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As I go from Brixton to Green Park daily it is in effect static travel; progress is not noticeably made; things do not whiz past; stations flash up at regular intervals as the only indicators of progress. It is like entering a sealed capsule around which time and space flow unseen and from which we emerge at our destination as from the Tardis. Perhaps in the early days of the tube they understood this better than we do now since then there were no windows; for what, after all, was there to see?

The way we travel, the time we spend doing so, makes the prosaic criterion of distance quite secondary. With the average traffic speed in Central London at 11 miles per hour and falling, only the pedestrian experiences a predictable space/time relationship. At a steady three miles an hour you will be at place X by time Y. Nothing else can be predicted. There are so many variables. There are moments when the kinetics of the city exactly match your requirements; the train sweeps in as you enter the platform, the cash dispenser is working and queue-free, the crowd is going your way; times indeed when you seem to experience sheer time travel. You career, late at night, from the farther reaches of North London in an underinsured taxi, driver one week out of Lagos, deep in the embrace of the sumptuous (and probably combustible) upholstery of his mid-seventies Japanese saloon; and thus regally you are rocketed from Tottenham to the West End in eight minutes, so empty are the roads, London by night scrolling past.

At other times city life seizes up. It is as if the city clings to you and weighs you down. Times too when things you expedite almost without thinking suddenly become burdensome; little moments of hell when a small error (a missed bus, sitting one stop too long in the tube looking at the crossword) and the whole day goes awry.

This theme created a new genre: the 'yuppie nightmare': the missed turning by Sherman McCoy in Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities or the frisson of a malfunctioning BMW and mobile phone in Los Angeles South Central at the wrong time of night in Kasdan's film Grand Canyon. Deliciously, too, in one of the Chevy Chase Vacation films. He finds himself lost in the hood. A pimp lolls with two of his girls against a clapped-out Lincoln.

   
 

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