Tube Surf: No Exit
When you are in the darkness you forget the light. You don’t see the exit. You don’t believe there is one and if there were, you wouldn’t want it.
When I saw the tube train approaching I had to decide which journey it was going to take me on. To confront her, or not. Not was attractive. It took will power to stand behind the yellow line. I wanted her to cry. I wanted her to hate him and have me in her mind her whole life. But then, I would never have her again. 99.9% I will never have her again.
With a heavy sigh I stepped on board.
I will stick to the original plan. She won’t be expecting me. I will let myself in. I will find them together.
A man in black is sitting opposite me, his trouser turnups elegantly secured with three paper clips carefully positioned, with perfect symmetry, on each. Suddenly I’m suffused with delight. He looks so extremely organised: his light brown thinning hair swept closely forward in a curve not designed to deceive by hiding the bald patch behind, just cheerfully oiled, well-cut efficiency. About 32. He has the look of an Alexander Technique physical therapist. Slim, fox-like. All in black – t-shirt, tight trousers, black sandals like mine, no socks. His toenails are groomed, perfectly cut. His face wears the cynical grin of a man who despairs patronisingly at the bumbling weakness of humans, as he reads his Metro. With a sigh, he folds the paper carefully so that the crosswords are ready, open for invasion. Earls Court.
A thin girl gets on with a wheelie-case. She is exhausted, pale, looks sick. The man sighs at human frailty, stands to give her his seat.
Aha……. A Tube surfer. He is refusing all handholds and casually working at his crossword. Show off. Then, a lurch at Gloucester Road – he almost grabs for the handrail! Would have lost a point. A quick recovery and back to the crossword. Very nice. Possibly a Meister.
He’s lucky I’m seated. I am the self-declared TubeSurf Meister of the Circle Line, haven’t lost a point for ages. Even that notorious Sloane Square to South Ken stretch has been a clear surf for me, while so many rivals have been sent tumbling or frenetically reaching for support at some point in that three minute journey.
For those not in the know the rules are simple: stand unsupported, touch nothing and no-one throughout the journey or lose a point. You get three points per station successfully passed.
Tube surfers recognise each-other immediately – and it only takes a minute before it’s Game On. Words are seldom exchanged. Eye contact varies from the arch to the triumphant. It is a lonely game. The search is for the Worthy Opponent. He or she who can surf without surrender.
I cannot resist. As the carriage partly fills at South Ken, I stand. Hurrah. Game on! …On reflection I’m staying for the Journey. For this journey anyway.
He’s recognised me. I can see the grim decision crossing his mind – I Will Win This. We exchange a glance of acceptance, of engagement in the game. Of challenge. He shrugs, folds the newspaper into a carrier bag which he deposits on the floor. This surf is not for displays of machismo or virtuoso posturing. This is about Meistership. Which is life and death.
I go into Fudo dachi. Dachi means stance – a Karate stance I find works for me. The feet are twice shoulder width apart. The angle of the stance is at 30 degrees facing front in the direction of travel.
I sense his nod of respect – he recognises that I am not an amateur. He too takes on Fudo, but changes to Zenkutsu dachi with the sway and swing of the carriage. Beautiful.
Fudodachi – is one of the staple surfing dachis. Place your legs in horse-riding stance, slightly bent, shoulder width apart. Now shift slightly so that the weight is more on the front leg. A good rooted stance this. But as the carriage swings sways jerks and stops too many adjustments are necessary. Often a favourite of mine.
Good technique and good spirit. The motto of the Surfer.
The driver is in a hurry. Good! This is the challenge I enjoy. A frenetic driver on speed, behind schedule. A well-practised and professional Worhy Opponent. Lots of jerks and sways and lurches and swings and long curves and short curves and…damn! He’s right. Fudo dachi is so often essential with this driver!
Victoria, and neither of us have lost a point. We’re so evenly matched, it’s crazy.
Passengers flow in and flow out. Careful positioning is necessary to ensure we can see each other, and we both manoeuvre to a space which gives us a circle of operation. The Circle: so important! Otherwise referred to as Tube Space – obviously if humans intrude too much the surf becomes impossible and has to be abandoned. If you find yourself crushed up against somebody, well the Art cannot be employed. Once I was in a massively crowded carriage and determined not to lose a point – my rival, a woman with spiky hair and thunderous thighs, had been with me for four stations and both of us were having a Clear Run. And then this yummy mummy with a four year old clutched in a sweaty hand said to me, “For heaven’s sake! Hold on!” Her tone was angry, defensive. I wanted to say, Lady, I am NOT going to fall and crush your pretty daughter. I am Surfmeister. But I didn’t. Instead a gave my rival a defiant look and deliberately, slowly and unnecessarily, took hold of a rail. I preferred to lose a point than lose my head.
