Sunday 13 December 2009

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

There is a gigantic Zoo in London that is made up of roughly 270-odd cages. This humongous enclosure covers a large part of Greater London and the neighbouring areas of Hertfordshire, Essex and Buckinghamshire. Every day different specimens prance, roar, squint, fight and sprint in its subterranean coops. Some of the most interesting social interactions I have seen in the animal kingdom have taken place in this den.

Of course, I am referring to the London Underground and its escalators system.

As an ex-commuter I sometimes miss the good old Tube's moving staircase. Call me a masochist, but I have a soft spot for that up and down motor-driven movement. And what really sets my nostalgic pulse racing is the remembrance of the various breeds I came across during those years when I regularly joined the zoological brigade each morning and afternoon during the rush-hour.

Exhibit A is the Hippopotamus Verticalus, a territorial bull of an animal. The hippopotamus is largely harmless when stationary, i.e., standing on the right side of the escalator as all signs indicate. But mention rush-hour and you will see him/her stampeding down the transport device. Pity the person who gets caught in that charge. They will be dragged down mercilessly and without so much as an apology to compensate for the onslaught.

Another specimen notable for its ubiquity is the Vulpes Stǣger ēlectricus, commonly known as 'escalator fox'. This creature, and this applies to both male and female, has some remarkable characteristics such as an endless flirtatious nature. Commonly found on the right side of the moving staircases watching the people going in the opposite direction and fixing their vulpine eyes on them, the escalator fox is the chief contributor to the formation and disintegration of many a platonic relationship. Life span of the aforementioned affair? The couple of minutes it takes you to go up or down the escalator.

The last species I will be describing in today's post is the one to which I belong, the Suricata Observatorus, commonly known as 'Underground Meerkat'. Unlike our cousins in the Kalahari Desert in Bostwana, and in South Africa we don't hang around together, so, please, don't call us 'mob' or 'clan'. What we do do is observe. We love watching people, their quirks and mannerisms and then we write about them on our blogs. The Underground Meerkat has a creative and inquisitive nature, which, alas, sometimes gets them into trouble. Have you ever tried to explain to a bloke that you were not ogling his 'bird', but merely participating in a very human exercise called 'sentry role-play'? Minus the barking sound. We all need to stop somewhere.

These are but three of the many creatures commonly found on the escalators of the London Underground; after all, it is a big Zoo. Lack of space and time means that I have had to exclude some other interesting specimens. For instance, the Loxodonta Passager is similar to the Hippoppotamus but with a better memory. If they feel wronged by you, he/she will remember whereabouts on the escalator you were exactly when the alleged incident took place. And next time you're on the electric device with them, they will remind you. With devastating consequences. The Acinonyx jubatus subterrāneus is the only traveller capable of running up or down the motor-driven device without causing any havoc whatsoever. All you feel is a gust of wind between your legs and the signs of footprints where his/her shoes trod momentarily before. Since his/her speed can reach up to 75 mph, nobody has ever been able to describe one in detail.

This post only concerns itself with the specimens using the London Underground's escalator system. In future columns I will write about the other urban species who populate the platforms and the trains.

As much as I hate to admit it I love the new McDonald's ad. It's one of those guilty pleasures that has been preying on my mind for the last few weeks and to which I have to own up now. The reason for my feeling so ashamed is that I stopped going to the fast-food restaurant many years ago. I remember distinctly when, it was a Sunday and Chelsea had just trashed Spurs 4-0 for the second time that week. My wife, my son and my newborn baby daughter were in the car having some burgers and chips - well not my daughter, obviously. Then my son said: 'I love coming to McDonald's, they always give you a toy'. My wife and I looked at each other only once and we both knew what the other one was thinking. We never crossed the golden arches again.

But now it's different. The new McDonald's ad, with its Rolf Harriesque approach (it's based on a piece by him and Rolf himself gave his approval for his poem to be used), is a work of genius. Bouncy, buoyant and breezy, it is the epitome of British urban cool. The photography is amazing, especially when one takes into account the drabness of McDonald's colours. Another reason for me to be embarrassed is that up to now I have been very snotty when it comes to advertising on telly and if a commercial doesn't look or feel like one of Guinness's promotion clips, I'm not interested. And this comes from a teetotal. But I would willingly forsake my self-imposed exile from the land of alcohol to just sip on a cold Guinness if that implied getting closer to the horses riding on the crest of waves (and the Moby Dick motif), the elderly swimmer and the snail race (shot in Cuba, apparently, correct me if I'm wrong, please).

