Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Random Thought #1: Oblivious Tubing

Have you ever thought about why you know where you are when you get out of the Tube? (Or any means of transportation for that matter?)

Now, the smart ones will of course argue that every Tube stop has a number of rather large signs indicating where you are. There is some truth in there. If you get to the station in the picture for instance, you will realise that you are only steps away from overpriced raspberries at Whole Foods on High Street Kensington and you will act accordingly.

But how do you KNOW that you are REALLY at High Street Ken?

Sometimes it amuses me to think that means of transportation such as the Tube, Eurostar, airplanes - where you do not see the way you are travelling - actually entail a huge degree of trust. Of course, if you get off at Westminster and you see Big Ben, you know where you are even if you haven't walked down all of Whitehall to make 100% sure that you are in the right spot.

But if you get on an airplane to get to a city which maybe does not have many distinct features but is a rather unremarkable agglomeration of non-descript buildings, you might not be that certain. Imagine further that you have slept through parts of the travel or you haven't been able to follow the in-flight route tracker mile-by-mile, and you can see that your mind could play tricks on you easily.

Stepping off the aircraft, it sometimes feels that you could be literally anywhere, and if the airline wanted to play tricks on you, they would have just dropped you off somewhere it suited them rather than you.

When I embarked on my first intercontinental travel to the US a couple of decades ago, I landed in San Diego and was rather tired after a long trip, and of course without fresh clothes to change into. A few hours of bus travel later we ended up in the Southern Californian desert but it took me a while, a lot of checking maps and finally some credulousness to convince myself that I was really there. But then again, maybe I was just too gullible and the school trip was all part of a huge scam. I mean, we have all watched Capricorn One.

So, if you happen to go to Balham for the first time to visit friends and you step off the Tube, spare a thought and think how you really know that this cluster of streets full of terraced houses is Balham.

For all I know, it could be anywhere.