Continuing on with yesterday's silliness on London "sports" - this section is probably my personal favourite from all the Letters from London that I wrote. And whenever I go back to visit and I take the Tube, I realize that this is still as accurate now as when I wrote it - anytime you're in London, I guarantee you'll end up playing at least one of these...
Written somewhere around March/April 2001
3. Underground Games:
Body Climb - this is played when your train pulls into the station and all you can see when the doors open is hundreds of people crammed in like unhappy sardines in overcoats. Getting onto this train seems impossible, right? And you call yourself a Londoner? Shame on you! Didn't you see those two inches of space on the floor? All you have to do is wedge your toe into that space, and then fling yourself at the crowd over and over again like a demented lemming until you finally get a hand onto a support of some kind. Hey, now you're really in business! You've got one foot and one hand in, never mind the fact that your arse is still hanging out in front of the other twenty people on the platform who are kicking themselves for missing the opportunity that you so cleverly spotted. Now this is where training is very important; at this point, you might still fail in your mission. Don’t worry, just make sure your foot and your hand are firmly planted, then grind your way in with your pelvis like you're Elvis on Viagra. Eventually your arse will make it past the doors, and once that's in, your head and your remaining appendages will follow, I promise.
The Imaginary Shag - the object of the game is to select an object of desire among your fellow passengers, one that you fancy enough to fantasize about. And if they get off the train before you do, you have to choose a new person. Oh, what's that? Easy game? Oh, but I beg to differ. It would be an easy game in a lot of places, but London ain't one of them, kids. Why's that, you ask? Because some of the other games you can play on the Underground are:
Who hasn't been to the dentist since 1974?
Who's a bleary-eyed drunk at 11 a.m?
Who smokes so much they smell like the Marlboro factory?
Who's completely unacquainted with the niceties of personal hygiene?
And there are many, many more, but you get the idea. I play this one all the time, and consider myself to be a very advanced player, but some days it's just an impossible challenge.
Self-Control - oh, this one is fun. You can only play this when the trains are really, really crowded (which, in London, is every rush hour, so you can play this a lot). What you have to do is wait for some uncontrollable impulse; for example, your left eyebrow is itchy. Oh yeah, it's itchy. Itchyitchyitchy. You have to scratch it, there's nothing in the world that would make you happier than to scratch it, if you had a million dollars you'd give it away if it meant you could scratch your damn eyebrow. But you can't scratch it. No, no, no. That's the whole point of the game. When you're stuffed into a train like this, the mechanics of moving any part of your body become very complicated. Your right arm is pinned firmly to your side by a fat man in a pinstriped suit. His face is red and his breath is like that of a piranha. You wonder if his wife lets him kiss her with that breath. You know he has a wife, because his left hand is desperately clinging to the pole next to your head, and his wedding ring is directly in front of your left eyeball. Your left arm is in the air, desperately clinging to the pole above your head. There is an ugly man directly in front of you, desperately clinging to the same pole as you, but he's much taller, and therefore his elbow is jammed firmly into your right nostril. You are only peripherally aware of these things, however, because the need to scratch your left eyebrow is becoming unbearable. Any minute now you will either scream, or offer to sleep with the ugly man in front of you if he will just use his free hand to scratch your eyebrow. You are opening your mouth to do one or the other, you're not sure which one yet, when you suddenly realize that the train is rocketing into a station and is about to stop, which means that you only have to hold out for another couple of seconds before you can stop desperately clinging to the pole and scratch your eyebrow at will. And that, boys and girls, is how you play Self-Control.