A Tactical Guide to Optimal Tube Usage

I’ve been commuting on the tube into and around London now for around three of the last five years which has taught me a few strategies when it comes to either getting a seat or a decent amount of standing room while maintaining as little fellow human contact as possible.  I’ve mainly kept them to myself as I’ve often pondered that I’ve been over-thinking it, but after discovering a couple of similar blog posts (here and here) I feel less neurotic.  My findings are below, feel free to merge them with your own or disagree entirely!

Know Your Enemy

I’m often heard saying that everyone is unique, you shouldn’t categories people based on what they wear or how they act.  This doesn’t apply on the tube.  Passenger categorisation is the key to efficient tube travel.  Please remember we’re all still fellow humans however, if you see tourist about to get on the wrong train help them out, if you’re not in a rush help out that old lady with the comically oversized suitcase.

  1. Tourists.  Local or foreign, they are grouped so by having luggage or backpacks (though anyone with a suit and luggage doesn’t fall into this category, see below), paper tube maps and unique to other tube passenger categories, a spark of life behind their eyes that hasn’t been snuffed out by the daily commute.  They don’t know where they’re going, are in no rush and are quick to stop or change direction.  Avoid, especially those with luggage on escalators and when turning corners.  Their sudden stops could bestow you with a rapid trip to the floor.  Many don’t know much English, so requests of ‘excuse me’ or ‘stand on the right’ may be met with blank faces.
  2. Constructicons.  So named after the Transformers who combine to create the enormous Decepticon Devastator, constructicons are teenage tourists who individually can be lumped into the above tourist category but when part of a school or summer camp party (pro tip: spot the identically coloured backpacks and the adults at either end of the torrent) combine to create Devastator, a being that will fill a carriage regardless of whether there is any room.  Cut your losses, find another carriage.
  3. Suits.  Fellow veterans who already know pretty much all the tricks of the trade.  They can be largely ignored as they’ll be applying these same rules, but watch out as they’ll show no mercy if it improves their commute.  Luggage wielding suits are also little issue, as they’re well aware of the above category’s luggage sins and are loathe to commit them.
  4. Bookworms. A smaller category, both the classic paper book aficionado and the more recent Kindle connoisseur, they make use of the time walking to and from the Tube on auto pilot, head in book.  Again watch out as they are not aware of their surroundings.
  5. Wireheads.  Anyone with headphones, wired or not.  Often combined with another category, wirehead rules always take precedent.  Similar to bookworms they’re not aware of their surroundings so take that into account.  Often a wirehead’s choice of music combined with tinny earphones will lead to what I have coined (c)rap-leakage, where a torrent of ‘yo-yo-represent-yo-g-yo’ and a monotonous synth beat leaks out and ruins your serenity.  Use your ears and avoid such wireheads.
  6. Wideboys.  Contrary to the dictionary definition, I use this term to categorise younger tube denizens who (depending on your social upbringing) you might refer to as rude boys, chavs or simply delinquents.  Hence their name, wideboys have no qualms about taking up as much space as possible, more often than not by sitting down and spreading their legs as wide as possible (sexing up so may fellow wide-girls clearly must require extra cooling of the undercarriage area) or taking up a seat with their junk (that’s bags and coats, not the other kind of junk).  For any other fellow tube category I would contemplate being self-righteous with these social faux-pas, however though nine out of ten wideboys are harmless, I have seen the occasional (and brutal) fight caused by a suit taking exception to a wideboy’s actions.  Leave well alone.
  7. Star Cross’d Lovers.  Young couples who happen to take the same tube into work fall into this category.  The first, less problematic characteristic of a star cross’d lover is PDA.  Turning away and shutting out the sounds of smooching are the solutions here.  The second characteristic is if they’re not exiting at the same station a lover’s embrace as you’re pulling in to the station might block your exit.  Plan accordingly.
  8. Femme Fatales.  See that gorgeous women with legs that go on forever, long flowing hair, ample… CONCENTRATE MAN.  Getting distracted by femme fatales can lead to crashing into tourists or worse, losing a prime seat.  Sometimes referred to as an Agent Smith by geekier types (“Were you listening to me Neo?  Or where you looking at the woman in the red dress?”).
  9. Patient Zero.  Hey he looks like death!  So will you if you’re downwind of his sneezes.  Assess whether your comfort requirement exceeds your desire not to die of cholera when choosing proximity to patient zero.