That is not going to happen this time!
We lurch off from Victoria. Both give a sway, and change stances. I go from Zen stance – or the classic Front stance, sixty percent of weight on the front foot to Fudo to Kokutsu.
Kokutsudachi is an interesting stance. Preferred by some of the younger surfers, it’s the typical back stance and very useful for sudden stops. 70% of the weight on the back leg, feet about one and a half shoulder widths apart, feet at a right angle to each other. Essential with sudden acceleration or deceleration.
When the carriage is crowded, the surfer may resort to cat stance, especially if no-one can see, because he looks like an ass. Neko, in the parlance.
These are the main stances. The Meister knows how to shift instantly from one to another, depending on angle, velocity, stop-start, number and proximity of other passengers…the trick is to anticipate. The surfer taken unawares is the flying surfer.
This is crazy! Liverpool Street approaches and both of us have had a Clear Run. I was going to alight at Liverpool Street, where she has her swish Shoreditch pad. But there’s no hurry. I’ll just wait until he loses a point. Then, easy to get a train back. No hurry.
He’s just consulted his watch. Ok, if he gets off it’s a draw. That’s fine.
The station arrives. The station leaves, with a massive jerk. Both of us sway and wobble and hands go out to grab support, and then as swiftly back as we readjust stances.
We exchange a look. There is no comradely friendliness or respect in his face. For a moment there is the pure challenge of combat, nothing like what boxers exchange for the cameras. This is real.
There will be No Surrender.
Strange how in this rocking rolling swaying jerking world with its ephemeral population it seems as if these stations come to us, not we to them.
Whenever his eyes light on mine I see more anger there
A Portuguese family with baggage, seriously annoying 8 and 10 year old boy and girl. The father gestures to the only two free seats and the kids sit, bickering, shouting and giggling in foreign.
They disembark, a relief. I can see my enemy better now.
Humans flow in humans flow out. Some stay longer than others
He hates me
They carry their worlds with them so brief their journey a much used John Lewis bag a rucksack containing a Macbook Natural History Museum bags with souvenir tat
Wheelie cases clutched to knees, handbags white-knuckled to laps, most are on their mobiles. What? Signal off and on. Why? Ok in my case, using Notes to write this, any time I feel sufficiently in balance – what are they doing? Games, certainly. Some staring at downloaded movies or clips. A few writing poems, surely. Reviewing texts or whatsapp messages. Or mooning at photos. Anything is better than engaging with their fellow humans. Anything to make time slip.
He is shifting awkwardly now, very uncomfortable. From the way he looks at his watch, I know he has missed his stop too. Where was he going? He snatches his phone from his pocket, stares in fury at the No Signal message, replaces it.
Lucky me, no-one to phone. Lucky….she will be in bed now, with the Shit.
Great Portland Street
The carriage is about 70% full, only he and I standing. There are empty seats. Other passengers glance. A 15 year-old boy with freckles stares openly. Then he stands between us parodying our stances and giggling. Tube jerks, he flies, his mother yells in Polish. I laugh. Blackie glowers, anger and discomfort mounting.
Baker Street. The carriage fills. Blackie has begun to stare at me, I don’t know how to react. I feel his hatred. There are a few people between him and me, and I resolve that whatever he feels, I will maintain my equilibrium both physically and emotionally.
We approach Edgware Road where according to the announcement “This train terminates”. Surprised. I thought these trains on the Circle line went round and round and round for ever. I thought this journey would last forever and Enemy and me would be stuck in an eternal circle of hell
I can just see him through and between the people. I maneuver to see better. How will he react to this being the end of the line.
Finally I get a good look. One hand grasps a yellow pole. I look down at his trousered legs, and his paper clips, and his sandals,…!.. .and there is a dark rivulet over toes and the floor. He has taken a piss.
The doors swoosh open, passengers between us
He has lost.
He has lost.
I elbow my way out through the people. I don’t want to see him again. I don’t even want to give him the look of total triumph which suffuses my brain. It’s a sour victory. It’s a Pyrrhic victory. A victory gained at the expense of the humiliation of the vanquished. I almost run.
Must find the toilet, I am busting for a pee. There it is by the platform. Bloody 50p entrance. I leap over the barrier and run to the urinal. I unzip myself. My piss plashes out
I look behind.
My Enemy, with a knife.