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Every once in a while I have an adventure so peculiar, I feel compelled to talk to you about it.  Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Tube, and as you may know, the London Underground and London Transport Museum has decided to run some of the original steam trains to celebrate.  

Last night Spouse caught wind that they were running a steam train at around 10 o’clock at night between Acton and somewhere in central London on the District Line.  This hadn’t happened for forty years so was a real opportunity for a rare photo.  Spouse worked out the best station on that stretch in the line, and off we went, me wearing my lovely new tube scarf he got me for my birthday and brandishing my whopping big camera.

In retrospect this was a mistake.  The steam tube train was (perhaps inevitably) running late, and bored we took some test shots of current trains to make sure we were at the right angle, and so on.  We were on an entirely empty station, so we were fairly obtrusive, and we attracted the attention of the staff.  They pointed out we had not obtained permission in advance.  Then followed a prolonged debate, which was only interrupted by the train itself arriving.

We heard it before we saw it.  It arrived in a flourish of steam and whistles, and was unhelpfully flanked by a Piccadilly line tube. I’m no transport geek, but it was a magnificent thing to see.  We all held our breaths as we gazed upon this ancient mechanical dragon, still able to chug through the night at a full ten miles an hour.  And as we all took our moment of wonder, I discreetly lifted my lens and pressed the button.


As the thing went through, the Supervisor asked if I had taken any photographs, and I looked him full square in the eye, and said no. We then all agreed that we’d do it differently next time, and went our respective ways. I will doubtless go to hell for my terrible falsehood, but hey ho. 

What have we learned from this?  We’ve learned that taking a photo on the Tube network requires formal permission even if you are a private individual.  One must never use a flash, and the staff may stop you if they think you are causing an obstruction.  If there’s a particular shot you want to take, you might want to at least at least ask properly before you set to with your box brownie.   

But more importantly, we’ve learned that there is a curious beauty in old things that still work.  As we went home muttering that it was a shame that the steam train had been flanked by the tube, Chris had a moment’s inspiration.

“I know what caused that,” he said.  “That tube train could have easily passed the steam engine. I bet he decided to drive alongside it, knowing that neither he nor his passengers would ever get to do it again.  I think he probably decided to give them all a thrill.”

It made perfect sense.  And in one sense, it was perfect to see the old train and the new side by side, travelling along as old comrades, both of whom serving a generally bad-tempered and indifferent public.  

I love the Tube.  Not in a geeky way, but I love the way it is the heart and soul of this old town, that takes us from the suburbs to all these glorious sights and sounds of this global city that touches all our lives in so many ways. So happy birthday to the Tube, and God bless all who sail in her.

The 150 Celebration Trains are running on 13 and 20 January, and full details of this and other events are available from here:  http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/tube150/calendar

Next time, we continue our transport related theme through the maddest birthday outing ever. 

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