Here as promised is the first of a series of posts I shall be doing about my special interests. I am starting with public transport, and in this post I shall be referring to events that took place long before I was diagnosed as autistic.
GREAT ORMOND STREET HOSPITAL AND THE BIRTH OF A SPECIAL INTEREST
I was a patient in a child psychiatric unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital for over a year in the early 1980s. The trigger for the illness that put me there appears to have been a bout of chickenpox. For the first half of my time there I was an in-patient, at the hospital 24/7, and then when they deemed it safe for me to sent home at nights I was a day patient. Although I cannot remember a time when trains did not interest me, it was during this period that I would say that my special interest in public transport was formed.
My family moved to London in 1979, when I was four, and I have a London Underground map from that time:
Now, here is an edited version, highlighting the two key stations:
Tooting Bec was our local station, just about a mile from our house, while Russell Square is the station for Great Ormond Street Hospital. My father would take me there in the mornings and pick me up in the afternoons, using London Underground. We took some very bizarre routes, as my fascination grew, which sometimes led to my father getting awkward questions from ticket inspectors (yes folks, in those days London Underground had on-train ticket inspectors).
TEENAGE YEARS – GOING SOLO
In later years I was able to explore on my own, and when I was in my early teens the child rate for a one-day travelcard was only 90p, so I would often go out on a Saturday and explore London transport in detail (I used various local railway lines as well as the Underground, though in those days I did not make much use of buses). It was also in this period that I discovered the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden.
A big moment for me was the opening of The Docklands Light Railway (I travelled on it on its first day of operation way back in 1987, and it was a huge buzz to be there at the start of a new development in public transport). In particular I first developed the method of visiting Greenwich described in this post on www.londontu.be as a teenager, and since the DLR was then pretty much brand spanking new I claim to be the pioneer of that method.
Like most who have been regular users of it I came to despise the Northern Line, and later in my teenage years it was a thing with me to make my excursions without using the Northern line (this meant starting and finishing at one of various railway stations which were walkable from home – Tooting, Streatham Common, Streatham, or Streatham Hill). A frequent finish to my excursions was to take the Hammersmith & City line to Hammersmith, get an eastbound District line train to Earl’s Court and then cross the platform to get a Wimbledon train, finally changing to railway train to Tooting.
At the same time as I was exploring public transport in London to the full I was also learning more about its history and development.
Very late in my teens I became a regular commuter, because after finishing at my local comprehensive I decided to resit my Chemistry ‘A’ Level and do the first year of Maths and Physics ‘A’ Levels at Richmond Upon Thames College of Further Education, whose local station was Twickenham, two stops west of Richmond. I had two regular routes there, either travelling in my mother’s car as far as Baron’s Court (the nearest station to the school she was teaching at in that period), District to Richmond, train to Twickenham, or from home, walk to Balham (about a half-hour walk, perfectly manageable for an 18 year old), get a train to Clapham Junction and change for another train to Twickenham. The fastest trains over the Clapham Junction – Twickenham section were those going to Reading, which did it non-stop. Those trains were also the only ones that still had manually opened and closed doors (two choices folks, either slam the thing, making a monstrous crash, which most people did, or learn, as I did, how the catches worked so that one could shut the door quietly).
When I revisit this series, probably at the weekend, the story will move away from London, as I did, and will indeed go international. To finish for today, here are some old pictures of Tooting Bec Station, taken from the book Bright Underground Spaces: