through the roof – underground

The Tube is, simultaneously, the thing that I most love and most loathe in London. It will get you anywhere in the city, but will, at various times do so at its own leisure, cramming you into a completely packed metal pipe full of sweaty people (sweaty drunk people at any time after, say, 9 p.m.), and leaving you to twiddle your thumbs (if, hypothetically, you can get both hands in front of you) as the powers-that-be sort out everything from more commonplace signal failures to what Transport for London frequently refers to as ‘track obstructions’ – jumpers. Published figures are hard to come by, but estimates range anywhere from 50 to 150 people a year.


gloucester road

One becomes quickly accustomed to the ever-present crowds, the teeming masses that clog the Tube seemingly at will, at the oddest times of the day. Think the train going into London will be empty at 3 in the afternoon? Think again. From the platform to the lifts to the surface, the crowds come early and stay late. However, by the same token, some trains will be eerily quiet and empty, and precious seats can still be had without having to resort to hockey-style checking antics. It’s about as unpredictable as the weather here: going from packed, hot, sweaty and terminally late to quick, clean, and efficient in a matter of less than an hour. It’s a grab bag.

chancery lane

The London Underground has the distinction of being the world’s first subway. Opened 10 January 1863, the Tube (as it is widely known) originally consisted of cut-and-cover style tunnels that now comprise parts of the Circle, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City lines. The system underwent a series of large expansions, helped by the development of the tunneling shield, which led to the boring of deep-level tunnels that could be built with a minimum of disruption on the surface. 3.4 million people use its trains every weekday, making it third in the world in ridership behind Paris and Moscow. Farringdon Road was one of the first stations built, and the original platform on the upper level lines (Circle, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City) feels like it’s just as old as the 18th century buildings surrounding it. The deep level stations, like those on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, have their own distinct smell…something like a combination of burnt clutch, damp concrete, and old coffee. It gets kind of endearing after a while.

no service

Once you’ve made it on the Tube (assuming you’re not being molested by the creepy guy pushed up next to you), there is an unwritten code of conduct to abide by. Don’t try to strike up conversation, as this comes off as quite odd. Pick up a copy of Metro (in the mornings) or the Evening Standard for free outside any Tube station. Read about footballers and their flings or the latest planned closures affecting the train you’re currently on. But as you’re enjoying some of London’s fine journalistic tradition, please, whatever you do, don’t hold the doors open. It will irk the locals (and indeed, even the non-locals) to no end, and will only make you look like a complete novice. On the way out of the station, kindly stand to the right on the escalators if you’re not walking up them. You will make everyone’s day six million times better (scientific fact).


It’s been said that the Tube will get you anywhere in London…eventually. Even though it’s plagued by closures, delays, and strikes, the Tube gives London something incredibly valuable. Without it, London would be a clogged, gridlocked mess of cars and lorries all the time, with traffic so foul no congestion charge could help it. Thankfully, it’s here to stay…except on weekends and when there’s ‘planned engineering works’, or when it snows. Never really understood why the whole system shuts down when it snows…it being underground and all.

More tasty morsels of photography here.

soda and spiders and redbrick, oh my!

In industrial north Denver resides the oldest drain we’ve been able to find in Colorado yet. This product of the post-Depression Works Progress Administration was found a few years ago by a legend in Colorado draining by the name of Akron. Crystal Pepsi got its name from the fact that, according to draining lore, before the defunct beverage went under, 55 gallon drums of Crystal Pepsi were stashed in the drain for posterity. It also might happen to do with the close proximity of the Pepsi distribution warehouse to its outfall, but seriously, when has draining lore ever been wrong?

CP had been a kind of rumour in Colorado draining for a while, as it was talked about as a giant, old redbrick drain that went for miles beneath the soil of north Denver. Subciety, being lethargic as we usually are, put it on the backburner, and thought little about the legend.

Fast forward to June of 2007. Construction was proceeding on a drainage addition to Ferrill Lake in City Park, and secretdestroyers, our resident eastcoaster, had heard rumours of a big redbrick drain that was having surgery done on it, so after he and orogeny scoped it out, they summoned the drainers.

The team for the operation consisted of myself, lexiphoto, SD, and orogeny. Arriving at the museum in waders and festooned with lights and camera gear, we made our way over to the hole in the drain. 4 people with gear walking through City Park at 4.30 in the afternoon garnered a few odd looks from little tykes and their parents, but no matter. At least we aren’t the crack dealers and psychotic hobos I’m sure some of them are accustomed to seeing in the park. Over to the lake, where lo and behold, a drain in a hole!

lexiphoto and orogeny prepare their pants for the trials ahead.

Entry was a cakewalk, until we realized just how slippery the wet, old redbrick can be. Various forms of profanity filled the musty air, stale from age and the concrete dust of construction, until we regained our footing and proceeded into north Denver’s intestinal tract. The light at the end of the tunnel slowly faded until the dark of the underground enveloped us.

Ambient light in a drain? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS

CP’s main pull is the fact that it’s big. Really big. Most of the redbrick drains in Denver are 6 or 7 feet (about 2m) in diameter, max. Rivergate Hollows, Colorado’s finest, is a 15′ bored concrete tunnel for a good length. CP is nearly as big, about 12 feet in diameter…except it’s made of bricks. For a good 2 and a half hours, we slogged through this beast, the monotony of our splish-sploshing boots broken periodically by turns (which were even more slippery), and a few odd rooms where the RBP (Red Brick Pipe) had been cut away and intersected by 10″ steel pipes of some unknown purpose. A very odd manhole was also encountered, one which may very well lead into the tiger cage.

Zoo access? Hope it doesn’t open into the tiger enclosure.
(image courtesy of secretdestroyers)

Eventually, a break in the monotony: a junction! This provided the opportunity for much needed rest for our heroes, as well as plentiful photo ops. A date of build was also found here, which proved quite difficult to capture, as it was written upside down, and I had momentarily forgotten that Photoshop existed.

This drain brought to you by: the Works Progress Administration

From my second trip. Light assists by orogeny and RFBTesla. Click to view larger.

The outfall was a curious structure, with a corrugated steel roof with low hanging, rusty bits dangling from it like sharp icicles. Then came the real test: the spider gauntlet.

I have one weakness when draining: evil, evil drain spiders. I hate them. It’s my opinion that nothing on this earth should have more than six legs. So it was much to my dismay that the last 60 or so feet were a minefield of very big spiders and their drooping webs, threatening to cling to hair, camera bags, and whatever else they could get their spindly legs on. We managed to coax the valiant SD into using his tripod as an anti-spider device and charged through the gauntlet like a quartet of NFL linebackers, cursing like sailors as we went.

Upon exiting the drain, much to our chagrin, a solitary Denver Police officer walking his beat heard our stream of profanity directed at the spiders, and as we climbed up the embankment to our waiting chariot (we parked one of our cars at the outfall), he simply walked away chuckling to himself.