Know Your Team

  1. If you’re travelling alone, you are the team.  Go team!
  2. If you’re travelling with non-veterans, take charge.
  3. If you’re travelling with children, please, please, please avoid the rush hour.  This is the front line, the rush hour is a place where humanity is left on the platform.  It’s no place for children.

From Street/Train/Tube to Platform

Don’t be fooled: strategies for optimal tube usage begin before you’re in the shadow of a TFL Roundel.
  1. Veteran mainline train users choose their carriage such that when pulling into the station they minimise the distance between the train door and the entrance to the Underground.  This isn’t because they’re lazy, it’s because an efficient decamp from a commuter train is the difference between a decent seat or a swim in a sea of zombie commuters and a fight for the best spots on the tube platform.
  2. Similarly tube to tube users should factor in carriage choice (more on this later) based on the most efficient route between lines
  3. For those coming in from street level learn the easiest route down to the platform.  Often you’ll find alternative entrances that are closer to you, less crowded and closer to the platform.
  4. Occasionally and more often than not in the older, more labyrinthine stations you’ll spot people taking what seems to be wrong turnings down exit corridors.  Sometimes they are people who are genuinely lost but often following them you’ll discover other platform entrances which are designated for exists, but work just as well as entrances.
  5. Similarly don’t be afraid to go against the flow.  On more modern stations you’ll often find that the escalator dumps you half way down a corridor adjacent to the platform.  Signs will keep the people flowing in one direction, but taking the other direction you might discover the other half of the platform is empty.
  6. If you’re on a fairly modern, deep line such as the Jubilee Line and fancy a gamble, taking the lift down is an option.  This bypasses the several flights of stairs and escalators you’d otherwise have to take and so as not to eject a woman with a pushchair into the masses, their exits are often located at the ends of the platforms: an optimal location.  Of course this must be tempered with the knowledge that Underground lifts are slower than those in Mass Effect (can I get an a-men from my video game brothers) and if you’ve left the main flow of commuters to grab the lift and find it’s at the bottom of the shaft, you’ve already thrown away the next five minutes of your life.
  7. Stand on the motherf**king right.

Platform Positioning

Right, if you’re still reading this you’re ready to get on the tube right?  Wrong.  Anyone who has read Sun Tsu’s The Art of War (or more likely, read snippets of it as referred to in a number of real time strategy games) will know that the battle is won before it is even commenced through planning, so first we must plan our deployment onto the tube.
  1. Know the high ground.  To further abuse the Art of War analogy, the high ground is key to winning any battle.  On the tube, the ends of the platform are the high ground.  Anyone who’s spent more than a week on the tube will know this rule.  Tourists and virgin tube users tend to cluster near the platform entrances and outside of rush hour you’ll commonly see the centre of the train full and the extremities completely empty.  There is one exception to this, which brings us on to rule 2.
  2. Know your exit strategy.  If your commute ends with the tube this isn’t so important however if you have a connection you have to make (most likely a train out of London) plan your platform position accordingly.  If you have to transfer to another line consider choosing a carriage that aligns you with the corridor to that line so that you don’t have to swim amongst the tide of people heading for the exit.  If you’re taking a train out of dodge, consider your carriage choice based on the shortest route from the tube exit to your train platform.  A classic example is my commute if I’m visiting my folks: my journey takes me from the Hammersmith and City Line platform at Farringdon to the tube exit at Paddington, platform 13 at which point I have to transfer to platform 11 to get my train out.  Sounds easy?  Due to the travel time of the H&C between my two stops and the excruciatingly slow driver changes at Edgware Road I often have less than five minutes to get off the tube and across to the train and there’s only one exit from the platform.  You can spot true veterans amongst the virgins standing at the middle of the platform at Farringdon.  They’re sacrificing their tube comfort so that when it pulls in at Paddington they are five steps away from the Tube exit.  Failure to do this leads to being stuck in the stampede to get up the staircase and that horrifying realisation when you’re trapped in the flow and can see your train a couple of platforms away, smugly leaving the station.
  3. Seek out other veterans.  You may spot clusters of people on the platform and a no man’s land between them.  The clusters are where the doors are, the empty gaps are between carriages or doors.
  4. Find landmarks.  Once you’ve been using a route for a while and settled on your chosen carriage, align your perfect entry point with landmarks.  This could be your position relative to a platform bench, a poster or a fire extinguisher.  On one regular journey my chosen landmark was a fellow veteran who I could count on to be there every morning.  This worked well until he was obviously messing with my head by choosing different spots and watching me wander around on the platform like a lost child.
  5. Assess your door position.  Contrary to popular logic, on most of the older lines you’ll want to stand so that when the train arrives you’re lined up with the centre of the doorway.  This means you have to step back into your fellow passengers to let people off but retain your lead on entry.  Politely standing where the edge of the door will be will lead you to be three of four people back behind those who know this trick which is often the difference between getting on or not.  This rule doesn’t apply to more modern lines with wider doors, standing in the middle of the doorway is akin to being an island stuck in the middle of a raging river- battered by the stream of fellow passengers coming up the sides.
  6. Assess what part of the carriage you want to be on and chose your platform position accordingly.  This is covered in more detail below.

