The crescendo roar of a train as it rattles through a tunnel towards the platform plays with your emotions in much the same way as that of an impending public declaration of feelings.
It finds parallels in the steeling of nerve and numbness of limbs that always comes before a moment of intimate confession or personal commitment. I love you. I don’t love you. I can’t bear it. I can’t live without it.
The train charges at you with a force that jars and jangles both physically and psychologically. And you are reminded of other times in your life when every bone and sinew was a-flutter with the advent of something of equal provocation: a hello, a goodbye, a negotiation, a termination.
The possibility of unbeatable joy. The probability of unbearable sorrow.
It is one of the most bittersweet sensations there is, for just as that probability will always turn into a reality, so the train always arrives. There is always a resolution.
You’ll either get together with that person, or you won’t.
There’ll either be a happy ending, or there won’t.
It’s life reduced to its most bitter, binary form. It is also the romance of the Underground.
Standing on a silent platform, then hearing the first tiny stirring of sound, feeling a wisp of warm air brush against you, noticing the rails below your feet starting to purr, bracing yourself for the fusillade of power that is but seconds away…
This is a very raw, primal experience. More so if you are alone, and it is just you and the steadily increasing proximity of something very very big and very very loud.
As the train arrives, so you’re filled with tingling anticipation. Here we go, you think. This is it: the start of something. A beginning. A departure. I am about to let something happen.
Even if you’re only travelling a couple of stops, it can still feel like you’re embarking on an adventure.
Then off into the darkness, tracing a deep, sentimental geography. Conceiving encounters, reliving experiences, creating futures, revolving memories.
Or, more than likely, burying those memories. The mixture of anonymity and noise is the ideal crucible into which to drop regrets, estrangements, farewells.
To brood on what may have been, and whether it still can be. To nurse bereavements and doctor fantasies.
To dream and dream and sometimes hope never to wake up.
The Underground is the greatest matchmaker of the imagination. It’s the ideal sanctuary for romantics, from John Betjeman’s Cockney Amorist to Saint Etienne’s Girl VII.
It’s emotion and motion combined. It’s electrical balm for the mind.
Almost anything is possible…
…until the next station arrives, and your train exhales itself of another cargo of laughter and loss.
Swallow your pain. Sigh no more. Wipe away the sweat, the tears, the make-believe years.
This romance is over for now. It’s time to renew your affair with the sky.