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It has recently come to my attention that I may be completely and utterly retarded. No, please don’t patronise me with cries of incredulity for I will not shift my position on this. The evidence is irrefutable.

I console myself that I am not alone in my plight as my particular brand of idiocy is one that is apparently shared among most Underground staff and indeed any contractors who might have the misfortune to work for us. What is our shared mental deficit? It is our collective inability to deal with anything above ground. We can’t do it. Can’t do what? Can’t do the whole thing. Upstairs. The surface. It’s weird.

For what you might term an Eloi, it’s not that strange to be wandering around on top of the earth. It’s no big deal. They occasionally pop down to travel somewhere and then nip back up to a perfectly normal life. I readily admit that the weirdness only happens when we go up there. And when Underground goes up top we do such weird spatial shit that M.C. Escher starts turning around in his grave.

One of the main areas where we routinely fuck things up is in moving between different levels. Lifts, stairs, escalators…you name it, we can’t do it. Take, for example, the lift which leads to the depot canteen. Outside the lift on the ground floor is – as you’d expect – a key to tell you what is on each floor. It goes something like this:

1 – Train Manager’s Office

2 – Canteen

3 – Staff Accomodation

4 – Station Manager’s Office

Do you see it? Do you see the problem? It’s the wrong bloody way around! We have paid a no doubt ginormous amount of money to have a lift key that is upsidedown! This is what I mean about passing on our insanity to the contractors who work for us. I sometimes sit late into the night rocking and whimpering and hoping that the contractors who put that one up were foreign, illiterate or just too frightened to tell us that our sign was every flavour of wrong. Lift keys just don’t work that way! And usually, we can get it right. Lifts underground are numbered perfectly sensibly. It’s just when we get to about sea level that we seem to panic and lose our heads.

Of course, that’s not the only instance. The whole idea of What’s Up There is a mystery to many of us. I don’t know why you people get on my train and go to the places you go to. I don’t know what happens to you after you exit to the platform and vanish from view. I sincerely hope it’s not too dreadful but for the love of all that is holy please do not try to engage me in conversation about What’s Up There. Sometimes innocent passengers ask drivers for directions to a building or a street or some similarly strange thing. They usually seem surprised that we don’t know and have never been up there. Requests for directions to the ticket barriers are usually met with a frightened look and a redirection to station staff. Requests for directions beyond station limits are met with a sudden dust storm and the sound of running feet.

I was musing on our collective problem the other day as I trudged up the steps to the ground floor. I can only assume that the higher altitude gives us the vapours. In fact, as I walked smartly down the stairs to the ground floor, I realised that there’s probably a PhD in all this somewhere. Take a group of people whose experience is largely inverse to that of the majority and then mess with their minds by turning the world all the wrong way around. Of course, you’d possibly need some sort of low-gravity environment in which to conduct experiments because anything else would be too brain-melting to think about. As I wandered up the three flights of stairs to the second floor I firmly resolved that I for one will not be the person to take on this research project.

On the way back down to the canteen I took the lift. A different canteen and a different lift. This time we have been clever and done away with a lift key. You either know where you are going or you don’t. It sort of works so long as you can remember which floor you are on and which button you should press. Very occasionally you will see somebody disappear into a lift and then there’s a pause and the lift doors open and there’s the same person with a surprised look on their face. Even more occasionally they don’t have the surprised look and just exit the lift as though they were expecting to be delivered there. I tend not to question those people.

I managed to hit the right button and amused myself on the journey down by staring at the floor. It was covered by a semi-transparent white mat which had some sort of writing on the other side in bold marker pen. As the lift went down I tried to decipher what was written. As it was effectively mirror script for me it took a while. ‘Please…please do not…please do not…use…this….’. The final word eluded me. Too many letters which could conceivably be other letters. Flit? Tile? Lite? As the lift arrived and the doors opened I finally cracked it: ‘Please do not use this lift’.

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