Saturday, November 30, 2013
JUBILEE: Up the line
It's time to take an end-to-end journey on the Jubilee line. That's an 1870s bit, a 1930s bit, a 1970s bit and a 1990s bit, which is far more of a 20th century mixed bag than any other line. From Stratford to Stanmore is 22 miles by train, but nearer fourteen direct, because the Jubilee goes all round the houses. Let's start at the modern end.
Pretty much Nowheresville when the Jubilee line extension first arrived, Stratford has since been transformed into East London's transport hub. Three platforms line up beneath the station's glass roof, with the next departure announced via an inadequate Next Train Indicator (which I've slagged off before). A mass of humanity swarms towards the Jubilee line concourse, squints to work out which platform's departing next, then dashes/jogs/runs towards the rear of the train to board before it leaves. The end result is one of the most asymmetrical loading patterns at any terminus station. The front carriages are always nigh empty, because nobody can be bothered to walk that far, or daren't walk that far in case the doors shut. Meanwhile the back carriage is rammed, the rear of the back especially so, because people are lazy, or fearful the train might leave without them. It's a sub-optimal start, to be frank.
I take a seat at the back of the next-but-one train, and wait. For the first minute it's very quiet, then comes a light flurry of people who didn't think they'd be able to reach the first train in time, and then the hordes. A large family group arrives and despairs at not being able to find five seats together. Three lost-looking tourists stumble in, bemused and blocking the entrance. A middle-aged couple sit on either side of me and conduct a conversation past my face. Two teenage girls board with McDonalds meals ("We'll stink the train out" "I don't care"). Two French boys sit on the floor to play a tiny handheld game. As the doors beep an older lady ducks in, and gets mildly smashed, then stares dejectedly because she can't sit down. And we're off, in cattle truck conditions... even at the weekend.
Thanks to the DLR there are now two additional stations to pass on the way to West Ham - one suspects neither is busy, but it's not easy to see. This southbound run isn't scenic, running past the main depot, some rows of flats and a string of commercial units. If the Jubilee was ever meant to bring prosperity to this edge of Newham, it hasn't quite yet. But the interchange at Canning Town throbs with people - there's some event on at ExCel that involves dressing up, so Princess Fiona shares the platform with a crowd of weird but undistinguishable comic characters.
That's it for overground, which means we're about to enter the tunnelled extension section with the splendid architecture. North Greenwich glows blue, though darkly, and you don't get the best view from the train. "Exit here for the Emirates Airline and the Oh Two" says the recorded announcement, plugging two different multinational brands, like you do on the modern Underground. There's no such promotion at Canary Wharf, just some whopping great roundels at the foot of a silver void. It might be busy up the front end of the train, but nobody walks down to the back, neatly balancing out our earlier Stratford-related rear overcrowding.
A third crossing of the Thames brings us to Canada Water, where the Overground allows South Londoners to flock in. Then Bermondsey allows a rare glimpse of daylight pouring down the escalator shaft, which is a bit brighter than those dull grey tiles on the walls down here. At London Bridge those French boys have to be almost dragged from the train by their parents, who just about make it onto the platform with their luggage before the doors close. It's busy here, so busy it's hard to believe that 15 years ago only one tube line served the mainline terminus above. It's less throbbing at Southwark, which is barely any distance from Waterloo East, and not that far either to Waterloo. By now the great majority of people who boarded in Newham have disembarked and I have fewer, different neighbours. I would have one more but he arrived too late and ran headlong, slap, into the platform doors.
Westminster is the last station with protective glass panels, and also the last with metal panels bolted to the platform walls. Green Park is much more 70s, and often smells somewhat of dank water, which isn't quite the right image for the heart of Mayfair. It feels here like a tipping point has been reached. The train's much emptier, as if the northwestern suburbs are rather less buzzing than the east. And the journey onwards is more jolty too, which must be 20 years difference in quality of track. I like the tiling pattern at Bond Street, a wrapped gift with a blue ribbon, with a letter 'B' that must still stand for Bond and not yet Burberry. Then the next station has its Sherlock Holmes theme, a series of cameos depicting the detective's stories, one of which is placed out of reach at the end of the platform beyond a barrier.
I'm surprised that Baker Street is the middle station on the Jubilee line, I thought we'd come much further. It also signals the transition to becoming a local train for local people, with the buzz of central London now behind us. The lengthy run of step-free stations is long gone too. St John's Wood is another that wheelchair users can't access, which'll be because we're now on the 1930s section of the line. Swiss Cottage also has that pre-war style, with glorious uplighters on the escalators, and a tiling pattern that echoes the Hainault loop. And then, after nearly half an hour in subterranea, we emerge into daylight again.
Finchley Road boasts an optimal cross-platform interchange with the Metropolitan. A Chesham train lines up beside us, supposedly running fast to Wembley Park, except we manage to run faster and are only overtaken as our train brakes for West Hampstead. This is the first station we've seen with a shrubbery, or indeed any attempt at horticulture, here somewhat softening the adjacent builders yard. Hurrah for the viaduct approaching Kilburn, one of the finest vantage points on the Underground, with north London spread out in panorama all around. Less hurrah for the husband who boards here, then holds the door open for several seconds while his wife totters on heels behind.
Two platforms at Willesden Green stand empty, where Metropolitan line trains could but don't stop, much to the relief of long-haul Bucks commuters. The tracks now pass the backs of gardens, some small and yardy, others larger and cultivated. It's properly residential by Dollis Hill, its island platform blessed with splendidly curved canopies and still with flowers blooming yellow and gold in their beds. Neasden's less special, sorry, with a light blue shade to the paintwork across the station. Watch out for the enormous depot to the right, for the Met rather than for the Jubilee, though always with an intriguing additional assortment of rolling stock parked outside.
