Walk The Lines
The London Underground Overground
A London obsessive sets out to capture the city once and for all – by walking the entire Tube system overground...
For years I'd dreamed of writing a book about London, a city I loved and which had been my home for over a decade. But how to find a new way of covering such a well-worn topic? I knew it had to be a walking book - that's the only way to really engage with a place. Then one day, staring at the Underground map, the answer hit me: walk the route of every Tube line, at street level. It was a joy to do: 403 miles of observation, eavesdropping and musing.
There was the man in Walthamstow on his mobile: ‘It'll be an hour and a half before I'm in Romford, Matilda - if you're going to have a bath, have a bath now'. The van near the Edgware Road: ‘Stephen Fry Plumbing and Heating Ltd'. I learned that London cabbies traditionally do their first fare for free, that James I kept elephants in St James's Park (allowed a gallon of wine per day each to get through the English winter) and that the Monument killed more people than the Great Fire.
More than one reviewer has said that if you like Bill Bryson, you'll like this. That's very kind of them - all I know is that if just a tenth of the fun I had researching the book comes through on the page, it might be worth a read.
‘Endlessly fascinating ... Mason triumphantly succeeds.' The Spectator
‘An extraordinary odyssey.' Robert Elms, BBC London
‘Mason rediscovers the Underground.' The Times
‘Fascinating and entertaining ... Mason may have made himself the Bill Bryson of our capital city.' The Bookseller
‘Crammed with delightful facts ... a constantly fascinating journey.' Shortlist
‘Awesome.' Shaun Keaveney, BBC 6Music
‘I was charmed by the book's profusion of insightful anecdotes and fascinating trivia.' Walk Magazine
‘This engaging book puts its best foot forward with fascinating detail.' The Independent
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On a visit to Big Ben, I was told that if you stand at the bottom of the tower with a portable radio and listen to the chimes on Radio 4 (they still transmit them live), you hear them on the radio before you hear them ‘for real’. I couldn’t believe it – but was intrigued enough to try it for myself. And you know what? It’s absolutely true. The bongs come out of the radio a fraction of a second before they reach your ears from the top of the tower. It’s something so silly, so counter-intuitive, that you have to tell people. (Well, I did.) Researching the explanation, I found that it’s because radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) rather than the 700 or so miles per hour at which sound waves travel. The signal travelling down the wire from the microphone to the BBC goes at the speed of light too. Hence the radio version overtaking the real one.
I realised that this would be the perfect way to teach the principle in school physics lessons. Instead of a boring teacher droning on that ‘radio waves travel at the speed of light’, illustrate it with this beautiful and quirky little fact. The kids will remember it then. I certainly would have done if my physics teacher had taken this approach. As it was I had to wait until I heard a piece of so-called ‘trivia’ in my thirties.