22 November, 2005

Making tracks

For as long as I can remember, a part of me has always been thrilled by the London Underground map.

It's just such a perfectly formed, expertly realized yet continually intriguing design. It's also the best example I can think of that shows how something can be both functional and beautiful at the same time. Harry Beck's the one to thank.

Its secret is that it's endlessly hypnotic. Even when really young I used to try and copy it, or make individual maps of the different lines, or invent new lines to criss-cross the existing ones. It also gets burned into your brain. Whenever I go to London I try and clear some time to just get on the Tube and go anywhere I feel like, travelling out to some of those magical-sounding distant stops far out towards the ends of the lines - Colliers Wood, Southfields, Burnt Oak, Arnos Grove - and dreaming up new ways to get to and from familiar places.

Earlier this year I managed to catch the repeat of a programme on Sky Travel called The Tube about a bloke called Geoff Marshall and his mate attempting to visit every single London Underground station in one day - the kind of thing I've always secretly wanted to try but never had the time nor means to ever consider seriously. Sadly on that occasion the pair of them failed. It was a great pleasure, however, to discover the other day that not only does Geoff have his own site, but also that he finally broke the record (on his seventh attempt) last year. Hooray! Not sure how you'd square the necessary business of pelting through stations with bulky rucksacks nowadays, though.


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