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Next London subway stop: enlightenment

London Underground riders are being offered a dash of philosophy with their daily commute.
Image: London underground
Subway drivers in London have been given a book of profound sayings to read out to commuters.Andy Rain / EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The next train is for Heathrow Airport, via Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus — and spiritual enlightenment.

London commuters are being offered the words of great thinkers including Shakespeare, Gandhi and Einstein to enliven their sometimes dull journeys on the city's Tube.

Subway drivers have been given a book of profound sayings, which they are being encouraged to dispense over the intercom, subway operator Transport for London said Thursday.

The project is the idea of artist Jeremy Deller, who said he was motivated by annoyance at the recorded announcements that bombard Tube passengers, such as "Mind the gap" and "Stand clear of the closing doors."

His original idea — a day with no announcements — was rejected by Tube bosses, "so I came up with the idea to give staff a collection of quotes and the idea grew from there."

"I often wish announcements were more personal and reflected the realities and absurdities of living and working in a big city," Deller said. "I think the traveling public enjoys some humor and unexpected insight during their journey."

The sayings include proverbs from around the world — including Swedish maxim "The afternoon knows what the morning never expected" — and phrases by the likes of William Shakespeare, W.B. Yeats and Victor Hugo.

'Hell is other people'
Some of the sayings may soothe frustrated riders, like Mahatma Gandhi's "There is more to life than increasing at speed." Others may hit too close to home — how many rush-hour commuters need to be reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre's opinion that "Hell is other people"?

Drivers who agreed to take part were given tips on delivery by standup comedian Arthur Smith. The philosophy is being dispensed on the Piccadilly Line, one of the subway system's 11 lines, which carries more than 650,000 passengers a day and extends out to London's largest airport.

Transport for London said there was no end date for the project but it has asked passengers who hear the announcements to send in their reactions by e-mail.

Driver Susy Wells told the BBC that the sayings helped liven up a job that "can be a little bit monotonous at times."

"It's brilliant, and the passengers love it," she said.

It's the latest in a series of projects to create art for the Tube's 3.5 million daily riders. The "Art on the Underground" campaign has seen everything from posters and paintings to a sculptural bust of Jennifer Lopez placed in subway stations across the city.

The art initiative follows "Poems on the Underground," in which verses are printed on advertising boards inside subway trains. The project has been running since 1986, has spawned a series of books and has been imitated in other cities around the world.

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