According to the papers, TFL or Transport for London (quite spectacularly a better, different, more millenial, utterly happening name than London Transport, with all it’s Ian Drury/Reg Varney gertcha ChipsnChippies associations, and that’ll be ooh, what, call it £150,000 in consultancy, no, no, not at all, but into the offshore account if you don’t mind. No VAT for cash, obviously) started closing ticket offices in London’s Tube stations.
It doesn’t matter that Boris Johnson has categorically said no Tube stations will lose their staff. Until the people who could do something about it can be bothered to get off their arses and go and vote then there’s no reason for a politician to keep to his word.
If the people it directly affects can’t be bothered, why should he? It doesn’t matter for so many reasons, like nobody expects a politician to keep to their word, or nobody expects many newspapers or TV or interviewers to remember the lie, or if you bring it up in press conference you’re ‘aggressive’ or ‘difficult’ or ‘confrontational’ and as we all know now, that’s about half a step away from being a terrorist, going round contradicting your betters like that, with stuff they’ve actually said. It’s not big, nor clever, and they know where you live. And your credit card number, along with your passport details.
So there won’t be anybody at the Tube to sell you a ticket. The machines will always work. If they don’t, nobody will get a penalty fare. Nobody will get mugged or fall ill on a train. And nobody will ever, ever, ever, become a victim of crime in a totally unmanned station. This is the new London. The one you can’t afford to live in. Rich people buying portfolio properties don’t go on the Tube anyway, so who cares what happens down there?
But I remember a different London, not a very, very long time ago. One where Angel Tube had a wooden lift shuttered with a steel lattice of doors and like something out of a film you can’t quite remember, or maybe it was a dream or something, it didn’t just have a lift. It had a lift man as well.
He had a voice quite like mine and he sounded as if he’d drunk a lot in his time. I’m not sure that had stopped. He gave a running commentary of the passengers, the weather, the news, pretty female customers and anything else he thought of as he ran the lift up and down between the surface and the platforms.
Back in those days the platforms at Angel were something to be sensibly wary about. Nowadays it looks like any other Tube station platform; back then it had just one platform and tracks either side of it. Down at the far end they seemed to tail off and gave the impression it would be easy to find yourself on the tracks. I think someone did once, down there. It wasn’t a happy place at the far end of the platform.
It wasn’t a dream. I don’t like the new Angel Tube, but the past is another country and all that. And besides, London Transport got rid of the manned lift at Angel and probably got rid of the man as well over twenty-five years ago. He’s probably dead now, I think. I can remember his words as the steel doors screeched shut each night on my way home.
“Customer service, we’re supposed to provide. Customer disservice, I call it. Goodnight ladies and gentlemen. Goodnight.”