We reach Wembley Park just eleven and a half minutes after Finchley Road, which isn't much slower than Metropolitan passengers who've leapfrogged the intermediate five stations. But theirs are the busier trains as we continue outbound, indeed there's only me left by now in my Jubilee carriage as we duck beneath the mainline and head north. Much of the rest of the ride will be along the backs of substantial white-painted semis, our surroundings now properly Metroland. We pass the foot of Barn Hill on the way to Kingsbury, a station with an almost rural feel that greatly reminds me of Croxley. Queensbury misses out on the illusion by being elevated, although that does allow a view of the unique roundel roundabout built to give this 30s community a sense of place.
That temporary-looking stadium beneath the tracks before Canons Park is The Hive, the new home of Barnet Football Club. The nearside building could be an out-of-town warehouse, while their main stand resembles a three-bar electric fire... but the club's not planning on being here long. And then there's only one station to go, running up the side of a park (it's Canons Park, obviously), before queueing to enter the terminus ahead. Stanmore has three platforms, and like Stratford two are back to back while one's out on a limb. I don't understand the rationale behind the three Next Train Indicators here, which announce the platform of the next train south, then the times of the next two trains from that platform, which can be half an hour away. But this is only of interest if you're heading straight back south again, whereas what you should do is exit up the far stairs to Stanmore proper. Hmm, perhaps.
» Geofftech's five minute video - Secrets of the Jubilee line
JUBILEE: London Designer Outlet
My three line-by-line visits to Wembley this year have provided the perfect opportunity to keep an eye on what's going on opposite the stadium. In February (for the Bakerloo) I noted a new town hall and retail development under construction. In June (for the Metropolitan) I looked inside the new Brent Civic Centre and its associated library. And now in November (for the Jubilee) I've returned to discover the capital's latest shopping mall. It's the London Designer Outlet, billed as Wembley's answer to Bicester Village, and it opened ten days ago. Umpteen brands have moved in to sell their goods at "up to 70% off", which is a technically meaningless quote but looks great in all the publicity. Throw in a dozen restaurants and a multi-screen cinema and the developers hope they've ticked all the boxes for a commercial-friendly day out.
If you've not been to Wembley recently, I have to warn you it's changed utterly. Developers Quintain have knocked down most of what used to be here, assuming it hadn't been pulled down already, and are busy creating a "destination living" space on a huge scale. 5000 flats are planned, of which a small number are already in place (including some very boxy student accommodation). A lot of hotels have gone up already, because accommodation will always thrive alongside Wembley Arena and the national stadium. It's all a bit tall-modern-ugly, to be frank, thus far in a couple of clusters close to the Jubilee and Chiltern stations. And now there's the London Designer Outlet, a clad stack of retail to the west of the stadium, which fits in perfectly with the general lack of architectural distinction. [8 photos]
The LDO consists of a double decker outdoor mall ending at a small piazza, plus three other shorter arcades, two indoors. The anchor tenants are around the piazza, that's M&S and Superdry and H&M and Gap. This being an outlet venue most of the goods are reduced in price, so appear to be bargains even if they're really hard-to-shift fashion leftovers. The M&S outlet store has chunky discounts on clothes and homeware, most marked down from the usual in-store price and some of the rest made specifically for outlet purchase. Fleecy lounge trousers are the big push for men, while the Christmas gift department is already well stacked. Superdry's shop is darker and edgier, indeed I chose to leave after about fifteen seconds, having not spotted much looking bargaintastic. Gap, however, achieved the unthinkable and actually made me want to buy stuff. Half price shirts, half price jackets, half price woolly top things... I was sorely tempted. And then I saw the tills, which were too few, and the queues, which were too long. Somebody at Gap clearly underestimated how popular their shop would be, so never mind, I left empty-handed.
Footwear fanatics can find stuff anywhere on a spectrum from Clarks to Nike (though I didn't spot much with stilettos, sorry ladies, maybe I wasn't looking carefully). There are also several cookware shops - you know the sort of thing, with nice crockery and cutlery and gadgets you don't necessarily need but are selling fairly cheap. In case you think the whole place is upmarket, not so, there's a Calendar Club for anyone who needs twelve photos of One Direction to wrap for a wayward niece. Indeed there's little high-end here to match the elite selection to be found in Bicester - no Armani, McQueen or Burberry - so the moneyed classes of the Home Counties won't be rushing here fast. Indeed thus far I'd say most of the London Designer Outlet's clientèle are fairly local, which means a lot of Asian families from Brent mixed in with curious shoppers from wherever. A couple of launch events have already reached out specifically to the local Wembley community. Last Saturday a group of Bollywood dancers shimmied appealingly at the foot of the escalators, while this Saturday saw a Sitare Festival with a procession of lights and a stage showcasing Bhangra musicians.
The biggest success thus far, it seems, has been food. Pizza Express looked almost full at the weekend, ditto Nando's. Maybe Wembley's been sorely lacking in dining outlets that serve more than fried chicken, or maybe it's just that most of the other restaurants here haven't opened yet. Various units on the upper mall are still being fitted out with kitchens and banquettes, and whether the LDO can support a dozen family-sized eateries has yet to be proven. It's not all sit-down stuff, there's a Pret and a Nero and a Costa for all those shopaholics who need a rest between purchases. You may have to hunt to find them, though. Neither the website nor the giveaway leaflet feature a map of the complex, only a list of brands contained therein. I suspect that's because stores are opening all the time, not everything was open on day one. And I also suspect it's because a map might, thus far, look woefully unimpressive.
An awful lot of the units at the London Designer Outlet remain closed. The first and second floors have several vacancies, at present covered over by upbeat LDO branding. The arcade leading north to Lakeside Way has no tenants at all, apart from one unit occupied by the Outlet's own Information Centre. Quite a few frontages announce someone's "coming soon", so I know that Lindt and New Balance and Jimmy's World Grill & Bar are on their way. But there's a silent tumbleweed feeling to some corners, which may not last forever, but I bet the developers are gutted they couldn't sell the place out from the start. They may have more luck filling the cinema, although the architects seem to have gone out of their way to make winding your way up from the ground floor to the entrance on the fourth as winding and tortuous as possible.
