I am not a mole

What appealed to him about the Underground was the idea of descending into the earth in one part of the city and then shortly afterwards emerging up and out onto the street in a completely different place. This was teletransportation for the industrial age. But he subsequently realised that this was essentially a love of the novelty, as his visits to London were always brief, and few and far between. Since living in a city with a Metro he had become bored of the lack of visual stimuli in these tunnels. “I am not a mole”, he would say to himself, sometimes a little too loudly, as he rattled through the darkness.

Similarly, for years he preferred the option on trains of facing away from the direction of travel, watching the landscape that he had travelled through spread itself out in front of him. The smooth unwinding quality of train travel neutralises the need to anticipate your path to avoid motion sickness, and there are simple strategic advantages to the rear-facing seats. There is a sense, however illusory, that taking the train’s momentum with your back securely nestled against the seat cushion will afford greater protection in the event of a crash. In addition the relative unpopularity of facing backwards gives those who opt for it a greater choice of seating, and increases the probability that our precious personal space will not be invaded by another passenger. (This raises the question of why being invaded from the front is considered less objectionable than from the side. The answer I think lies somewhere in the unconscious belief that the inevitable games of train-footsie that are played with the facing passenger are nevertheless preferable to contact along the vulnerable and intimate flank, with its ticklish waist-ribcage-armpit regions.)

But long periods spent in compulsory use of commuter trains had gradually eroded his contentment with the rear-facing seats, and he had eventually arrived at the conclusion that it was not for nothing that evolution had placed our eyes relentlessly together and forward-facing, and that, consequently, there was indeed something unsettling about not watching where you were going.