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Thanks, TfL for making a tube map for the anxious like me

The next best thing to Valium vending machines on platforms.

Have you ever had one of those tube journeys where, delayed in a tunnel around fifty metres below ground, with the driver squawking in static about signal failures or a euphemistic “person on the tracks”, you start to wonder if reality is a toaster made of pencil shavings, and you’re being born backwards into oblivion over and over and over again?

If the answer is anything close to “yes” then, like me, you probably suffer from anxiety. And, also like me, crowded trains are likely to focus your panic into a toothpaste tube of pure, gut-dragging fear. So, you may be interested to know that Transport for London has published a new tube map specifically for people like us.  

This anxiety/claustrophobia sufferer’s guide to tube travel (which, although there’s no suggestion that the initiative came from the Mayor’s office, could not be any more Sadiq Khan, bless his heart) flags up routes passengers can take to avoid those long, “SWEET JESUS AM I GIVING BIRTH TO MYSELF?” stretches of indifferent, black tunnel. And it’s a very welcome example of mental illness being taken into consideration, when it comes to accessibility.

Apart from the obvious overcrowding during rush hour, and the fact that you’re snaking along below the earth in a literal tube, I’ve often wondered what is so pronouncedly anxiety inducing about the London Underground. For me, my tubular panic attacks usually begin with not knowing where to look. I’m a natural starer. I tend to find myself, mouth slightly open, looking at the faces of people sitting opposite me with the grim determination of a sex offender. But, and this I must make absolutely clear, for no reason whatsoever. I’m not staring at people I find excessively attractive, or ugly, or even remotely interesting. It’s more a case of needing to make some kind of human connection, even if this means gawping – from across the carriage -  at some suited city boy with stupid socks and a Hitler Youth haircut.

Sometimes, I can curb my inappropriate staring by focusing my attention on my phone. But, if I’m feeling particularly anxious, my phone becomes too much of a reflection of myself which is – for the most part – the exact thing I’m trying to escape. So, eschewing any kind of control, my gaze makes a bee line for whichever unlucky people happen to be sitting opposite me. And eye contact on the tube isn’t so much frowned upon as punishable – it is rumoured -  by exile from London on a humiliatingly defunct bendy bus to the home counties. To avoid which, I’ll usually wrench my steely line of sight from other humans to my own feet. At which point, my agitation becomes unbearable. Feet are boring. I start to drum my nails on my phone screen. Once the drumming starts, I’m physically nauseous and seconds away from an internal nuclear meltdown.

When I mentioned this to my therapist, he suggested that any given tube trip represents my journey through life itself. Which – seeing as life is basically an unfurling toilet roll of terror and disappointment, occasionally punctuated by nice moments – is pretty anxiety inducing.

I said, “Hm”, and stared at him like he was art.

So thank you, TfL, for taking this – well maybe not this specifically, but you get the idea – into consideration. Aside from piping Enya onto the trains in lieu of announcements about delays, or Valium vending machines on platforms, I really don’t have any other suggestions. For once, good work. 

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.