If you fancy a visit to the London Designer Outlet - probably later when a few more shops are open - it's fairly easy by train. From Wembley Park station you get there by walking down Wembley Way as if going to the football, then diverting right past the Arena. Alternatively Chiltern's Wembley Stadium station is much closer, approached via a windswept charmless piazza. If you live locally, or come by bus, you can nip in direct from Empire Way. But you'll probably drive - that's the intention for luring in those across a much wider catchment area. And if you do drive and you end up in the "Yellow parking" zone, spare a thought for what used to be here. When I visited back in February the last remnant of Wembley's 1924 Empire Exhibition - part of the Palace of Industry - was still standing. That's since been entirely demolished, and now several acres of former heritage have become nothing more than a blank car park. They'll be flats and offices eventually, such is Wembley's march towards "destination living", but I can't say I much like what the area is becoming.
JUBILEE: 5 things I found outside this station
I've devoted a month to the Jubilee line before. It was May 2004, the line's 25th anniversary, when I ran a station-by-station feature entitled Silver Jubilee. I visited every station, wrote about each of them in turn, and took pictures too. One part of this mammoth chronicling was a section entitled 5 things I found outside this station, which I thought I'd repeat nearly ten years later to see what's changed. The original lists are in the first column, using red text for anything that's no longer there. And my updated lists are in the second column, using green text for anything that definitely wasn't there last time. Think of it as an urban history project. A lot's changed.
5 things I found outside this station... May 2004 November 2013 Stanmore a small green stall selling flowers, some slatted wooden benches, a pedestrian crossing, a big tube sign on a blue pillar, the Green Belt (the line stops right on the edge of London - a few hundred metres further on and you're in the countryside) Esquire's Barbers, Express Stop (a very mini newsagent), a dispenser containing free copies of Jewish News, Accident Advice House (part of the Stanmore Business Centre), a grumpy fat man swearing hoarsely into his phone Canons Park a very short green cycle path, Canons Park Motors (operating from three arches underneath the station), Eddy's kebab shop, Hearts & Flowers florists, the number 79 bus. four very short green cycle paths, Canons Perk (coffee and snack bar), Cannons Tandoori (blatantly misspelt), the Fountain Park estate, a Barnardo's bin Queensbury Queensbury Circus, Hunter & Hunter estate agents, some bicycles chained to the railings, Joe's Bake & Bite, three levels of flats built above the station entrance Queens Internet cafe, a new bike rack, a mega Morrisons, Hair Magic, a greengrocer stall selling fruit and veg at £1 per bowl Kingsbury a sign saying 'humps for 350 yards', a lot of local shops, a machine selling parking tickets, Jyoti Jewellers, a yellow box junction Sahara Lounge II, a security camera on a tall pole, National Halal Centre, Mepani News, a drinking control area (maximum penalty £500) Wembley Park a pelican crossing, that huge extra entrance/exit for use on days when there's a big event nearby, the College of Northwest London, Olympic Way, a big sign pointing towards 'Stadium tours' (unlikely at present) Wembley Stadium (rebuilt, with arch), Victoria Hall Student Living (skyrise silver shoeboxes), a new huge station entrance/exit, the Ark Academy, Olympic Square (except no, it's more sort-of curved) Neasden a pelican crossing, two giant billboards, Falcon Park RNIB centre, Adrian's Newsagent (a tiny kiosk), a pedestrian sign pointing towards 'Neasden Temple & Superstore' (I hope that's two different places) Cafe Dori, City Plumbing Supplies, a blue bobbly standalone National Lottery sign, a big empty warehouse to let (which may have been the RNIB centre), a sign pointing to 'Magistrates Court' Dollis Hill the 'Dollis Hill' mural, belisha beacons, a big tube sign on a brick column, wide avenues of suburban semis, a parade of shops Dollis Hill Garage, standalone cash machine (£1.75 to withdraw), Liberty Food & Wine, 'Kitten Found' poster, mini-roundabout Willesden Green a yellow plastic box full of grit, Camerons Stiff estate agents (giggle), 10 piles of free magazines (mostly expat related), Dynamic dry cleaners, lots of laminated Wanted For Murder police posters six smart flower boxes (still flowering), City AM newspaper box, Willesden Green Town Team noticeboard (mostly empty), a big bike rack (full), a shakes & smoothie shop (closed, about to become a barbers) Kilburn a double viaduct painted blue, Shoot Up Hill (actually the A5 Watling Street), an old postbox, Kilburn Flowers, a dry cleaners that sells records. Dutch & Dutch fruit & veg stall, Kilburn Confectionery, three bridges, a sign pointing to Brondesbury station, the Kilburn Mural 2004 (painted by Snug, Dane, Bleach, Busk, Tizer and Asset) West Hampstead long queues for tickets, Mr Gingham's sandwich bar (sliced egg, £1.30), The Flower Gallery, the smell of bacon, a big green Camden 'Trade Waste' bin. Sorry Position Closed, Mr Gingham's sandwich bar (sliced egg, £1.50), North West 6 (gift shop), The Railway (pub & Costa), a streetcleaner eyeing me suspiciously Finchley Road the 02 shopping centre (a very modern mall complete with fishtanks and jungle-themed escalators), George's Shoe Repairs, the A41, Waitrose, a mysterious old wooden door labelled 'Meakers' British College of Osteopathic Medicine, expensive florist stall (bouquets in multiples of £5), Canfield House, Evening Standard lock-up (white), Holy Trinity church (plus Alpha Course) Swiss Cottage five station exits via subways, a dead busy road junction on the Finchley Road, Ye Olde Swiss Cottage (a chalet-style pub, built in 1840 beside the old Junction Road tollgate, now complete with exhaust fume soaked beer garden), Fujifilm House, an old Odeon cinema Hampstead Theatre (House Full), Eton Avenue Farmers Market (late in the day, so absolutely no customers), Overground House, Star Box Coffee (a small kiosk with hygiene rating 4), Swiss Cottage Library St John's Wood a circular ticket hall with high glass windows, seven floors of flats built above the station, a shrubbery complete with palm trees, the Abbey Road Café (it's tiny, but it has an informative website), hordes of Inter-Railers clutching Multimap printouts trying to work out where 'that' recording studo is. Acacia Road, a newspaper kiosk sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, a Countdown crossing, the Beatles Coffee Shop (it's tiny, but it has an informative website), hordes of foreign tourists consulting the Legible London map (which doesn't mark the terribly famous nearby zebra crossing) Baker Street hundreds of tourists buying tacky souvenirs and pizzas, long queues for sightseeing buses, a statue of Sherlock Holmes, Transport for London's Lost Property Office (it's amazing what people lose), the big green copper dome of the London Planetarium (opened 1958) M&S Food To Go, long queues for the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Belgian Waffles, The Metropolitan Bar (formerly the Chiltern Court restaurant), the big green copper dome of the Marvel Super Heroes 4D film experience (it's an absolute travesty, sigh) Bond Street bustling Oxford Street, the West One shopping centre, bureaux de change, loads of people, this view. a hole where Crossrail will be, Forever 21, Delicious Crêpes, a park-up spot for pedicabs, lots of yellow Selfridges bags Green Park the grinning lady who blocks the station exit trying to hand out free magazines, the smiley bloke who sells me my Evening Standard, Piccadilly, the Benjy's where I often buy lunch, a surprisingly high proportion of posh men wearing bow ties and dinner jackets an Audi showroom, a Big Bus Tours driver on his break (yelling into his mobile), the new leafy chasm exit direct into Green Park, Langan's Brasserie, Sea Strata (a Portland stone artwork by John Maine) Westminster Big Ben (OK, St Stephen's Tower), the Houses of Parliament, Portcullis House, the River Thames, tight security Big Ben (OK, the Elizabeth Tower), the 'secret' underground entrance to Parliament, Tesco Express, three groups of three Jehovah's Witnesses handing out 'Awake' magazine, St Stephen's Tavern Waterloo Waterloo mainline station, Waterloo Eurostar station, a giant illuminated elephant's head at the top of an escalator, an IMAX cinema, homeless people famously fresh baguettes, Bank Machine Welcomes You To London Waterloo, Fishcotheque, the Wellington, foreign students sat down on the floor chatting Southwark a circular entrance lobby lit by a central glass drum, Waterloo East station (via dedicated exit), Blackfriars Road, a building site dominated by a towering blue crane (any buyers for a new glassy office building?), The Ring public house Palestra (a glassy office building, where TfL lives), snacklite, Rowland Hill House, 15 150th anniversary Art on the Underground posters, the former Blackfriars station London Bridge London Bridge, the London Dungeon, Borough Market (selling posh organic food for Observer readers), Southwark Cathedral, Guy's Hospital the Shard, a new bus station, Sam Souviners (sic), the Shangri-La Hotel (opens Q4 2014), a temporary ticket office Bermondsey Jamaica Road, an electronic display welcoming you to Bermondsey station, two cashpoints, Feltor Carrington estate agents, densely-packed council blocks sign to Bermondsey Square Antiques Market, dual carriageway, Local Express, Jimmy's & Son Barber Shop (est 1970), an old soldier selling poppies Canada Water a big round glass drum, a bus station, large tracts of open space awaiting redevelopment, Surrey Quays Shopping Centre, Canada Water (complete with bird raft and wind turbine) Canada Water Library (est 2012), the Maple Quays Sales and Marketing Suite, maple trees, Mousetail coffee cart, a private gym for residents of the adjacent development Canary Wharf Docklands, One Canada Square (Britain's tallest building), a sculpted head lying on its side, Jubilee Place shopping centre beneath Jubilee Park, four clocks on poles a rack of Boris Bikes, bankers, an advert for St Peter's Barge (London's only floating church), a row of international cuisine kiosks, Montgomery Square North Greenwich a carelessly-discarded Dome, WH Smiths, a bus station in the middle of nowhere, a 1000-space car park, Group 4 security Classico Expresso, a world class 'entertainment district', thousands of people rich enough to watch tennis, the London Diner, windswept Millennium Square Canning Town a big flyover on the A13, an MFI superstore, a teeming bus station, Purvi newsagents, a large stone memorial commemorating the nearby Thames Ironworks (HMS Warrior was built here in 1860) Terry Spinks Place (under the flyover), the place, Matchday route to West Ham, the Bow Creek exit (no public access), flyers for Poverty Kickz (Charity Dance Workshop) West Ham Ibstock bricks and small glass squares, Costcutter Express, a mini-roundabout, Memorial Avenue, a chippy under new management (shame, because the old management served right tasty cod) a superloo (10p fee), the Rial Lifestyle Cafe (recommended), DLR roundel, regular courtesy minibus to West Ham Bus Garage (invariably empty), a lady humming in the bus shelter Stratford Meridian Square, a big bus station, a purple steam engine called Robert, scores of people, my local shopping centre my new local shopping centre, Deano's Continental Hot Food, obscuring fish scale sculptures, a zigzag row of security bollards, Stratford Plaza (all now sold)
With all the building work taking place at Tate Modern at the moment, the latest in The Unilever Series has gone mostly unnoticed. The landmark art project which currently fills the Turbine Hall is more understated than most, that's for sure. There is no blazing sun on the far wall, no crack snaking across the floor, no set of metal spirals to slide down. Instead a more subtle work has appeared, encompassing the void in an entirely new way, yet still with its own original voice.
Tate Modern: Ischan Ging
The Unilever Series: May 2013 - January 2014
The first hint that something unusual is afoot comes on attempting to access the Turbine Hall via the usual channels. The main entrance from the west is sealed off, preventing access down the usual sloping walkway into the heart of the building. Instead visitors must approach along the passage past the cafe, squeezing past the queue for scones, where a high temporary barrier shields the view. One's senses are truly heightened - what is the mystery behind? Playfully there are no clues until three portholes appear on the right hand side, each of a different size and at a different height. The Tate have positioned a security guard close by in case these vantage points become too popular, but thankfully I was fortunate in timing my visit so as to observe without obstruction.
The latest Turbine Hall installation is somewhat of a triptych, as befits a masterwork of note. From this location only the central section is properly visible, this being the raised mezzanine overlooking the rest of the hall. Initially all appears empty, but look again. The barrier around the top of the stairs has been replaced by metal pipework, erupting from a wooden framework skirting the rim. This tableau reflects the safety-conscious nature of our modern society, encompassing risk and order within its temporary frame. This theme is further echoed by a red-framed installation close by - Twin Extinguishers of Fire - which stands poised and ready to put out the raging flames of 21st century society.
Again, closer inspection bears dividends. The floor is covered in a thick layer of dust, reminiscent of Ai Weiwei's carpet of porcelain sunflower seeds exhibited here in 2010. Throughout this powder carpet can be seen trails of repeated patterns forming sinuous lines across the floor. These are the footprints of the performance artists who labour daily to create the impression of a building site, an illusion so deftly created you might even believe it were true. Three further portholes on the northern side suggest the existence of extension works beyond, as if the gallery were expanding both vertically and horizontally to meet artistic need. As if.
Accessing the remainder of the Turbine Hall installation can be problematic - indeed building access is severely compromised for the duration of the work. There are no escalators up from the first floor, they merely sail past, so a more physical approach is required. Walk down to reach the start of the incline, else take the back stairs to ascend in dark twists. You may struggle with the crowds, so comprehensively has the Turbine Hall's temporary quarantine compromised access to the upper levels. But oh what vista awaits from the glass gallery on floor two. The entire void is opened up with unobstructed views to left and right, and only now can one fully appreciate the true extent of this year's project.
At the eastern end of the hall, seemingly nothing. No piles of cardboard boxes, no expanse of bunkbeds, no giant screen. All that's visible are the sober brick walls of this former generating station and a high vertical window. And yet this surely is the very conceit the artist has attempted to expose, showcasing the structure's very ordinariness as a counterpoint to creative hubris, or something.
To appreciate the substance of the western section - the slope down from Bankside to basement level - an increase in elevation is recommended. Climb to the third floor, or better still ascend to the fourth, to absorb the panorama. What disturbance is this? The entire floor has been ripped up, even the remains of Doris Salcedo's concrete crevice scarred here five years back. Scattered about are piles of rubble - some rocks, some pipework - seemingly random yet assembled with painstaking accuracy. A small digger has been placed parallel to the main door, again precisely aligned, close to a very lifelike sculpture of a wheelbarrow. Dust lies everywhere, some scraped as if by persistent motion into lifelike swirls. Meanwhile on the far wall a giant wooden scaffold rises high, then higher, its lower strata sheathed in translucent plastic skin. The overall result is a bold statement of intent, a parable for our times, an unmistakeable composition.
If you're on fourth, look to the right to view the project's crowning glory. A new footbridge is being installed at vertigo-inducing height, designed to link the existing galleries to the new. You'll need a head for heights to cross, but for now access is blocked, available only via imagination. Instead the Tate distracts with artworks under the umbrella of 'Structure and Clarity, from Mondrian to Jarman, in adjacent rooms opened for many a long year. But when the Herzog & de Meuron extension opens in 2016, this skyway path will be an alternative gateway to pyramidal heights. Until then the Turbine Hall's latest installation offers tantalising glimpses of creative horizons as yet unattained, of dreams unbidden, of aesthetic destiny. Visit soon, or maybe best wait a bit.
» Tate Modern is changing
JUBILEE: Canning Town
So, where's the oldest advert on the Underground? Not a preserved heritage poster somewhere. Not a ripped scrap of fading colour, half-forgotten on a wall. I mean the oldest advert in a proper frame in a proper station masquerading as a proper advert.
I think I may have found it.
It's at Canning Town station, on the Jubilee line. It's about halfway along the subway linking the ticket hall to the bus station. And it's this.
The advert is for one of a series of full colour leaflets that TfL brought out in conjunction with BBC Radio London. "Real Arts", it was called, "Your guide to viewing & doing the arts in London". A 36-pager, you could pick up a copy from leaflet racks like the one on the opposite wall. Forty diverse arts venues got the nod within, from across the capital, complete with what's on and transport access details. There were three special offers too, including a free poster giveaway from selected London theatres. And the smallprint on page 3 says "Offers valid only during October and November 2002, unless otherwise stated." Which, by my calculations, makes this poster advert at Canning Town 11 years out of date. And I think that's a record.
At first glance the advert looks perfectly current. The Polka Theatre still exists, and still puts on fine plays (with and without puppets) for children. There are no years or dates on the poster to give the game away. But look carefully at the web address. TfL's website is no longer called www.thetube.com, and hasn't been for ten years now, although the URL still works. TfL no longer publicise 020 telephone numbers, they use 0343 and 0870 these days. BBC Radio London no longer abbreviates itself to LDN. And on the cover of the booklet "Mayor of London" has its ON written in red, which is a typographic flourish changed to blue when Boris Johnson entered office. There's no mistaking, this is an advert from at least a decade ago.
I wonder why it's survived. Is it that staff haven't noticed the poster's long out of date? Is it because Frame 74 isn't listed in TfL's database. Is it that nobody wants to advertise at Canning Town? I was tempted to go up to a member of staff and ask why nobody had taken it down. I was even more tempted to go up to the ticket office and ask for a copy of the booklet, but I didn't want to draw attention to the existence of the advert before I'd told you about it. Plus I'd probably have looked a complete idiot. Plus I've already got a copy. Don't say you're surprised.
It's been interesting to look inside my 'Real Arts' leaflet to see 2002 was like. At Tate Modern Anish Kapoor's big red sculpture filled the Turbine Hall. Wendy Craig and Tom Conti were about to appear at the Greenwich Theatre. The cheapest seats at Sadlers Wells cost £5, whereas today it's more like £22. Only one wheelchair-accessible bus passed the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn High Road. Stratford Circus in E15 had only just opened. And there was a nostalgic section at the back of the leaflet encouraging families to buy paper travelcards, this being the pre-Oyster era, including a One Day Bus Pass for the fantastically low price of £2. London changes, but this poor lost advert at Canning Town remains.
