Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
Extraordinary in every way
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.