Going underground

Using the tube in London has always been something I’ve avoided unless it was unnecessary. I don’t so much mind being underground so much as I can’t see where I’m going or where I am. I like the bits of the underground that go overground because, no matter how awful it is, it’s something to see.

I hate going down the huge escalators with hundreds of other passengers just to stand on crowded platforms while praying to an unknown entity that I’m heading the way I’m supposed to be going.

Most of my trips to London since 1992 have been to south of the river and, since it has been more often than not Bromley, there has been no need to use the tube. (20 minutes on the 436/36 bus from Paddington then 17 minutes on a train from Victoria if you want me to justify it.)

The past six months or so have changed all of this and I no longer have had a decent excuse not to descend into the viewless void. (Why yes, I am a drama queen.) It’s an inescapable fact that longer journeys across London are far quicker on the tube than they are on a series of buses. No arguing with that.

One of my most favourite, and incredibly patient, friends has been babysitting me while I’ve been taking my first regular trips down in the dark depths. Yes I know, drama queen.

In all seriousness though he’s explained to me where we’re going, what line we’re taking, how many stops it is and, all through the journey, chats about anything that would keep me distracted from the fact that I couldn’t see out of the windows.

I’m not claustrophobic, it’s difficult to explain but a large part of it is that I love being outside. I go out for a walk when it’s raining so heavily that my dog refuses to move out of the room he’s in let alone leave the flat. When I worked in offices the windows were left with permanent indentations left by my nose being pressed up against them as I gazed wistfully at the outside world. I’m just not an indoor person.

This week I’ve been over visiting my friend and fulfilling a long time desire to seen Camley Street Natural Park and I stayed out in Finchley.

We met up in Paddington and wandered about as we do, taking tube trains when we needed to and it was okay. We had a great day and then we both traveled in the same direction as Finchley Central was the place where we would part company.

I knew that I’d be taking the trip back into central London myself the next day and I was apprehensive to say the least until we got to Finchley. The first thing I noticed when we left the station was the silence. The side street was quiet and that made me feel better, quiet is good.

As I was leaving the next day I debated taking the easy way out and pulling the “I’m a photographer and I need to satisfy the urge to get on and off buses every time I see something worth shooting” stroke but it’s not in me to give into fear or back away from challenges.

The fear is twofold – using a mode of transport that I’m not comfortable with and, more importantly, being in a strange place and having to leave it alone to find myself in a place I was familiar with.

I checked out of my hotel and went to a lovely little church just down the street and wandered around it and its churchyard. I cleaned a few of the grave markers so I could get photos of them and refused to think of what I’d have to do half an hour in the future.

I got messages from my friend to say which direction I should be traveling, what I could see if I got at certain stations and general “you can do this” stuff.

I did it. I got off at Euston, almost had a panic attack coming up from the bowels of the earth (yes, I’m still a drama queen) but I did it. I spotted a branch of Hema and stocked up on Dutch liquorice and then, shaking like crazy, went out into the air. I messaged my friend to share my joy, and it was joy, and there I was knowing exactly where I was.

I walked to Camley Street Natural Park and I spent a very happy hour there. I was surrounded by trees and wildlife while London went on in the background and it was beautiful.

I found myself outside the British Library and sat in the sunshine with a sandwich and a cold drink. I walked down the road towards Paddington with confidence because I knew where I was yet there was a time when I spent the whole time walking that route permanently attached to a map in case I went the wrong way. It’s impossible to go the wrong way.

When I got too tired I jumped on the bus that I knew would take me right outside Paddington station because I’d done it before yet there was a time when I’d done it for a first time.

This brings me full circle. I’ve done something for the first time, something that carried an undefinable fear and that fear has been demoted to apprehension. I doubt I’ll ever confess to loving the tube as much as I love buses but, even though I had fantastic support into getting to this point, I did it – I’m my own hero. Oh, and I love Finchley.