On the Tube Itself

Phew, we’re finally on the tube.  If you’ve followed the rules above, you’ve already put in most of the work needed for a pleasant tube journey.  Here’s what you need to know once you get on.  I’d also read the blog posts I mentioned at the top of this entry for further detail.

  1. Decide on your adherence to tube etiquette.  Popular opinion holds that seat pecking order is pregnant woman > old people > children > parents of children > women > men.  Commuters fall into three categories, those who believe this and will always end up standing, those who ignore this and will blindly grab a seat and blank people above them in the order and those who know the true, agreed order which is smoking hot woman > pregnant woman > everyone else.  Choose your category and stick with it, though personally I find the ‘true’ pecking order I’ve described is most likely to get you a seat.
  2. Decide if you want a seat.  If you do your strategy will be based on lining yourself up to grab them as they become available.  If not your strategy will be all about making a beeline for the best standing spots.
  3. If you want a seat, go for the aisles, don’t stand in the entrances.  This gives you the maximum number of chances for a seat.  I tend to avoid the end of carriage aisles if I want a seat, these tend to be populated by long haulers who grabbed the seat at the end of the line and won’t be moving for a while.
  4. If you’re happy standing, know the sweet spots.  On deep, hot tubes priority number one is the space next to the intra-carriage doors which will reward you with a sweaty, yet cool breeze.  Be mindful of the direction of travel however as you don’t want to be stuck at the end of the carriage where the breeze has picked up a carriage-load of exotic smells and the body heat of a hundred other commuters.  Failing that, your next choice is the spot next to the aisles.  On modern lines this will be the ‘standing seats’, the odd cushions that double as the parking spots for disabled users (don’t worry about the gamble of this spot actually being needed, wheelchair users have the smarts not to bother with rush hour entirely).  On older lines this will be the clear plastic partition between aisles.  If these are taken go for the (often empty) aisles.  Never sit in the entrances unless you have no choice, or your exit strategy (see above) demands it.
  5. Don’t be afraid to push (gently).  No I’m not talking about the twats who will body slam you out of their way.  If your train pulls in and it looks full, feel free to squeeze in to get through to the empty aisles.  Also remember the passenger categories outlined above means that your fellow passengers may not hear or understand your request to move out of the way.  A gently push is the way to go.
  6. Maximise your presence.  Shoulders out prevents people thinking there’s a gap next to you they can comfortably exist in.  When seated have your legs spaced evenly apart to prevent the aforementioned ‘wideboys’ from taking up half your legroom with their stretched legs.   Don’t be rude about this rule though, broadsheets are not for crowded spaces.
  7. Be prepared for your stop.  This is as simple as making the motions that you’re about to leave so people are prepared to move out of your way when the train pulls in.  Don’t move on a crowded train as it’s stopping, you’ll end up on the floor in a tangle of ankles.  Take a look out of the window as you’re stopping to see which way your exit or line you’re transferring to is.  This prevents you from exiting the tube and having to stand there gormless for two minutes working out where to go and among your non-veteran friends makes you look like a real pro as you seem to know exactly where to go at all times.

Wow that turned out to be a lot longer than I intended.  Hope it will be of use to you if you’ve not fallen asleep by this point!

Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary’s Baby is ranked 198 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

This Roman Polanski film is a pretty much ‘by the numbers’ horror piece, featuring a well acted, naive Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her woodenly acted husband who when trying for a baby catch the attention of their local New York City Witches Coven and proceeds to follow the trials of Rosemary as she tries to protect her unborn child from their machinations.

I say ‘by the numbers’ as by today’s standards you can see the plot twists coming a block away, though without the historical perspective of being alive at the time I’m reluctant to write this off as derivative.  Was this ground breaking at the time?  What is clear is that the film takes too long to get into its stride though from the first scene Mia Farrow steals the show with her portrayal of Rosemary, so unless you’re clock watching you won’t be too fussed.  The various secondary characters fill their parts well, though some bizarre scenes push the film into black comedy though this doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the piece.

Finally, like most horror films I’ve enjoyed it sits on the right side of being creepy and disturbing without having to resort to cheap scares or raiding the local blood bank.  One of top 250 films of all time?  Hard to say.  It’s enjoyable for a single watch, but I won’t be picking it up again in a hurry.

6/10

Update

So another month and a half passes. Life continues to throw challenges in my path which coupled with my general lethargy means I’ve been slacking on the film front, as well as the completion of other things I should have polished off by now.

Still, I’ve now seen 27 of the top 250 that I need to see before the year is out. That’s way behind but still doable. I’ve subscribed to LOVEFiLM for my film needs as they have pretty much every film on the list. Some will be a challenge, especially very old films such as those starring Charlie Chaplin, as the DVDs seem to be quite rare.

WALL·E

Wall-E

WALL·E is ranked 43 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

I don’t have much to say about Wall-E but that’s not to say it’s not a good movie or not deserving of being in the top 250.  Wall-E is another film from the house of Pixar, the studio we’ve come to expect to deliver the most technically adept CGI films over the last decade or so.  It revolves around the titular character, the last surviving robot from a fleet of similar bots tasked with clearing up Earth after we made such a dump of the place we had to go on permanent holiday into the stars.  The story is entertaining and will keep the kids glued to the screen with predictable pratfalls and plot twists but for me I feel that it was a little too preachy (waste and consumerism bad, exercising good) and a bit obvious laying the blame of the collapse of society at the foot of massive conglomerates (and a bit rich coming from the land of Mickey), which could be put down to the influence of Disney values.

It is entertaining and very watch-able however, though this is one that deserves its place in the top 250 through a milestone of achievement rather than being an all-round fantastic film.  The CGI is staggeringly good.  You may not have noticed it but that’s half the point.  The work on shadows, texture and depth of field really adds to the suspension of disbelief.  I could pause any frame of the movie and just pour over the beauty of the textures of the walls, let alone the remainder of the gamut of detail littering the backgrounds of each shot.  Truly Pixar are masters of their field and for that reason, this film gets a higher score than if it just had the plot to carry it.

8/10

Oldboy

Oldboy

Oldboy is ranked 116 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

Oldboy is a South Korean film about a man named Oh Dae-su, who after being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years before being unceremoniously released, quests to find out who kidnapped him, but more importantly why.  We follow his story as he converts from the a drunken, loutish father, through to a shell-shocked prisoner and to a vengeful yet humble warrior on his journey seeking answers.

This one is hard to review without spoiling it, though in short it’s entertaining and enthralling.  His imprisonment and release turns into a bizarre series of mind games, plot twists and bouts of violence (like many eastern films, western viewers may be put off by the intensity and graphic nature of the violence, though we’re not talking about a slasher flick here).  The plot can be hard to follow and like many twist-ful films is probably worth a second screening so you can watch it again with a better understanding of how it plays out, though this is probably half caused by a lost-in-translation effect.

