I had disembarked from the Jubilee line and was negotiating my way through the station when I saw the sign for Canary Wharf Docklands Light Railway. A-ha, thought I, an internal route, I won’t have to cross that windswept piazza in the rain. So out I step. Upwards a short way, along a moving staircase, then down.
But, like in the story, my timing is out. It’s just after one o’clock on a weekday. The highly polished marble floors of the subterranean aisles with are thronging with a churning mass of people, their movement reflecting in the tiled black marbled walls. I am drawn into the vortex. Here is a map and there some signs, but there is no consistency. Yet everyone knows where they are going. The pace never slackens.
It is a warm day, if wet and windy, so there are few jackets in evidence, but lots of shirts and ties. It is July so the ubiquitous female black, navy or grey suit is sparse, replaced by brighter versions or smart dresses. Everyone moves at speed. There is a flow to the movement, checks and halts are few.
It is industrious, this maelstrom, but not ill-tempered. There are incongruities, a young woman pushing a buggy, an older couple, clearly tourists, who are spotted from afar and maneuvered around, the flow altering to take account, side steps, slowing and speeding, the occasional swerve.
Sometimes I glimpse, or think I glimpse, the same person more than once; that tall, striking looking, oriental woman, the man with the colourful tie. Like fellow denizens of the vortex, which whirl around the maelstrom walls, rising up or falling, I see them again.
The shops on either side vary, from purveyors of luxury goods – Mont Blanc, Penhaligons – to up-market chains – Jaeger and Hugo Boss – to the essentials – shoe repairers and key cutters, dry cleaners. Everything the modern, well rewarded City office worker could need or desire, as long as it can be carried away in a smart, rope handled bag.
Food is what so many seek. Single line queues meander slowly along the walls, beneath neon signage promising Sushi!, Sourdough Pizza or Salt Beef. The brown paper carrier is even more prevalent than the glossy. Some eat while still in motion. Briefly I glimpse a disc of sky through a glass dome high overhead. It is now blue and full of natural light. Beneath, there is creamy-yellow tinged illumination, flung back from reflecting surfaces.
Then, up head, my way out appears. D – L – R, writ large. The glass doors swing ajar and the maelstrom falls away. This is a linear world, its curves are upon a grander scale and, for a while at least, suspended above the waters below. One minute for a Bank train, one stop to West India Quay, there are few people on the platforms. The carriage doors swish with a gushing sound as they open.
I step in and am whisked away. Unlike the sailor in the story my hair remains the same (already dubious) colour.
With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe and his ‘A Descent into the Maelstrom’.