Walk the Lines
The London Underground
By Mark Mason
As a lifelong fan of London, Mark Mason embarks on a mission to ‘conquer’ the capital once and for all. The only way to truly discover a city, they say, is on foot. Taking this to extremes, Mark sets out to walk the entire length of the London Underground – overground – passing every station on the way.
Over the course of several hundred miles, he comes to understand a sprawling metropolis that never ceases to surprise. In a story packed with historical trivia, personal musings and eavesdropped conversations, Mark learns how to get the best gossip in a City pub, how the Ritz made its female guests feel good about themselves, 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’.
On a broader level, 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.
The synopsis is exactly what you get on this journey walking the streets that run alongside the London Underground – but above ground.
The information shared is very interesting – I found it fascinating. It’s not just historical information (which I love) but insights into the businesses, shops, architecture and residents that populate those streets that the author walks. He can tell how affluent an area is and how much a part of the hub of London a place is. In a way, this book reminds me of the work of Charles Booth – Charles Booth completed a survey into life and labour in London dating from 1886 to 1903.
Another fascinating thing I found was the psychology of walking and map-reading that the author explores. As his journey progresses, he is affected on a deeper level and he finds insights into why he enjoys walking and why he needs this challenge. There is philosophy on what the journey actually means to him.
Mark Mason writes with humour – it is not a long drawn-out read. The time just flies by while you’re reading.
I found myself saying to my husband, ‘do you know why …………………?’ and when he said no, telling him he would have to wait to read the book to find out!
It’s not always Mark Mason walking on his own. Geoff Nicholson who is the author of Bleeding London and The Lost Art of Walking joins him at one point. They walk together from Camden Town to Highgate. His mate Richard joins him for the part of Harrow-to-Uxbridge and he also completes a pub-crawl on the Circle Line with another mate.
I was intrigued by the Cake Circle created by the ex-pop musician, Bill Drummond. I love the reason why he started this – again, there is a philosophy behind this. I think I would probably be fazed if he rang my doorbell but would recover and invite him in for a cuppa!
My navigational skills are dire and I’ve always detested maps. However, reading this book has given me a different perspective. I don’t think I will ever feel the same again when I look at a map!
If you like Bill Bryson’s books then you will certainly enjoy this book.
Walk the Lines – the London Underground OVERGROUND is published by Random House Books 14 July 2011.
Mark Mason can be found tweeting more interesting snippets.
Born in the Midlands in 1971, Mark Mason moved to London when he was 20. Over the next 13 years he sold Christmas cards in Harrods, made radio programmes for the BBC and busked outside Eric Clapton gigs at the Royal Albert Hall. He also published three novels, several books of non-fiction, and has written for publications as diverse as The Spectator and Four Four Two. He continues to do some of these things – Mark is currently writing for The Daily Telegraph’s Culture blog – though has now defected to Suffolk, where he lives with his partner and son.