Technically speaking, the filming and framing of each scene is quite good, the prison scenes are shot very tightly and often at strange angles for example, enhancing the feeling of claustrophobia.  The acting, even without an understanding of Korean to check if the actors are flubbing their lines, is very intense.  The action scenes, though infrequent, are well done and don’t fall into fantastical bouts of unrealistic Kung-Fu.  Special mention goes to the corridor scene, which is shot almost like an old side-scrolling arcade game.  The film is afflicted with what I’d coin as the ‘Sixth Sense Effect’ though, that once you’ve seen it a couple of times and fully explored the winding plot, the impact of the film might be lost on subsequent viewings.  Still, definitely one to watch.

7/10

WMP Security Component Upgrade Button is Greyed Out – Potential Solution

While trying to ‘unlock’ the digital copy of the Star Trek Blu-ray I came across a problem where the DRM component of Windows Media Player needed upgrading, which bounced me to the following URL: http://drmlicense.one.microsoft.com/Indivsite/en/indivit.asp.

The problem with this link was that the sole upgrade button on the page was greyed out, meaning I couldn’t upgrade the DRM component.  I’m running Windows 7 but I would guess the problem affects Vista as well.  There’s a few posts online but none of them resolved the problem, but instead this is what I did to fix it, simple when you think about it:

  1. Find Internet Explorer in the Start menu.  Don’t use Firefox, Chrome or another alternative, it has to be IE.
  2. Right-click on the icon and select run as administrator.
  3. Enter the URL provided above (or whatever variation the disc you have provides you with).
  4. Bingo, problem solved.

It’s also worth noting that part of the DRM process for the Star Trek disc asks you for your name, DOB, email address and some other personal data.  You don’t have to fill any of this in to unlock the digital copy.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine DVD Cover

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is ranked 59 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

Eternal Sunshine is an odd film.  It’s about a relationship but it’s not really a romantic film.  It stars Jim Carey but it’s not full of slapstick comedy.  It falls into the realm of sci-fi but doesn’t go into the realm of techno-babble.  It is however, fantastic.  If you’ve not already read the plot synopsis elsewhere, Eternal Sunshine follows Jim Carey’s character, Joel, a shy, quiet man (and thus completely unlike Carey in most of his other films) who after a long relationship with Kate Winslet’s Clementine finds out that after a row she has not only left him, but gone through with a procedure to remove him from her memory completely.  Joel then decides to go through the same procedure and most of the film follows his sub-concious self travelling through memories of their relationship as he slowly realises that he wants to cherish what he had rather than obliterate the memory of it, while in the real world these memories are being targeted and deleted.

It is a story about love but without the sappy one-liners or puppy-dog eyes.  Carey is just fantastic, I think it’s clear that if he bottles up the crazy and lets is leak out rather than explode, he can be a really powerful actor.  Winslet plays the quirky love interest well, her character being a lot more three-dimensional than the quirky love interest of say (500) Days of Summer.  Carey’s narration of his feelings of their relationship seem genuine, you do feel for the character of Joel as he decides he must hide the memories of Clementine from the ‘brain men’.  Visually, the film is well shot.  As his memories are destroyed his dream world begins to fall apart, people disappear around him, books lose their text and faces become a blur.  It’s a great way of exploring the slowly depleting memory of his relationship with Clementine and feels bitter-sweet as he finally comes across the memory of when they first met.  On the downside, the ‘real world’ characters and their b-story, featuring among others, Elijah ‘Mr Frodo’ Wood and Kirsten Dunst, is a lot weaker than the story of Joel and Clementine, though the film wouldn’t work without it.

To steal the tag-line from (500) Days of Summer (which you may have noticed, I’m feeling more bile towards as the days go by) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is not a love story but a story about love.  It’s wonderfully shot and acted and worth repeated viewings.  I have a feeling this may become a timeless – yet slightly indie – classic.

