Friday, July 08, 2011

Book Review: Walk the Lines - The London Underground, Overground by Mark Mason

Book Review: Walk the Lines - The London Underground, Overground by Mark Mason

The package arrives. I tear it open, and head straight for page 173 via the index.

"It’s all Le Pain Quotidien, design stores called OKA, beauty salons offering Purity Facial Rituals from the Thalgo range."

Yes, it's a book about the London Underground, and the author's in Parsons Green. If you didn't know, I'm from Parsons Green, and that particular bit of the capital has gone right uphill since I left.

I fully expect any Londoner who gets their hands on the book to do exactly the same as I, before heading to the bit about their favourite football ground.

How, then, did I come to this moment?

---- Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey ----

It is my very good friends at Random House again, asking if I'd like to review another book.

"Why, yes. Yes I would. What's it about?"

"It's a social, historical and geographical of the capital in which..."


"This bloke's walked the entire Underground network and written about it."

"Oh, right. He must be mental. Is it any good?"

---- Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey ----

Actually, yes. Yes it is.

Mark Mason has, for reasons that are not entirely clear, but make actually be "to write a book" walked the entire length of the nine (having no truck with the DLR and Overground imposters) London Underground lines. Along the way, he's picked up the odd few hundred pages of observations, chunks of history, trivia, and a fair few eavesdropped conversations.

Of course, this falls square into the travelogue-coming-as-the-result-of-a-pointless-challenge category, of which there are many examples of varying quality. I might be as bold to say that this falls into the high end of the genre, and rightly so.

Yes, even at 370 pages, some stations get the merest of mentions before being left in the walker's tracks, but in a challenge of this magintude that is hardly suprising. But Mason really knows how to get on the right side on this reviewer. Page 273, for example, on the Picadilly Line: "Round the corner, heading for Holloway Road, I pass Arsenal's huge new Emirates Stadium. As at Stamford Bridge on the District Line, there are tourists taking pictures, but unlike Chelsea's ground, this one has real character, a behemoth with beauty."

GOOD MAN. And on those lines alone, I urge you all to BUY THIS BOOK.

But if you're still not sold , let me tell you that it's full of fascinating stuff that you never knew you never knew. For example, you'll find out why a young Desmond Tutu wondered the streets of Golders Green, asking policemen the time; and about Karl Marx and his binge drinking shame, in with the shackles of proletariat oppression were probably well and truly puked all over, coming to the next morning, face down on Engels' floor, diced carrots in his beard.

Also, it's a book that namechecks a Johnny Cash song in its title, and if you can get away with that, you can get away with anything.

Walk the Lines is released upon an unsuspecting nation on 14th July.

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