I’m really interested in how different people experience the same place; how one space is in fact a multitude of different spaces.

I was writer-in-residence on the Central line (on the London Underground) last year (a commission for Art on the Underground). My brief was to work with staff across the line to create new work, and the fantastic thing about it was getting a completely new experience of a place that I (and millions of others) have passed through thousands of times and never really thought of as a place.

Travelling in the driver’s cab of a tube train gave me an entirely different experience of being on the tube – the intense darkness of the tunnels, the soupy yellow light of the stations, the isolation of being in this tiny space, whilst knowing millions of people were flowing through the system behind the cab door, on the other side of the window.

As part of the residency I wrote two short stories inspired by conversations and journeys with two Central line tube drivers, Francesca Alaimo and Jerry Semple. Here are a couple of quotes. If you want to read more, you can download the book of the project from Art on the Underground’s website, and/or listen to either story online.

The platform at Bond Street bleaches into view. Someone’s left a kiwi for the mice, and one’s already chewed through the skin, leaving bright green memories of its teeth. Marble Arch. Lancaster Gate. Queensway. Jake stares at his reflection, but his father’s gone. He switches the light off and sits back down, stares into the black space rushing towards him, the cable-runs like clusters of veins on each side.
[From Early Turn]

When I clean a train, I start from the front end and work my way to the back. By the time I’ve finished, the driver’s walked through to the other cab, so back and front have switched around.
People are messier when it’s wet and when it’s hot; I’ve learnt that. When it’s hot they leave behind empty drinks cans and torn ice-cream wrappers. The train holds onto the warmth of their breath and their skin. When it rains, the abandoned newspapers are damp and ripped. People forget scarves and umbrellas, and I find gloves, separated from their partners, huddled into tight balls in the corners of the seats.

[From Talking About The Weather]


Hidden Spaces – a month of blogs by members about their hidden space – whether they be real, imagined, unbuilt, cut-off from the public, demolished, spiritually significant or politically sublimated. Read more from the series.