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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Tunnel Visions: Journeys of an Underground Philosopher
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on 1 September 2001
In the bleakest days of winter I sit in my house staring out at the overcast greyness, feeling sorry for myself. But after reading Christopher Ross' first book Tunnel Visions, I'll never complain again. I thought I had it bad. But imagine a job which comes with a cheap polyester uniform and a pair of Doc Marten boots, where the biggest thrill is skiving off all day in a broom cupboard. It's a job in which your colleagues get jealous when someone commits suicide right in front of you, as it would ensure them paid leave for counselling. You never even see the darkest winter sky, as you're 200 feet underground, in a vile crowded tunnel, which stinks of bad air. Worse still, the place is filled with bitter, angry people who you're supposed to help out.
Such a place does exist. It's called The London Underground, and the job is a SA - Station Assistant. Even after reading his book, I'm still not quite sure what drove Ross underground. He had been a high flying lawyer, a traveller, a fine rug dealer in the Middle East. He'd even studied an ancient style of sword fighting in Japan. In the opening pages Ross explains that he needed a job which would give him a lot of time to think. Most of us would get rid of the TV or start going for long walks, but an underground philosopher requires far more challenging surroundings.
After learning how to cross a live rail safely, and to always look an abusive member of the public right in the eye, Ross found himself on platform 6 of 'Oxo' (Underground slang for Oxford Circus). The diary of his time spent pacing up and down the 200 feet of concrete, thinking, makes for one of the strangest works of philosophical travel imaginable.
It is a book packed with odds and ends of thought, and gems of peculiar information. We learn that London Underground has a 'private arrangement' with the IRA, and that Newcastle's Metro system has driven away teenage vandals simply by playing classical muzak through the public address system. We learn, too, that the University of the South Bank pays £50 cash to people who bring in ten days' worth of faeces; and that all those broken chocolate machines on Underground platforms have been doctored by station assistants, who reap the crop of lost coins twice a day.
We learn too that at Oxford Circus there's never a dull moment. The central area - called 'the Bullring' to those in the know - has seen its fair share of melodrama. In the space of a few weeks a naked man was captured streaking there; a young chap in the kiosk was found arousing himself over the stock of chocolate bars; and a crazed busker sunk his front teeth into Ross' hand as he made his escape by leaping over the barriers.
Next time you trudge through the Bullring's rush-hour bustle, spare a thought for the ill-paid, ill-dressed Station Assistant. More likely than not he's had a hard day with suicides, streakers, hormonal women late for work, and the constant threat of bombs - not to mention the ever-present danger of human bites.
Tunnel Visions could well find itself with a cult, if not underground following. As you read it, you can't help wondering what other offbeat, uniformed individuals are lurking in the winding passageways, or hiding in the broom cupboards near platform number six.
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on 14 April 2001
I was blown away by this book. A review I read said it was like Zen & the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, only better. It is - both better and like that book because it deals with philosophy which is lived and tested and found to be true. I read philosophy at university and have been able to spot some of the hidden echoes in the text. Frequently what seems like an ordinary passage turns out on re-reading to be deeply profound. It's hard to explain how he has done this. Destined to be a classic.
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on 9 August 2001
I knew the author of this book slightly over 15 years ago when he was a tax lawyer. I attended a lecture he gave and concluded, as did several colleagues, that he had one of the most brilliant legal analytical minds I had ever encountered. I was, therefore, intrigued at his new incarnation as writer and philosopher. I found this book atonishingly good and artful in the extreme in the way it uses such simple language to nail philosophies of science and ideas while narrating the frame story of a mundane job on the London Underground - clearly a structural device for the human sub-conscious. A great book by a dazzling mind I believed had disappeared.
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on 8 July 2001
This book is written in oddly simply language and has the feel of prose poetry in one or two sections. I would guess the author is holding back or has polished his text until it seems effortless - but is in fact a demonstraion of a highly subtle mastery of how to express complex ideas simply.
On the face of it this is a book about a menial job, working on the London Underground. But really it is a summation of the hollowness of our lives in large cities and the trivial concerns of contemporary society - televison, sport, spin politics etc.It is also a blueprint for a more serious and rewarding approach to life.
I found this book resonated long after I had put it down and believe it may well be a masterpiece. What will he do next? I for one cannot wait.
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on 19 April 2001
When I read Tunnel Visions, I literally couldn't put it down. It is a book that works effortlessly on many different levels and has a lot to offer anyone. It is extremely well written, very funny, definitely interesting (regardless of your knowledge of the underground) and above all thought provoking. I both thoroughly enjoyed this book and learnt a lot from it. I cannot recommend it highly enough. One of my favourite quotes is from Oscar Wilde: "We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars." What Christopher Ross has written is not only one of those stars, but one of the brightest. A must-read book.
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on 15 April 2001
I simply can't understand how anyone might think this book is a disappointment. I couldn't put it down. It is moving, funny, and Christopher Ross is clearly a very interesting - if slightly eccentric - man who appears to see things in a fresh and distinct way. So different from the usual "philosophy" books which merely rehash old ideas we've heard a million times round the dinner table. We want more books like this please. And if he's ever in Cornwall he's more than welcome to come and share his insights with us down here. We may not have an Underground, but his ideas are just as relevant for us as they are for Londoners.
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on 28 June 2001
Three friends of mine who don't know each other recommended this book to me in the space of a week. Then it turned out my father was raving about it. I had to read it and see what all the fuss is about. I bought it in the afternoon and went to bed at 2.00am having read the last page. One of the funniest, profoundly written and original books I have ever read. Can't say I am interested in the Tube - but its not about the Tube, but about life as a journey. I feel better equipped to journey on and hope he has more in store for us in further books.
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on 10 May 2001
The stories of the bizarre life below Oxford Circus are funny and the philosophical lessons fascinating. He makes you think about a vast variety of things from new angles - travelling, working, the martial arts, the importance of breakfast... The book is simply written and leaves you wanting more. I can't wait for Christopher Ross's next book
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VINE VOICEon 25 November 2003
This book offers an account of the author's time working for the London underground. On this level alone it is both interesting and informative: the ins and outs of his work as a Station Master are described meticulously, and there is even a compelling desciption of the mad training process all the staff have to endure before starting work. However this is by no means a handbook for tube-lovers; on top of all the technicalities the text is permeated by thoughts and ideas. Dry humour combined with witty anecdotes abound, and there are several excerpts from the author's past recounting his experiences in foreign countries.
This book is arranged by concepts (that is, ideas dealt with one by one, each with its own chapter) and because of this, there are about sixty chapters, and no consistent thread. Nonetheless, this is a style reminiscent of diaries or journals, and so you are not merely reading an account or even a novel, you are being shown an area close to and dear to the author. This is only superficially a book about the tube; really it is the author's self-portrait. Indeed, upon finishing, I realised that though I had learnt much about the tube, I felt I knew more about Christopher Ross.
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on 19 May 2001
If you want philosophy that is based on the real world then this book is for you. The language is simple which helps to draw the reader into a very real world. Every so often there are moments of beauty in Ross's work. My favourite passage is where he is guiding a very perceptive blind man around and when the man gets on the train:
"a pale white butterfly hovered momentarily in the place he had been standing, then flew away down the platform, over the heads of the crowd. I noticed that no one looked up and it passed unseeen until I too lost sight of it."
Read this book and you probably will have a different view of the London Underground when you next travel on it....or indeed travel on it for the first time. Underneath the grime, the bad tempers, the late running, the mice and the general rush, it makes you take a moment to stand back and watch.
Perhaps one day you will see a white butterfly emerging from the dark tunnels.
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