However, that McDonald's ad is a serious contender for promotion clip of the year. Even if I will still stick to Ed's Easy Diners and Gourmet Burger for a long time to come.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'What Makes a Good Writer?', to be published on Tuesday 15th December at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. OOOH! This is SUCH a great post! Witty and the visual imagery had me ROFL!!

    My favourite creature is (not that I'm biased or anything) the *Suricata Observatorus*, commonly known as 'Underground Meerkat'!

    And I would KILL right now for a double thick from Ed's Easy Diner. Last time I had one was way back in 2007 when I visited my niece who lives in London.

    Super, fun post for a mellow Sunday morning!

    (Win one of five unique prizes from South Africa in the Christmas Contest on my blog)

  2. Thanks, Ann. For some odd reason the clip's specs are too large for my computer screen (is it the same for you?). I changed the measurements just now, to the smallest size on my youtube channel but still the problem persists. If you want to maximise the screen, and indeed, I advise you to, you can right-click on it and it will take you to youtube. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    Ann, I will be linking you post about metaphors as soon as possible.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Howzit Cuban! Just to let you know I played/opened the links with no problem on my laptop.

    And thanks for entering my contest! :)

  4. Oops, sorry! I see a "south-africanism" crept in there. "Howzit" = hello! :0

    (Yebo, my bru, now you practice saying it for FIFA 2010 World Cup Soccer!)

  5. Buona domenica Cuban!

    Molto bello il tuo post! Lo Zoo, la metropolitana, le scale, la multicultura.....
    Pensandoci bene, alla fine descrivi la giungla di cittá :)

    Immagina un pó come si sentirebbe un essere che non é mai stato in una cittá come Londra ad esempio ;)
    Un pó ci si sente cosi, quando la si affronta, no?
    Come dimostra questa scena di un film degli anni ottanta, con Adriano Celentano. Dove interpreta un uomo-scimmia che per la prima volta vede una cittá ;)

    Saluti da Colonia,
    Salva :)

  6. Love the commuter descriptions. I shall be there tomorrow and will think of this!

  7. At last, a good identification of my predilections...Underground Meerkat... thank you for the naming and the post and the lovely riff about commercials...

  8. Ha! This Underground Zoo metaphor is totally working for me. I remember most clearly the days when the escalator was broken. I’d go with a mountain metaphor. And the strikes. I do love the map.

    I preferred MacDonald’s in the UK only because it has a veggie burger. I’d still rather stay clear of them. My kids when little loved Happy Meals but now they hate chain stores as much as I do. I did enjoy the new ad – it shows how adaptive McD’s is. I can’t imagine poetry selling burgers in the US. We LOVE the Guiness ads which have traveled to the US – brilliant!

    Thanks for starting my Sunday with laughter. You should do more of this social satire.

  9. Yes, I too miss the escalator experience, though it was never a daily affair for me. Still, I did have to travel around London a lot and I do remember its bear pit side as well.

  10. You've made me so homesick I can't even tell you. I adore the underground and all it's quirks and people and staff and ticket machines and escalators. We used to fume about the 'stupid tourists' who didn't know that you were supposed to stand on the right hand side only.

    That guinness ad with the horses and the waves was fantastic. As I remember it was voted the best ad of the decade or something like that.

    I despise McDonalds and haven't gone to eat there since I was thirteen but I haven't seen the ad you're talking about so can't comment on it.


  11. another fun post, Cuban


    had us going there with the Zoo and all.

    we DO relate!

    {actually, we think we're the
    Vulpes Stǣger variety, *embarrased*;
    but what's the fun in being an old man if'n
    ya can't be a durty old man?}

    jez kiddin'


    mickey-Dee's has opened an Euro-style MCD in
    Union Square. its all the rage now.
    aside from the fries we're not too crazy
    with the cuisine, nohwaddeyemeen?

