I have spoken, written and dreamed numerous times about the high standard of Madrid’s Metro system. The trains are as clean as they are varied, I often wonder as I stand on a line 10 platform what calibre of train will be trundling up as the overhead timers count the minutes down to zero.
The sleek modern trains, with carriages connected only by slinky-style walkways, the ‘metro’ logo emblazoned at either end, angled at a self-consciously hip inclination.
Or the reliable old trains, the seats a shade of brown extinct since the 1980s. Passengers sit opposite one another in sets of four, only an extendable table and a set of roller blades slung jauntily over the back of the chair needed to complete the time-warp experience.
The subway travel however is improved or worsened, depending on your blood-pressure levels, by the buskers. Much like the trains themselves, these aficionados come in various forms, but you can be fairly certain that the thing that has inspired them all to pursue such a nefarious activity is a love of accordion music.
Such a sight would be difficult to imagine in London. A mature woman, wilting flower in her hair boarding the northbound Bakerloo line at Waterloo; toting only an amplifier and a flamenco soundtrack would find herself ejected before she reached Embankment.
The bands of four men, the accordion, drum, saxophone and double-bass step onto the train and survey their latest audience guiltily, both parties fully knowing what is about to be unleashed.
Irritation however, is short-lived; as the doors slide shut, the familiar drone of the singer’s accordion drives the band into frenzied performance, an experience long enough to exchange downcast glances with fellow passengers, but short enough that the performance is over before the group pulls into the next station. Passengers waiting to board the train here will carefully check to see where the band will be situated next before joining the carriage.
These unexpected concerts are stoically accepted in Spain, while some may cling to rosaries during the woman’s wailings, other may furtively enjoy the distraction and pay a Euro for the privilege. Maybe some people actually enjoy it, maybe the rest of us simply feel it is a fair price to pay for such an efficient transport system.