Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Deaf Girly and the London Underground




Yesterday evening, I got to watch the third episode of Inside the Tube: Going Underground presented by Rob Bell – and his Rab jacket – on Demand 5 after subtitles were finally added! And it did not disappoint. In fact, it's a must for anyone with a love of our amazing underground network.

I've had a fascination with the London Underground since I was a little girl when I used to come up to London from the Wild West erm... Country to watch things at the theatre or visit a wonderful Bulgarian friend of my father who lived in a quirky flat in Earls Court.

My dad, who grew up just outside of London, used to tell me all sorts of interesting facts about the trains and stations as we were travelling from A to B and to this day our fact-sharing chats haven't changed except now, he also buys me books... all of the books about the Underground and London and maps. My favourite one is the Chambers London Gazetteer, which lists all the areas of London and how they developed. 

But close second comes anything on the disused stations of the Tube, which is one of the reasons why I loved this TV series so much – Rob got to visit so many unseen places that the public can't get to.

So you'd think as a Tube fanatic that I'd spend all my time travelling by tube and marvelling at the wonder of the trains and stations and journeys you get to take.

But no!

I hardly ever get the Tube. I travel by bus. Admittedly a new Routemaster bus, which I'm more than happy to geek out over too, but crikey it's a slow way to get around London in rush hour.

But why, if the Tube could be my specialist subject on Mastermind, am I so afraid of traveling on it?

And I think I've worked it out. 

When I was 15, I got a two-week summer work experience placement at Reuters in central London. I was super excited but that summer was also the one where my hearing nose-dived and I lost so much clarity of speech I had to be statemented by the council and given a notetaker to get through my A-levels. 

Traveling on the Central Line every day to Reuters' Gray's Inn Road offices was one of my favourite things – even in rush hour. I don't ever remember feeling afraid. In fact, I used to fold myself into the shape of the curved door to squeeze into the train leaving Notting Hill Gate and often remained like that for my entire journey under Oxford Street until I arrived at Chancery Lane.

From memory, for most of that entire fortnight, I loved travelling on the Tube. I felt safe on it, getting me where I needed to go without having to brave the busy London streets, which quite frankly terrified the country mouse in me.

I'd read my book and pretend to be a proper commuter, not a teenage work experience student on her way to type up reports for the energy desk at a massive news agency.

But I can remember the first time I felt frightened and it was at the end of that fortnight. I was heading to meet London Aunt in Covent Garden and had the route mapped out in my head – I could have totally walked by the way – but as my train neared Covent Garden, it sailed on through without stopping. 

Unbeknown to me, the driver had made an announcement about Covent Garden being closed and the train headed on to Piccadilly Circus. I asked a man next to me – his armpit at my eye level – what had just happened but I couldn't hear his reply and 15-year-old me was less happy about declaring her deafness to random strangers. And so, I got off at Piccadilly Circus and my fear of being stuck on a tube train being unable to hear was cemented.

Over the years, deafness has made me frightened of lots of things, which I am gradually trying to overcome and many things that I have already overcome, such as ordering drinks in bars... I went on complete strike doing this as I really cannot hear bar staff but now I just wing it, or tell them I'm deaf. 

But flying for example, is not something I enjoy because whenever the crew make announcements I immediately fear the worst. But I am combatting that by making sure I ask the crew to tell me what's going on, and so far, most have done so.

Dark places. Yep – frightened of them, too. It's like someone's removed my last remaining useful sense... and come to think of it, the underground is essentially dark, especially if you're on a broken down train in a tunnel – my absolute worst fear.

So yes, I'm a big scaredy cat about some things. But that doesn't mean to say I haven't tried to use the Tube since I was 15... 

When I moved to London at 23 for my first job, I got the horrific Wimbledon branch of the District Line daily until being stuck outside Earls Court waiting for a platform in carriages so cramped you didn't need to hold onto anything to remain upright, reignited my phobia and I became amazingly well acquainted with the capital's bus network, which come to think of it could also be my specialist subject on Mastermind

I would still persevere occasionally with mixed success. I was once stuck in a tunnel on a Northern Line train for 20 minutes with a bunch of Greek girls who didn't speak English, but phonetically spoke all the announcements to me so that I knew what was going on and then I tried to act out what the driver was saying so they understood - all while my heart threatened to stop beating with sheer panic.

And after that occasion, I think it was several years before I stepped onto an Underground train again.

But after watching the final episode of Rob's documentary last night, I felt less afraid than I have done in a long time about travelling on the Tube. While I might not be able to hear what is going on, I now feel more reassured that there are hundreds of people monitoring, managing and maintaining the Tube to ensure that passengers get to their destinations without incident. 

Of course, there's always going to be unexpected events where the driver will make announcements I can't hear and turn me into a claustrophobic panicking person – don't we all love those people in confined spaces? – but the majority of the time, it'll be OK.

Which is why this morning, instead of turning left and walking to the bus stop, I turned right and walked to the tube. And got on one. And then got off one stop later, – hey, I didn't say it was going to be easy – before getting on the next one and staying on it all the way to my stop. 

Yes, I dashed for a seat and had to ignore the glares of the person I beat, but it was the only way I could ensure I stayed on the Tube. If I am standing, my feet would walk me straight off at the first opportunity.

Will I ever love travelling on the Tube? Probably not no. But will I always love the Tube? Absolutely.

Watch the TV series peeps. It's aces.

DG
xx

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