Mind the Gap

Anyone who’s ever lived in London prior to 2012 will probably hear those words in the same voice that echoes in my mind, which is this one:


I didn’t know until I started looking into it that there’s a genuinely lovely story behind this Mind the Gap message, and a reason why since 2012 the voice saying it is different on Embankment from that on other Northern Line stations. It’s this: the messages were originally recorded by a man called Oswald Laurence, a RADA graduate, but he died in 2007 and in 2012 the voices were changed to digital ones (why? Just because they could, I guess – the old ones were clear enough but hey, that’s progress) – then one night in 2012 the staff at Embankment station were approached by a woman in a state of distress asking what had happened to the voice. They must have thought she was psychotic at first but to their credit they listened as she explained that the Mind the Gap voice belonged to her husband and that she’d often lingered on the platform to hear him speak just one more time. The staff explained that the recordings had been changed, and you might think that would have been that, but no; they tracked down a copy of the original recording for her and not only that, they switched back to it on Embankment station. So if you travel on the Northern line be sure to listen out for Oswald still telling us to mind that gap. Here’s the Guardian story from 2019.

That phrase has become iconic, particularly in London where it’s used to refer to all kinds of gaps. There’s the gap between rich and poor, the gap between knowledge and understanding and the gap I was going to talk about, between echo chambers.

I think it’s high time there was an overhaul of Facebook and Twitter; the fact that they foment controversy like a cook stirring an evil broth, the fact that they encourage the manufacture of outrage; and worst of all, the fact that they have allowed powerful people to spread disinformation and fake news unchecked. True, they can’t monitor every story put on their sites but when someone in a position of such power and influence uses that influence to manufacture a false scenario they should do something about it. Mainstream news media, though more responsible in checking stories (mostly) are not blameless in this regard; they encourage adversarial debate and try to provoke interviewees into saying something controversial which then becomes the headline.

The gap between world views can sometimes be staggering. I’ve recently been debating with someone I know in real life (I wouldn’t bother otherwise, but I know and like this person) who has totally bought into Trump’s narrative. They’re a Christian who believes Trump was sent by God and part of that narrative is not particularly how virtuous Trump is (that’d be hard but I’m sure they’d give it a go) but the supposed evils of the Democrats, whom they accuse of all manner of vile practices (Communism’s the least of it) and have now decided that Mark Zuckerberg is a Marxist for suspending Trump’s account. I pointed out that if that were so Facebook would be owned by its employees and Zuckerberg would earn about £30,000 a year. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Just for the record, I’m a socialist not a communist, but if people are going to use words like Marxist they should know what they mean. Otherwise everyone is going about being Humpty-Dumpty and words have no meaning any more.)

The gap is vast and it’s getting wider. Trump’s supporters are now fragmented but the more extreme among them are developing an ever-stronger martyr complex and preparing for armed attacks on inauguration day. Warnings have been issued and I certainly hope they take them more seriously than they did last Wednesday. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with people who don’t accept facts. There’s no common ground for debate at all.

Mind the gap, indeed, especially the gap between the ears.

Kirk out

6 thoughts on “Mind the Gap

  1. A fine post, thank you. I don’t catch the train very often, but I always get a giggle by that Mind the Gap announcement. The last time I caught the train was actually late July in 2019, when the train ride from Gawler to Adelaide (and back) in South Australia was part of a Gawler and Adelaide Plains Festival of Words event.
    I ended up writing a poem on the train, Using that little phrase as my prompt. Thank you for this reminder about a fun outing!
    I wonder what I’ve done with that poem?

  2. I remember that story about the announcer, and I thought it was a lovely, sweet, and essentially human response, when so often, the approach is to stick to company policy, come what may [can’t have everybody expecting to be treated individually, now can we?]. As far as the situation in America is concerned and, by extension, many other places in the world, including here: for many years now, I’ve been of the opinion that nearly all of the world’s ills, including the gap you discuss here [but excluding religion, which has to be regarded separately], stem from our historical, and sadly deeply entrenched, slavish attachment to money to facilitate ‘trade’. Of course, in a sense that’s simplistic [and generally causes those near & dear to me to roll their eyes & shake their heads], and it’s now fashionable to dismiss as unattainable anything that can legitimately be described as ‘utopian’, such as a world where resources are shared by need, rather than hoarded to create scarcities which enrich a small number of selfish individuals, but I see this as the only possible way to have a fair & equitable society. I know that, without a ‘suitable’ global catastrophe [which this pandemic isn’t likely to be], which causes a global financial reset [and not the one being considered now] on the basis of humanitarian consideration, rather than greed & self-interest, I’m not going to see it in my lifetime, but that doesn’t stop me from campaigning for it as subtly or occasionally blatantly as suits the platform. Cheers, Jon.

    1. Blimey. Yes, I agree and in fact I was thinking along the same lines, that attachment to money is at the bottom of all this stuff. As for utopian, I say pfft! Everything we now take for granted was once considered utopian. I plead guilty to being idealistic; without ideals nothing is ever achieved.

  3. Techmoan covered the issue of tube station announcements. The problem was that they were on tapes and they wore out, so they’re digital now.

    It isn’t a conspiracy, but it’s notable that social media usually can’t be accessed via text-based browsers. Most people wouldn’t do that anyway, but the fact that most humans are so visual doesn’t help anyone when we interact with it. Probably not the main issue here and I imagine heavy and highly academic tomes have been composed on the problems.

    Maybe people should just learn more about Marxism.

    And with respect to the cult, I think that’s the way to approach it. Many more people than one might expect seem to be vulnerable. Maybe I can use my experience with fundamentalists at uni to help me understand.

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