I wonder if you've seen anything older than this out there? Perhaps on a platform on some distant branch of the Central line, or perhaps lurking in an ill-frequented side passage in a station in the centre of town. Again, I'm not talking about a preserved heritage poster, or a ripped scrap of fading colour half-forgotten on a wall. I mean the oldest advert in a proper frame in a proper station masquerading as a proper advert. Because when the staff at Canning Town finally go out and take this 11 year-old down, we'll need to know where the tube's new oldest advert is.
JUBILEE: Jubilee Place
There are several shopping malls in East London, but only one is targeted at shoppers with cash to splash. We're generally not that rich over here, at least in comparison to the other side of town. Even Westfield provides a toned down retail offering at Stratford City compared to Shepherds Bush, which has its own luxury enclave called The Village. Ilford would never support a premium handbag shop, while Hackney's designer offering is limited to outlet stores. But there is one anomalous outpost of wealth out east, the financial centre at Canary Wharf, so it's only right they have a shopping mall in which employees can spend their bonuses. It's called Jubilee Place, and it just got bigger.
Jubilee Place opened ten years ago, the second shopping mall at Canary Wharf. The first sits under the main tower, a lengthy subterranean arcade leading from Cabot Square down to Waitrose. It's got some upmarket shops, but also much more ordinary fare like JD Sports and a Carphone Warehouse. It's somewhere for financial service workers to shop at lunchtimes, and for more affluent locals to go at weekends. Jubilee Place runs parallel, on the opposite side of the Jubilee line station, beneath Jubilee Park. See what they did with the branding there?
Jubilee Place has a relatively exclusive feel. Nothing so over the top as might be found in Mayfair, this isn't the Bond Street of E14. But there are fragrance boutiques and ladieswear collections for browsing, plus several food outlets aimed more at sit-down dining than desktop takeaway. The supermarket is an M&S Simply Food, which is always a good way of spending extra on calories. Stores sell high-class cashmere for protection against the air-conditioned office, and tailoring for City gents who aren't based in the City. Only a branch of Boots lowers the tone slightly, but hey, what self-respecting futures analyst wouldn't need a chemist on their doorstep?
The new extension to Jubilee Place is on Level Minus Two. That's one floor below the main mall and two floors below the park, on the same level as the Underground station ticket hall. This used to be nowhere special. You walked in from the tube via two sets of heavy doors (still present) to face a small newsagents selling papers and sweets. A short escalator then led up to a mezzanine, and up again to the the glazed atrium at the heart of the main mall. That's now changed. The newsagent's long gone, his corner replaced by several artisan-style shops. And the direct escalator's no longer there either, forcing everyone to walk further past lots more shops before ascending. A marble mall has been created, with swish lighting, glazed shop frontages and bijou display cases containing goodies you might like to purchase. One mosaic on the floor commemorates London as "the world's only open market for tortoise shell", as if this were somehow a good thing. And all the time security guards watch, just in case something less than perfect might occur.
Jubilee Place's brand new shops increase the upmarket factor somewhat. Monica Vinader sells contemporary celebrity-endorsed jewellery. Orlebar Brown sells not swimming trunks but "resortwear". There's lingerie, fitness gear, exclusive homeware and posh tights. The only food option is Le Pain Quotidien, for when a sandwich won't do and you need "elegant boulangerie fare made with organic ingredients". The anchor tenant is Banana Republic, located at the end of the mall, making its first appearance east of the City. There's even a boutique selling ballet shoes, hardly an East End staple.
Now you might be thinking, excellent, that's just what I need. You might live or work in Docklands, and this might save you an annoying trip into town. Indeed I'm not going to moan or complain about this new development, merely shine a spotlight on its existence. But read on.
The estate's owners have long encouraged those with disposable income to shop here, making available various free publications in each mall. Us plebs pick up The Wharf newspaper to read about Tinchy Stryder's roots and Asda's new community space. Those with bonuses to spend pick up Canary Wharf magazine, a glossy full colour freebie which this month reaches its 100th edition. Think gold-embossed cover, think adverts for jewellery and motors, think fashion spreads for business travellers. Page 32 lists nine November basics for fashion conscious men, including a £300 pair of trousers, a £448 hoodie and a £595 jumper. The cheapest watch pictured on page 57 costs £1360. Page 107 showcases Harrods' Decadence Hamper, a Christmas steal for £20,000. Or maybe you'd like a three bedroom flat on the 41st floor across the docks, assuming you have £2¼ million to spare.
Tower Hamlets is one of the most divided boroughs in the country, with a vast gulf between those who live here and those who work here. Only 15% of jobs in the borough are taken by local residents, with the others filled by people commuting in. Those who work in Tower Hamlets have an average salary of £58,000, whereas the median household income for those who live here is only £29,550. Indeed nearly 20% of households live on less than £15,000 a year, while 49% of children in Tower Hamlets live in poverty – the highest rate in the UK. Here some of the most deprived wards in London nuzzle up against some of the richest, and not enough of Docklands' financial muscle trickles into the surrounding communities.
If you ever fancy a sharp contrast, start at Chrisp Street Market on Poplar's Lansbury Estate, and see what they have in the way of fashion, jewellery and fine dining. From here it's just three stops on the DLR, or five stops on the bus, to the underground shopping malls at Canary Wharf. There are no pawnbrokers here, no 99p stores, no fried chicken shops, and what's easily affordable in one place costs more than a month's income in the other. Twas ever thus, we've always been a divided society. But a visit to Jubilee Place might well remind you on which side of the divide you belong.
JUBILEE: Waterloo → Southwark
I don't think there's another pair of Underground stations like it - two neighbouring stations on the same line where you can walk from one to the other without ever leaving a station. Such a pair would have to be very close to one another, which these are, and there'd have to be something fairly unusual inbetween, which there is. The two stations are Waterloo and Southwark on the Jubilee line. And what's inbetween is a mighty trek above ground and down again, via a completely different station.