    DO have a HUGE collection of their give-aways,
    which we will soon give-away to open up
    space in the ole storage room (closet) if'n
    we ever have the courage to dispose of said plastic LOTR and Spidey toys.


    Elbow video rox! {a little too loud for OUR sunday mornin' but what the heck, we DID need
    to wake up and start the day.

    thanks agin, friend,
    keep on bloggin'


  12. If only the tube would keep running until 2am it would be so much easier to get around - a piece of tube trivia for you - when escalators were first put in people were too terrified to use them so London transport paid a one-legged man to merrily hop up and down the escalators all day every day to prove how easy they were to use. Thanks for a great post and Greetings from a sunshine sunday here in Mexico!

  13. this is awesome, my man!
    un abrazo, bro.

  14. For some reason I can't get the clip, I will go to YouTube.

    I would be so lost in that system.

    Great post.


  15. dear Mr. Cuban,
    I'll answer your kind blog response with a blog at some point, but in the meantime I'll tell you a secret only my daughter knows...I love to watch/listen to TV cartoons...not the old cartoons that terrified me, but the new ones like Ninja Turtle which I find very comforting...
    and I'll leave you for the moment with a couple of facts that I learned this week on National Public Radio...they may not be correct, but they sound right...that women still earn 20% less than men (that's young women!) and that 1/3 of Afro-American men do not have jobs..Jesse Jackson said that as I was driving home. He may be slightly wrong, but I rather doubt it..

  16. London, this is so great. The post, with all those cool ads, of course, I specially enjoyed the one in Cuba, but what really got me going was the video.
    I was Elbow's tour guide in Havana in 2005! REALLY COOKL GUYS. And I loved their music, too. I was not their original guide but when I found out there were two British rock bands coming, I talked to the guide and we changed groups. She didn't like rock anyway.
    I had a GREAT time with them and I was a real pleasure. I found some time ago an interview where the drummer mentions me.
    So you can imagine what your video did to me, haha. Now I'm listening to some of their new songs. They gave me a dvd with their signatures at the end of their trip.

  17. i wish anchorage had an underground. maybe our homeless would be warmer.

  18. I enjoyed this post very much. The post on good literature that we talked about will be published on Sat. Dec. 19. Thanks again.

  19. Many thanks for your kind words.

    Greetings from London.

  20. hahaha! great post! and once again, as I read it, I thought "thank God for bikes" because if it wasn't for bikes I would be joining that jungle or Zoo every day, all the way from High Barnet to Goodge Street... I did actually take the train a couple of times over the past two weeks, on those days when it poured, and it drove me mad. I'm no good with crowds and I am ashamed to admit that I have behaved like a Hippopotamus Verticalus on an escalator once or twice in my past. luckily the stations I use have lifts and stairs...

    great post, very, very funny!

    have a great week


  21. Oh I wish we had witty and introspective ads like this one. American ads for MacDonalds are always loud and obvious. Meercat? I can totally see that. I love the Tube and wouldn't travel any other way in London except for a black cab. Great post.

  22. A fabulous post this, reminding me of my life in the sixties, when I spent many years travelling on the tube, getting off at Bond Street - good days they were too. So many tales and memories came to mind when reading this post - wonderful.
    Also one of my most favourite bands Elbow - super super super.

  23. I always enjoy your posts my friend.

  24. This has got to be one of the most creative posts I've seen. You've done a great job describing the typical "beasts" that inhabit your city. I live in a laid-back part of Florida--a small town near a slightly larger town where escalators exist only at the Sears store in the mall and at the airport. You've opened my eyes to a whole new world!

  25. The silent observer of human creatures...that was a very interesting description of the 'zoo'. Thank you for your visit and for your comment, I am reminded that I haven't visited you in a while.. I will be bac to finish reading your very interesting posts.

  26. Your post reminded me of the years i spent in London . Damn, I love this city!
    And the underground was the first one i used and is better than Paris'.Mc Donalds ad is fantastic! BTW Love your header , so artistic!

  27. I just read your species descriptions to my husband - thanks for adding levity to our morning :-D

    The long, long escalators in the London Underground are a mechanical wonder.

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