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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Down in the Tube Station at midnight

Last night we watched "Heart Of The Angel", another documentary from The Molly Dineen Collection Vol 1: Home From the Hill (2-DVD set). This was made in 1989 just before Angel Tube station got its multi-million pound overhaul. The film is an echo of a vanished era when ticket-takers sat on stools in lifts that were always out of order, stationmasters were sixty-something blokes with cigarettes permanently clasped between their jaws and nobody knew what an Oyster Card was.

When the station closed for the night Molly and her sound recordist descended to the tunnels where the track maintenance engineers tramped through like weary pedestrians on the way from Camden Town to Bank, dragging sleepers behind them with pick axes. Even more amazing are the "fluffers", teams of women cleaners who patrolled the tunnel in near total darkness, removing by hand the human hair that would accumulate between the rails and risked causing an increased fire hazard.

The women in charge of the team doing this horrible, tedious, filthy and backbreaking job said that she'd inherited it from an aunt who had done it for thirty-three years. She introduced her team as her daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. In a week when the high and mighty have been making pronouncements about internships and privilege it was useful to be reminded that nepotism can flourish in the most humble jobs, even way down in the bowels of the earth.