WATERLOO: This is the second station on the Jubilee line extension, not quite so impressive as Westminster, but striking all the same. It has those glass doors that seal off the tracks from the platform, while the walls are covered in little grey tiles like a mosaic. There are two exits from the platform, roughly at each end, so take your pick.
escalator ↑11m: Join the throng to battle your way aboard the first escalator, where there's usually a lot more space for those willing to walk. And it doesn't matter which set of escalators you choose, because each deposits you in the same place on the landing above.
landing: This would feel quite big, except there's a mysterious glass chamber in the middle surrounding a single set of steps down. Where does it go? Whatever, it's a secret staircase for staff only, not for us. Neither are we heading for the travelator, that speedy moving walkway leading to Waterloo's other tube lines.
escalator ↑17m: This is a long one, rising up a thin tube lined by grey indented panels. They all have their own style of grey indented panel, the stations on this section of the Jubilee line extension, with Waterloo's being an indented circle with a smaller indented circle in the centre. Look over your shoulder as you ascend into the ticket hall to see an elephant's head above you. This sculpture is by Kendra Haste, and is made from galvanised painted wire. First time travellers tend to look twice.
Waterloo Road ticket hall: This is a busy ticket hall, and probably one of the last TfL will close should they ever announce a major raft of closures. You can exit to Waterloo Road (the road, not the badly acted school), but instead most pass through, avoiding the pasty and burger outlets, to rise again.
escalator ↑: Here's our third escalator, climbing from beside the flashy cashpoints to emerge in the mainline station.
Waterloo station: Viewed one way, it's a romantic departure point for the West Country, meet me under the clock. Viewed another way, it's commuter hell, queueing to board the 1753 to Chessington South. But we're not hanging around, we're heading for Waterloo East. It used to be fairly easy to spot the Waterloo East exit on the eastern wall, but not any more. I wandered along and back for a bit before I finally spotted the sign hanging from the ceiling - they hid it well.
escalator ↑: Our fourth and final upward escalator glides towards the roof, providing a fine vantage point across the station below, and an upper balcony.
The Balcony: You might not have realised that Waterloo station has a mezzanine floor. It's relatively new, and is of course an elevated shopping experience for bored passengers. Liverpool Street's had one for years, King's Cross got one last year - it's the de rigeur option for transport retail. Waterloo's will be of more use when they find tenants for all the shops, but you can already dine, or do Fat Face, if you insist.
Waterloo East entrance: Aha, the station entrance is on level one. If you reach the barrier without buying a ticket a sign directs you back down the escalator to try again in the main station. Until fairly recently it used to be possible to walk straight through, and onwards, without touching in. Alas it's possible no longer.
passageway: It's a bit of a walk from Waterloo to Waterloo East, and all slightly downhill. Follow the semi-cylindrical tube, making sure to keep to the left beneath the green arrows. Look, we're passing over Waterloo Road, and you can easily see out towards the river. This walk may have begun two dozen metres below ground, but now we're high above. It's quite a workout, both vertically and horizontally, this hike. If you pass through before 11.15pm, there's an extra exit half way along for the Imperial War Museum and the Union Jack Club. But we're not going that way.
Waterloo East: Eventually, after a couple of twists, we reach the station entrance proper. It's an architectural letdown after the Jubilee line, more suburban overbridge than central mainline station. Watch the information boards to work out which way to go, and there's an added peculiarity here... all the platforms are lettered. None of this normal numbered stuff, will it be A or B or C or D?
ramp ↓: Here begins the descent proper, a long sloping ramp, dropping a little more sharply than the previous passageway.
Platform A: Any platform will do, but I've selected the main platform for those heading to the suburbs. Check out Sweet Express while you wait for trains to Woolwich or Gillingham, or grab a coffee from Aromas cafe, which is more likely to be open. What you can't do, if you walk right down to the far end of the platform, is frequent the Cappucino & Espresso Bar, because that's exceptionally closed and has been for some time. There are some fine views here - the Shard ahead, the Eye behind.
staircase ↓: Look, it's old-fashioned stairs! There's none of this Jubilee step-free stuff on the suburban railway.
passageway: This is a bit dull, and a bit grey, and more than a bit quiet. The stairs from platforms A, B and C deposit you here.
ticket gates: This is a bit odd. Ahead is a row of ticket barriers, those to exit Waterloo East station...
ticket gates: ...and immediately in front is another row of ticket barriers, those to enter Southwark station. You might find one set open, or you might not, touching in twice to leave one system and enter another. It's really quiet here in this big ticket hall, or it is outside the weekday rush hour, and yet there's always some poor member of staff sitting here bored out of their skull waiting to assist anyone who gets stuck, if anyone ever does.
escalator ↓ 13m: At last, a stylish descent. This escalator starts off at street level - you'll see people walking past outside the window. And then we're off back beneath the ground, for the first time since fourteen paragraphs ago.
passageway: At last we're back inside the modern Jubilee line again. It's a very quiet link, this, which you can tell from how incredibly empty the litter bags are. Further along, where those descending from the street merge, they're full of wrappers and empty coffee cups. Here on the link to Waterloo East they contain virtually nothing.
landing: And this is fantastic, possibly the best bit of architecture on the entire Jubilee line extension. A blue glass wall, made from equilateral triangles, rises in a sweeping curve supported by parallel concrete struts. Reflected light streaks the wall with white and grey stripes, giving the appearance of some exotic mineral ore, like we're in a cave or something. The effect's been ruined slightly by one of those busking semicircles daubed on the floor, but I love it here. It is perhaps no coincidence that one of TfL's main office blocks is immediately outside this station.
escalator ↓ 9m: Completely out of scale with the surrounding chamber is a trio of escalators, each burrowing down separately into the surrounding earth. Ride the narrow tube downward, it's an unusual experience, in futuristic silver.
staircase ↓: And woo,a wide open space again. A long high chamber runs between the two Jubilee line tunnels, with one final staircase leading down to platform level. Each has an illuminated top, curving to a point like an Art Deco ocean liner, as an added decorative flourish. Marvellous stuff.
