All aboard the party line
Guardian G2 18/03/03
There is a certain etiquette to travelling on the tube, by which all passengers are expected to abide. There should be no eye contact; no surreptitious reading of your neighbour's paper; no talking to strangers, and certainly no pre-arranged partying.
So what to make of crowds on the Circle line on Friday night, when around 300 people hijacked a tube with ghetto-blasters, fancy dress costumes and alcohol, and had a non-stop party within its carriages?
A group of 12 people called the Space Hijackers had emailed friends and websites about their plan. By 7.30pm on Friday night, the meeting point at Spitalfields market was full of eager partygoers, among them wearers of Spiderman lycra suits, porn-star wigs and sexy glittery outfits.
"If anyone asks, nobody's in charge. We all just happened to be on the tube at the same time," is the official line.
Unofficially, Alex, one of the hijackers explains: "It's about changing the use of space and having a really good time. It's also because it's such a novel, sneaky and exciting thing to do. Hopefully people at the party will think differently about the underground in the future."
The journey starts at the eastbound platform at Liverpool Street station. Stuart Plowman, the station assistant, seems confused by the sudden crowd. "What's happening?" he asks, when we arrive. "It was all quiet a minute ago and then all of a sudden it's 'whooosh'."
A cheer greets the arrival of the party venue and everyone piles on. Soon the carriages are replete with glitter balls, streamers and silly string. Red Cellophane is taped to the strip lights and a samba band starts playing in the last carriage. Beers, sweets, crisps and dips are handed around and before long people are doing the conga down the carriages.
"The people on the trains are your friends," we have been told. "Give them sweets and drinks. It's their party as well."
The lesson learned is not to judge a commuter by his appearance. I was convinced a grey-haired man would react badly to our sudden noisy arrival. By Mansion House he is happily downing tequila and asking, "Do you do this every Friday?"
A Dutch tourist can't understand why we complain about our public transport system. "This is really quite OK," he says.
Later, one suited man rather tetchily asks, "Do you lot think this is funny?" But that may be because someone was trying to stick Cellophane to his bald head.
At Victoria officials look on, bemused at the noise and the number of passengers dashing between carriages, but do nothing. But at 10pm, on maybe our third or fourth lap, the train stops at Baker Street where the British transport police are waiting. Their response? "It's just a load of people having a good time," says one. "The Cellophane on the lights is a fire hazard but as long as that's taken down London Underground is happy for it to continue."
Which it does, with dwindling numbers, until the tube closes. The only complaint from partygoers being that on the Circle line, there is nowhere to go to the loo.