design and philosophy would exhibit incredible foresight and clarity. Testament to well thought out and implemented ideas some 25 years back]

My last day today is worth blogging about. I would of course follow up on the journal entries I made very scrappily as I made my way to London last week and turn them into a proper blog post but that will have to wait.

In as much as I had gotten to a slow start, I must say that Monday and Tuesday was close to sedentary. Wednesday and Thursday were hectic and Friday which is today was somewhat nostalgic.

I was so tired on Wednesday and Thursday night that I slept very early, woke up in the middle of the night and ended up watching BBC Channel 4 before lapsing back to sleep.

On my 2nd last day here, I surprised myself. That is, last night and this morning and afternoon.

I had initially arrived in London all alone. Without a kin or a friend beside me. Needless to say, I was scared.

It was basically my first time alone out of Singapore in my entire almost 35 years. As I would have thought, I would have felt safer being alone in some wilderness even if I was lost somewhere in Singapore.

My first brush with the cold night time London air came as the overground tube service opened its doors along the stations of the Jubilee Line. One thing I noticed, the place was old. A certain level of decrepitness and dilapidation. Graffiti lined certain sections of the brick walls of some parts of the tunnels in between stations.

However, despite the oldness would be supplanted with the colour of posters and posters of various plays being staged in the cultural and drama centre of London as the stations drew closer to the heart of London.

For those who are not familiar with London, London is in all ways a METROPOLIS. This basically means a huge huge huge humongous city.

I had a shock of my life when I first saw the map of London‘s underground train system. The horrendous number of stations and lines. Imagine Singapore has only 3 lines, with 2 circle lines coming up into service soon. This is a poor imitation of what London has in an underground rail system. Furthermore, this rail system is connected to its National and International rail lines at strategic tube stations.

I had thought to myself “What a bloody mess of stations!” What Maurice had told me about the complex and messy rail system did not prepare me for what I saw. To give a summary, London‘s tube service had as many as 12 different lines. There are also variations between within each line. Each line does not just have two ends in a straight line. Most of the lines have branches at both ends. Some have as many as 3 branches at each end. Some have branches and loops. Furthermore, some trains would terminate at some stations before their terminal station and then reverse their direction according to the tube control’s arrangement of its services.

There were sometimes as many as four lines which stop at a particular platform of a station. And each station typically has from 2 to maybe 6 or more platforms. As such, being on top and aware of where you are headed and then work backwards towards which line you are supposed to be catching, 1st 2nd and 3rd and of the line you were catching, the correct direction you should be heading and where is the next station you are supposed to jump off the train.

Those were my first responses in my mind upon entering a tube station which took me from London Heathrow to Paddington, just a little more then 6 full days ago last week. I have been gradually converted.

This is also partly due to the fact that most of my travelling was addressed by just usage of 3 lines, namely the Yellow Circle Line [now we know where Singapore copied its MRT Stations’ names from], Green District Line and Pink Hammersmith and City Line. This allowed me to relax abit whilst on the trains, be able to observe my surroundings a little more deeply. This was a system that was incredibly well modernised and adapted over time.

Furthermore, there was deep and thorough thought put into how the train lines were supposed to be run, how they would be co-ordinated, how they could be made compatible.

I began to realise that the trains were colour coded. Their handrails reflected the colour of their line. As such, I had begun to grow comfortable seeing the familiar yellow and green handrails. I also begun to notice the clear and distinct voice of a female announcer recorded announcements of instructions for each stop of the trains on the line. The directions given were concise clear and simple and delivered with impeccable diction.

I was on the train this morning and I had jumped onto one train by recognising the colour of its hand rails. Thinking that it was a Circle Line train which would take me straight to my destination, I got myself lost in my own thoughts and reflections. The train had stopped at a station. It was designated that that station was where the train would terminate and reverse direction. I did not catch that announcement. Therefore after the train stayed at Edgeware Road Station and eventually reversed direction I let myself slip back into my thoughts. Besides the familiar voice will jolt me when my destination approached.

That familiar voice did jolt me. I realised that I was on the wrong line and in the wrong direction and that the train had just left the last station where I could have changed to the correct line. For the 1st time in 6 days I had taken the tube incorrectly and was heading further and further away from my intended destination. In that situation, I however did not experience any discomfort or state of panic. For a certain level of comfort and familiarity had set in.

I was still guided by the familiar voice. I knew from the announcements that I was on the wrong line and in the wrong direction, I would therefore have to first stop and take a train in the opposite direction and then change at a suitable station for the correct line. I would just have to follow the signs and her voice. I was late for 30 minutes for my first meeting eventually.

