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I always thought that escalators were nasty things
But my friend Tom told me I was wrong.
Each day he lingers on the steps as they progress.
Like the Grand Old Duke of York he takes
Them up, then takes them down again.
Tom calls himself a Duke of Yorker;
Half an hour on the way to work in the morning, to relax,
An hour on the way back home.
He says it's quality time.

Tom makes full use of escalators.
He trails his fingers over the edge of the moving handrail
Touching the metal to file down his fingernails.
If nobody's about, he makes steps backwards
Or forwards,
Depending on which way he shouldn't be going,
Using the movement to tone his thighs
Like a jogging machine.

Kings Cross, he says, is good for buskers,
A little Bob Marley, Vivaldi,
The commuters say Excuse Me,
It's better than an MP3 machine.

He cracks Brazil nuts in the swallowed corrugations,
Watches the real TV of fellow travellers' faces,
And this - I like this best -
Polishes his shoes on the brushes that guard
The morning stairway's edge,
Taking care to move his feet before the end
Since otherwise they might turn red
And stain
The steps
And leather.

He's missed his last train home a time or two,
Become engrossed, not just obsessive,
Had fights with Geoffrey and with Phil
Who like to Duke of York themselves
And crowd Tom's space
He says
They graze
The metal badly with their nails
And vilify
The sacred brushes
With their chewing gum.

Who can resist the passions of a friend
Who talks in awe of Angel's steps,
Prostrates himself at Highgate,
Kisses Heathrow's homely treads,
And salivates when mentioning Victoria?

So now you know why rush hour is such fun,
Why queues are long, why every step is full.
It's me and Tom, and Fred and Gary's girlfriend, Beth,
Sabrina, Tina, Algernon. The rest I've met
But can't remember all their names.
We never talk or wave,
We watch Tom's neck, ahead
And do our shoes
Our manicures, our jogs
And crack our nuts,
And wonder it the Grand Old Duke of York,
If he lived now,
Would ever make it past the well of moving stairs
To catch a train.

Andrew Starling

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