I spend about two hours a day travelling across London on the tube. Westwards in the morning and then back Eastwards of an evening. Usually without a seat, I stand somewhere out of the way, bury my head in a book and pass the time whatever way I can. Yet the journey is usually troubled by other people. Not those people who travel the same route every day and behave well; but troubled by those who stand in the way, swing bags around and generally provide an annoyance. I am no expert on tube etiquette, but I offer below my ten rules for how to travel by tube without annoying me...
1. Let others off the train before pushing your way on
Tubes are busy. They are full of people. Quite often the train will pull into the platform and it's natural to stare into the windows as the train slows and wonder just how any more people will possibly fit on the train. The answer is, usually, that people will get off the train and you can squeeze on into the space they free up. But they are not going to be able to get off if you're standing right in the middle of the door. When the train stops, stand to one side of the door or other and leave a corridor for people to pile off the train. On the Jubilee Line, you even have the doors on the platform, so you can line yourself up before the train even arrives. Oh, and wait until the last person is off the train before you rush to board. It's common sense really - you can't get on until we get off. It won't kill you to stand out of the way and I'm much less likely to barge you out of the way if you do...
2. Get out of the way of people trying to get off the train
People aren't packed onto the train in any sort of order. When the train stops, it's very likely that some of the people who want to get off will be away from the doors and if you're one of the people by the door who doesn't want to get off, then you'll have to get out the way somehow. Getting out of the way means moving. It doesn't mean smiling in the hope that people won't mind you standing in their way if you look pleasant and apologetic. It doesn't mean sucking in your stomach in the hope that the extra inch or so created will be enough for someone to squeeze past. It also doesn't mean standing in exactly the same place and tutting at everyone who pushes past. It's not hard to do. When the train stops, step to one side - even if that means getting off the train. Nobody will mind if you stand near the door and get back on the train first. The train isn't going to leave without you.
3. Put your bag on the floor
It's pretty normal that lots of the people on the tube will be carrying a bag. Back packs, hand bags or those stupid bags that woman sling over their shoulder and which stick out two feet behind them. Next time you see a person, have a look at them. You'll notice that in most cases they are wider at the top than near the floor. That means that when you pack lots of them together, there's usually a bit of spare space near the floor. So if you're carrying a bag, take it off your shoulder or back and put it down on the floor. Not only will you create more space, but you'll be much less likely to forget you're wearing the bag and whack someone with it when you turn around.
4. Hold tight
Tube trains start and stop. Sometimes they stop in the tunnel quite quickly. If you've got a GCSE in Physics (or "Science" or whatever they call it these days) then you'll be familiar with the concept of momentum. When the train stops, you (and your bag) will still have some momentum, meaning that when the train stops, you will continue to travel forward briefly. You can stop this happening if you hold on. There are plenty of handrails (but see below!) and if you stand firmly with one hand tightly on a grip then you won't shove your face, bag or even boobs (yes, I saw a woman with huge boobs hit a guy with them on the tube the other day) into someone else every time the train stops. If you think you've got good balance, then by all means put two hands on your phone to play that game and use your legs to stop yourself flying around when the train stops or starts. It is possible. But it's not easy. And unless you're really sure you can do it, do us all a favour and hold on!
5. Respect personal space
Even on a packed tube train, personal space is important. People bang into each other from time to time, and that's just a fact of life. But please, don't touch my hand with yours on the handrail. And if you are going to bump into me as the train stops or starts, then please try to avoid bumping into any part of me which you may consider personal. No matter how attractive you are, I really don't want you to be touching me on the tube, I'm afraid.
6. Give up your seat to someone who needs it more
A tricky one, this. But if you are young, fit and healthy and there's an old person, or a person with a cast on their leg, or a pregnant woman then offer them your seat. I'm not particular keen on the idea of a fit healthy man giving up his seat for a fit and healthy woman (though if you are - go for it!) but use some common sense. Everyone likes to sit down on the tube, but for some people standing isn't just an inconvenience; it's a real pain - literally.
Not long ago, I did something to my foot. Standing up was pretty painful, and so I didn't offer my seat to an elderly woman on the tube. I got an earful from another guy in the carriage. So even if those around you aren't offering up their seat, you should offer up yours. There may be a reason they are staying seated. But even if they are just being selfish, it doesn't mean you have to be, too!
7. Have a wash
Hot summer days make people sweaty. Scientists have slaved away in the pay of huge cosmetic companies to make deodorants. The least you can do is repay them by using some. Your armpits face away from you, so you may not be able to smell it - but they point straight at other people and they definitely will smell it. Being pushed up tight together with strangers in a metal tube flying underground on a hot day is unpleasant enough; don't make it worse for the rest of us by adding unpleasant smells to the mix.
8. Remember that hand rails are for hands
Those big poles in the middle of the carriage are for holding onto. They aren't for kids to spin around. They aren't for women to give impromptu pole-dancing displays (though actually, I've only ever seen guys doing this on the tube). They certainly aren't backrests. If you are using a handrest for something other than holding with your hands, then you're taking it away from all those people who want to hold on with their hands. Turn around, stretch out your hand, and hold on like everyone else.
9. Don't feel the need to give a commentary on journey
I notice this one the most when there's an event on at the O2. A group of people will start making conversation with commuters.
"Oh, isn't it busy?"
"Is it like this every day?"
"I wouldn't want to do this every day"
"Oh look, people trying to get off and having to push past other people".
All accompanied with chuckling and laughter.
Yes, we do it every day. No, we don't enjoy it. But it's a fact of life, and it's much easier for me if I just bury myself in a book and don't have a running commentary on it. I'm not one of those people who completely eschews conversation on the tube. Engage me in conversation if you want, I'll happily chat. But chat to me about something other than the horrible journey we're both currently enjoying.
10. Remember that you're probably not the most important person on the train
Delays happen all the time. The train will stop in a tunnel. The doors will jam at a station. Sometimes we all have to pile off because the train is going out of service. There are hundreds and hundreds of people on every tube train. If the train is 5 minutes delayed, then every one of those people will arrive where they are going at least 5 minutes later than planned. Don't feel the need to tut, or complain about how it affects you personally, or tell us all how you're going to be late for something terribly important. If it were that important in the first place, then you should've allowed a bit of contingency in your journey. Whilst I have some sympathy for the fact that you're being delayed; I am being delayed too, so shut it with the moaning!
And if we do have to get off the train. Don't push. You are no more important than anyone else, and whatever that very important thing you're rushing to do, I bet you that in most cases there's something behind you with something even more important to go and do. Just be polite and take your place in the queue. You may have to wait a further thirty seconds to get on the escalator out of there, but at least you can do so without everyone thinking you're a cock.