8/10

Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro)

My Neighbour Totoro DVD Cover

My Neighbour Totoro is ranked 247 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

My Neighbour Totoro is a Japanese children’s film from Studio Ghibli, a studio famous for films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away (both of which also feature on the Top 250). It follows the story of two children, Satsuki and Mei, who move with their father to a new home in the countryside to be closer to their mother, who is in hospital with an unnamed condition and meet the friendly spirits of the forest, the Totoro.

The appeal and originality of the movie comes from the fact that this film features no conflict, anger or threat while not going down the sterile, PC, modern children’s story route. The bulk of the film simply follows the two girls exploring and playing in their new home and surroundings, which sounds boring but is anything but- the key to this being that the animation work retains the charm and magic of being a kid again. It’s hard to put down in words, but I – a grown, cynical Brit – was smiling from cheek to cheek all of the way through.

Special mention has to be given to the animation which is simply beautiful. It’s not an orgy of colour or gimicks, but a magical rendition of rural Japanese life. Highlights include Mei stroking Totoro for the first time: although this is a cartoon you do get the sensation of someone actually stroking a bear-sized furry animal (not that I’ve stroked any bears lately) and the watercolour-eque backgrounds.

A joy to watch, for adults and children alike.

9/10

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer Poster

(500) Days of Summer is ranked 227 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

500 slots into the romantic genre, of which I’m not the world’s greatest fan. Still the Internet has heaped praise on it for being a funny, original take on the story of boy-meets-girl so I gave it a bash.

The story follows 500 days of the life of Tom, a drone at a greeting card company and the events of his relationship with the eponymous Summer, whom he meets at work. The ‘twist’ is that the film is chopped up in non-chronological order bookended by which of the 500 days in question the scene features, though these are not Tarantino-esque cuts. Because of this very early on we learn that the relationship between Tom and Summer doesn’t last and the film flips between their dating and the relationship falling apart and of course the lessons that we the viewers can learn from their time together. For this reason alone I had high hopes for the film as normally you’d walk into a rom-com already knowing the ending.

Unfortunately the film is original isn’t the slightest. As soon as the scene was set where we learn that Tom’s job is to write cheesy greeting card slogans but yearns to be an architect, it becomes obvious that he’ll rage-quit his job at some point with a speech on ‘what is love’ and pursue his architectural dreams. Summer turns out to be a two-dimensional generic slightly-quirky girl-next-door. Tom’s friends include the non-threatening mate with no sex life who gets them together, conflict includes a jock-businessman trying to cut in between Tom and Summer at a bar, and so it goes on.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s an entertaining film with several laugh out loud moments, the acting is above average for this type of film and I’d recommend watching it once, but I don’t see why it features in the IMDb Top 250. I could probably come up with another hundred (non-rom-com) films that should feature above it. It’s, well, it’s average.

5/10

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs

Reservoir Dogs is ranked 64 in the 2010 IMDb Top 250 Challenge.

Right so I’ve watched the first of the 250, Reservoir Dogs:

I had my first viewing of Reservoir Dogs at about the age of 12. It was one of those films – like Pulp Fiction or Terminator 2 – that you were too young to watch but were ‘cool’ (wow I sound old) if you had seen it. Of course the main reasons for watching these kinds of films at that age were not artistic merit but simply blood and swearing. I haven’t properly sat down and watched Reservoir Dogs since having borrowed it on VHS many years ago and I’m pleased to say there’s more to it than just those teenage requirements.

It’s well shot though different to how traditional films are shot. Scenes between two people that should be close-ups are shot down the corridor for example, yet somehow it works. Unfortunately the sound is all over the place, lots of dialogue can be missed because it’s too fast and too quiet and the picture quality varies shot to shot. I think Tarantino learned a lot of lessons on these fronts in time for his later films (as well, no doubt, as receiving a much larger budget).

My main concern is that a lot of the dialogue went over my head (I’m probably too young) and in fifty years time it probably won’t make a lot of sense being dipped in pop-culture as it is. It’ll probably be on the top 250 in fifty years time too, but one of those films where people will note it as a classic, as a milestone, but not very good up against modern film.

It’s a hard one to review. Like Pulp Fiction you can pick out your favourite scenes or quotes which make it memorable to an individual but when you put it all together you’ve got a film which almost every critic would agree is a classic.

7/10