“A man once said. “A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.” I might have to agree. Since I moved to London, books that revolve around the city have been cropping up on my radar more. One I’ve been dipping in and out of, not ‘reading’ in giant hunks, but one I’ve enjoyed all the same. Walk the Lines by Mark Mason.
The only way to truly discover a city, they say, is on foot. Taking this to extremes, Mark Mason sets out to walk the entire length of the London Underground, passing every station on the way.
In a story packed with historical trivia, personal musings and eavesdropped conversations, Mark learns how to get the best gossip in the City. Where to find a pint at 7am, and why the Bank of England won’t let you join the M11 northbound at Junction 5. He has an East End cup of tea with the Krays’ official biographer, discovers what cabbies mean by ‘on the cotton’, and meets the Archers star who was the voice of ‘Mind the Gap’.
Over the course of several hundred miles, Mark contemplates London’s contradictions as well as its charms. He gains insights into our fascination with maps and sees how walking changes our view of the world. Above all, in this love letter to a complicated friend, he celebrates the sights, sounds and soul of the greatest city on earth.
As the blurb suggests the book follows Mason who has lived in around London and like many Londoner’s (I assume) has become interested in the ever changing map of the Underground. Wandering around where he lives, he travels up a side-street he hasn’t before and realizes if he continues he’ll create a triangle back to his house – a realization he hasn’t made before. He decides to walk the entirety of each length of the line in a type of homage to the city. Line by line he beings to walk these tube lines and tells us a lot about the city I bloody adore.
I just want to put in a little aside here. Mason only walks 11 of the London Underground Lines refusing to walk the Overground Line and the DLR. (I find this a little unfair – definitely still part of London.) Mason wanders the line giving snippets of local history that might one day help on a pub quiz. He is a really entertaining narrator (especially in the beginning of the book) and I found myself desperate to undertake the walks myself especially the Circle Line Pub Crawl.
I haven’t finished this book and it’s why I’m also yet to finish a Bill Bryson book. The beginning of the book is really interesting. It’s new ground, it’s a non-fiction book written in a fiction style. As you can imagine we do end up walking through endless housing estates. As the lines cross we do get quite a bit of repetition.
The first couple of stations take up a couple of chapters. But as we go further stations take up a quarter of this. I think a big selling point to this (unless on the DLR) is you get to pick out your station. Many don’t get the coverage unless they’re big names (ie Wimbledon or Morden.) The pub crawl is fun but it does feel as though Mason realized that he needed to make it fun. Following this certain walks are done at night (which does stop the author seeing the highlights.)
I think a main problem is that it doesn’t really reference people. It mainly references buildings and so it lacks a little passion.
So, what did I think. I really enjoyed dipping in and out of this book. Read one tube line, put the book down for a bit, read another tube line. It’s not a book I think I could physically read in one go because it’s too heavy. It’s a perfect gift for a new Londoner or a walker who might be tempted to walk the 11 lines. For me a great dip in and out but not quite there.