Steve de Vos

People who are worth knowing believe that the writer (I) is over familiar to a psychotic level with the underground system and that the tendency to sermonise on the trains is disquieting to say the least. But nevertheless how can one be quiet about the restaurant that goes round the circle line between the hours of 12:00 and 14:00 (for light lunches) and 18:30 and Midnight (for pre-theatre meals etc) and in the process causes so many contradictory comments in these incredibly divergent social groups. The restaurant is not advertised but it has a small but discerning clientele. The authorities maintain a audible silence that is extraordinarily uncomfortable and only the fast moving murmurs of the travellers has eased the way.

It is not possible for an innovation like this to be limited to the privileged elements of the city for long, eventually the others begin to move into the vacant seats in the carriage. It is only to be expected that Paris, Berlin, New York and even Shanghai (inter alia), begin to learn about the experience that goes so far beyond mere gastronomic science. The idea must have come from some restauranteur, probably Terence Conran, since that priest of food was awarded the first class food franchise released to complete media silence in June. The design and layout of the restaurant is just like an ordinary railway restaurant. But it is the food that is transcendent, though the price is transcendent as well, except of course at the end of the evening when coffee and liqueurs are sold at a comparatively normal price. But these details are sufficient to select a discreet range of customers

The experience has been repeated many times throughout the ages. Most noticeably in the dubious pleasures that aristocrats gained in their illicit contacts with the lower classes amongst other doubtful elements, like Lulu in Limehouse or was it Whitechapel in the late 19th C and not forgetting of course popular songs extolling the virtues of street life and sexual adventuring. The contemporary bourgeoisie never has to travel underground for they (normally) travel in expensive cars, planes and always in first class, unless they are deliberately slumming, so they have discovered something which until now had been almost been hidden from them in the worlds of the other classes. At the moment when the workers have given up on social and political demands for equality and a voice in the public realm in order to get their hands on the steering wheels of cars and to sit entranced before some American imports on satelliteTV. In the process giving up what little free time they have. Consequently is it possible to be horrified when the moneyed and time rich classes turn their backs on things that are threatening to become commonplace ? Searching for a territory that brings them closer to the workers in the search for the extraordinary. All this whilst intellectuals look on bemused and with a cynical twist of their lips. For they see that the mobile restaurant brings the class as close to the workers as possible without actually allowing any contact.

But to say that to the restaurant owners is impossible since they would reject such statements emphatically. For them the only thing that is needed to step into the mobile restaurant and to be served is money, all else is mere opinion and illusion. It is they state, a well known fact that many of the people who travel on the underground are really extremely wealthy, just as there are many people who live on the street who really have lots of money. The restaurant management of course shares these sentiments and agrees that the only thing required to gain entrance to the restaurant is money, plus good manners and of course good deodorants. The selection of a good clientele is of course especially difficult because we are dealing with the underground public spaces and you can hardly have doorman dressed in gold braid and a top hat to filter out the undesirables. Consequently the clientele is directed in such a way as to ensure them easy entry, although the restaurant management has never succeeded in hiding there fear whenever the train stops and they have to open the carriage doors. To filter the restaurants clientele from the everyday train passengers the management tells the clientele where to stand, when to wait there and at what station to gain access to the mobile restaurant, mostly they only open the single door at one point along the carriages to ensure that they give directed access. The operation must take place without any obstructions at all, so the special restaurant guards act in concert with the platform guards and prevent access to the carriage by forming a human wall thus preventing evil anarchists or indeed innocent tourists from entering the restaurant on wheels. The customers know where the door will open through the encoded daily notice that appears in The Times newspaper which states when, where and what today's menu will consist of. They are also aware of the necessity of enduring a short wait within the underground public sector. It is quite common for the clientele to arrive with dark besuited security guards who discreetly wait for the mobile restaurant to arrive. The precise stopping point changes every day or so. To prevent information leaking the information is re-displayed on the platform dot-matrix indicators to direct them to the correct sector of the platform, it is only when they get to the station that they will know if the direction of travel will be east or west. Of course this system is expensive and bears all the signs of paranoid psychosis but of course this is the primary psychological illness of the ruling class. The management cannot use a more direct system because they need to avoid the street people who use the underground system as a place to live standing around the carriages as it stops, hoping for scraps or staring at the carriage like moths around a flame which might arouse their worst instincts.

Whilst the lunchtime train just goes round and round the circle line, the evening train containing the a la carte passengers can travel on longer trips out to Amersham, Stratford or some other strange and diverting places, occasionally it has been known for the train to head south of the river into the spaces beyond Clapham Junction, all of these trips being made solely for the edification of the customers. As they travel through different segments of the underground system seeing, usually for the first time, the diversity of stations. Besides which the act of sending the trains down different routes enhances the important element of security, in the light of the potential reactions provoked by jealousy which may be spawned by the repeated seeing of the restaurant train. Those who eat on the train agree that sitting at one of the tables and travelling through High Street Kensington is a wonderful and occasionally helpful sociological experience. Sitting, eating and enjoying the view of the platform through the window enables one to see multiple forms of destinies and rhythms of hard working and hard living people ready to go to and from their jobs and homes. Sometimes they just stand obviously exhausted at the end of the day and at other times they are noisy and boisterous. To enhance the diners pleasure the management advises them not to study the people on the platform with too much scientific intent but rather to look indirectly at them between mouthfuls of food, between sentences, between inhalations of cigarette smoke. The discreteness the management suggests has the additional advantage of maintaining the distance between their customers and the other users of the underground which the restaurant owners believe is an essential factor in the success of the restaurant train. In addition it helps to ensure that there is no unpleasant reaction from some misguided traveller standing on the platform who misinterprets the scientific zeal of the customer. This would be unjustified but if some person who is uneducated in the ways of our societies misinterpreted the scientific attitude then unfortunate things might happen. The only people who they are encouraged to look directly at are those people who are socially close to them, these people can be easily recognised by the waving and cheering that the sight of the restaurant train encourages. It has been noticeable during the brief time that the restaurant train has been operational that the authorities have become increasingly concerned and begun place additional constables on the platform. This has been happening because of the authorities fear of anarchists, socialists and other itinerant activists who might act with extreme jealousy against the restaurants customers. When the customers leave the restaurant train they are escorted onto the platform by the restaurant and platform guards, but the constables courteously escort them from the underground to the surface where their cars wait for them as previously directed for they always know their itinerary. This is especially noticeable when the people leaving the train are in small groups or couples. There are many explanations for these events but when the underground systems of the world are so prone to violence and have turned into a veritable haven for the disenfranchised then the judicious anticipation of the authorities is to be congratulated. Both from the restaurants customers, but also from all the other passengers in the system who of course will be grateful for the protection offered to them by the extra policemen from those who provoke them so greatly, these being the anarchists and socialists who seemingly haunt the underground. In these circumstances what chance have the poor ?

Steve de Vos - London August 1997


Steve, talks to some salesmen

Introduction to the Hypertext Novel