I came across another situation for deeper understanding of the London Tube yesterday evening. There was a technical fault in one direction of the Circle Line. Train services in one direction had to be stopped. This led to some passengers having to take it in the remaining direction to traverse the entire length in the reverse direction to get to their destination.

The result was obvious, I experienced the most crowded situation the London Tube could be in the 6 days I was here. This was where I saw what sets the London Tube’s service a cut above that from Singapore‘s.

The announcements came in clear and concise with instructions on how to move to another part of the station to use alternative routes should the trains be too crowded. It had to be. Given how many people it had to move.

The staff were also ready with advice on the alternative routes to get to the destination of your choice i.e. jumping onto the train of another line and then jumping off to take another line which would bring you to your destination. It had to be.

For such a complex system to move so many people over so many places at such efficiency and such affordable price, it is clear that the London Tube has clearly outperformed Singapore’s MRT and NEL on all counts.

In arriving at this conclusion, I must admit that I did overlook the following which I have explained accordingly to be evened out by the appropriate reason.

The stations are old – of course they are, this system is build decades ago or even longer and their continued use is only testament to their good planning and fiscal prudence.

The trains are worn and well used – of course they are. The train services are so frequent even during peak and non-peak hours that impresses me.

The tube was designed to be utilitarian and effective transport system and not a fancy one.

Now some food for thought. 🙂

London is a megapolis. It has 7 million people.

Singapore is many times smaller than London. Yet the BLOODY PAP shamelessly packs 4.6 million of us in this city state.

Throughout my stay in London I travelled on the Tube on peak and non-peak hours. Today I travelled on the tube at peak hour back to my hotel. One line was down but the corresponding response in the number of trains made available for covering the loss of one line in one direction ensured that the crush was not even as bad as that for Singapore’s MRT ON A NORMAL DAY. 🙂

The highly paid executives running Singapore’s transport companies and the highly paid officers at the Land Transport Authority and ought to each cover their faces with brown paper bags and hang their heads in shame for taking high salaries yet are unable to achieve what the team at Transport for London – in particular the London Tube has achieved.

Now I understand the nagging feeling I have each time I am on public transport in Singapore – I feel short changed somehow.

In short, London, for its oldness and its soot and also the high prices for a Singaporean drawing Singapore salary to live in, has managed to endear itself to me through its tube.

And so in my last 24 hours, I realized that I have begun to see London a lot differently from how I felt when I first set foot on it.

The night before I caught the documentary on BBC Channel 4 on The Miracle of Carriage 346, stories of survival from the London Train Bombings.

I heard the stories of miracle, determination and strength of the human spirit coming from the survivors.

I saw that the rescue work that did take place at the Kings Cross St. Pancras and Aldgate Stations both of which are familiar to me.

I saw the familiar sight of thousands of cosmopolitan people [whom I have shared the space within the London Tube] who were forced onto the streets by the disrupted services.

I also saw the same trains that I had been traversing in to and fro throughout London.

I saw the graphic computer representation of the position of the deadly suicide bomb blast of a train in the tunnel in a deep and remote portion of the Piccadilly Line [the Piccadilly line was below all of the other lines and that depth and seclusion made rescue difficult] [The Piccadilly Line is etched in my memory as it was the first tube line I set foot in – I had to take the Piccadilly Line (cheapest transport) from London Heathrow Airport to London Paddington station].

I am not embarrassed to say that whilst I was in alone in that dingy little hotel room watching the antiquated 14 inch TV broadcasting the story and those images, I felt two streams of tears roll non-stop down my cheeks.

I realized as the week passed, the dingy little “4-star” hotel room which I retire to after each tiring day has started to endear itself to me.

The sooty train stations were becoming a little quaint and cute.

Sharing the peak hour rush with thousands of cosmopolitan strangers in became bearable.

The initially long trek from Paddington station to my hotel more and more enjoyable.

The female voice announcing boarding and alighting instructions, which comes on at each and every station of the Circle and District and Hammersmith and City Line, in clear perfect Queen’s English become increasing alluring.

I will be heading towards Heathrow Airport in about 4 plus hours. This time with a little reluctance. In as much as I do miss home and the compatriots back in Singapore, this city has managed to tug at my heartstrings within a short time.

London is a vibrant city. One that in the hustle and bustle of life would still manage to touch you with its spirit. I will, in a certain way, miss her.

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October 11, 2008 - Posted by | Life

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