SOUTHWARK: And here we are, at last, at the station nextdoor to Waterloo. The platform is entirely understated in comparison with everything else, but has a simple elegance with its grey walls and indented squares. At which point the obvious thing to do is to catch the next train out. It's less than a minute back to Waterloo, which is less than 500 metres away via the Jubilee line. But how much more interesting it was to walk the station-to-station journey; up, and above ground, and along, and back down again.
JUBILEE: Alternative routes
The Jubilee Line nearly didn't go to Stratford. Previous plans, and there have been many, envisaged the extension weaving along the Thames instead. Some of those early schemes became the DLR, while the dogleg up to Stratford was prompted by the East London Rail Study in the late 1980s. If you want to read all about the history of the extension (and I mean all), try this comprehensive 118-page pdf report from UCL. In the meantime here's a brief sketchy summary of the Jubilee extension's evolution.
[Stanmore → Wembley Park → Baker Street → Green Park →
1965 → Charing Cross → Fenchurch Street → New Cross → Lewisham → Addiscombe]
1973 → Aldwych → Fenchurch Street → (DLR style minitram) → Barking] & Thamesmead]
1976 → Aldwych → Fenchurch Street → Millwall → North Greenwich → Custom House → Woolwich Arsenal → Thamesmead]
1984 → Aldwych → London Bridge → Greenwich → Abbey Wood → Thamesmead]
1988 → Waterloo → London Bridge or Bricklayers Arms → Isle of Dogs → Beckton] or Stratford → Tottenham Hale]
1988 → Aldwych → Ludgate Circus → London Bridge] or Stratford → Ilford] or Hainault]
1989 → Aldwych or Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → Stratford]
1990 → Aldwych or Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → North Greenwich → Stratford and/or Thamesmead]
1992 → Waterloo → London Bridge → Canary Wharf → North Greenwich → Stratford]
And while we're at it, here are some of the options the extension's planners considered when trying to link Green Park to Waterloo...
Green Park → Charing Cross → Temple → Waterloo
Green Park → Embankment → Waterloo
Green Park → Westminster → Waterloo
Green Park → almost St James's Park → Waterloo
Green Park → St James's Park → Millbank → Waterloo
JUBILEE: Ten line facts
• Although the Jubilee line was only created in 1979, the line we have now was built in five stages. An 1880-ish bit from Finchley Road to Wembley Park, an early 1930s northward extension to Stanmore, a late 1930s parallel overspill tunnel between Baker Street and Finchley Road, a 1970s extension to Charing Cross, and the millennial extension to Stratford.
• Originally, everything north of Finchley Road was the Metropolitan railway, then from 1939 to 1979 everything north of Baker Street was the Bakerloo line.
• The Jubilee line was originally going to be called the River line, then later the Fleet line. It was rebranded the Jubilee line to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, just two years before opening.
• The Jubilee line has only one disused station, at Charing Cross, served by trains for only 20 years.
• The closest stations on the Jubilee line are Waterloo and Southwark. The farthest apart are Kingsbury and Wembley Park (followed by Canada Water and Canary Wharf)
• On a typical weekday Jubilee line trains run a total of 29208km (about 27000 on a Saturday, and 21000 on a Sunday)
• Jubilee line trains used to have six carriages but now have seven.
• Each train is 126m long and contains 234 seats.
• The 1970s tunnels have a diameter of 3.85m, whereas the millennial tunnels have a diameter of 4.35m.
• The Jubilee line's official colour is Pantone 430.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
NORTHERN: Up the line
According to my 1971 Guinness Book of Records, the world's longest continuous vehicular tunnel is the London Transport Board underground railway line from Morden to East Finchley via Bank. In use since 1939, it is 17 miles 528 yards long. Alas the record didn't hold into the 1980s, thanks to burrowing in Moscow, but this is still the longest continuous tunnel on the tube network. The ex-record-breaker provides the setting for the majority of today's end-to-end end journey up the Northern line, bar half a dozen open-air stations at the Barnet end of the line. By which I mean sorry, most of what follows is underground, so don't expect narrative excitement.
Morden is as far south as the Underground goes, so it's somewhat ironic that the station's on the Northern line. Charles Holden's consummate entrance is embedded in a parade of shops and offices, with passengers sweeping in beneath a chandelier, through a circular ticket hall and down to the platforms. There are five of these, but only three tracks, making Morden one of the few stations on the network where doors open on both sides. For the full tunnel experience make sure it's a High Barnet train you board, and so long as it's not rush hour you'll almost certainly be riding the correct route via Bank. The tunnel portal rears up only a few hundred yards beyond the station, extinguishing daylight for what'll be just under an hour.
South Wimbledon is the first of a number of very similar-looking stations. That's tiled and tubular, mostly white but with turquoise and then silvery grey tiles bordering each advertising panel. The roundels here have a slightly peculiar font that doesn't quite look the way you'd expect to see today, and at least one sign still says South Wimbledon (Merton), because that's really where this station is located. Colliers Wood has the same turquoise-grey-white pallete, plus a border of blue around the roundel board to complete the pattern. Then Tooting Broadway's the same (but busier), ditto the wonderfully named Tooting Bec, ditto Balham (gateway to the south). Even the adverts are much the same on every platform, but shuffled into a different order, from the latest Jessie J album to an Irish American Football game. By Clapham South (ditto) I have resorted to counting the number of consecutive high pitched beeps that play out every time the doors are about to shut. I make it 28, and I do not waver in that assertion further down the line.
Whoa, Clapham Common! Its island platform is almost unique on the underground, a long straight refuge with trains pulling in on both sides. I suspect there are several local residents who refuse to use this station, so queasy does the narrow giddying platform make them feel. I suspect that's also why so many passengers wait at the foot of the steps and then bundle into the rear carriage, to save having to negotiate past those lingering awkwardly further along. Clapham North looks much the same, but with a distinct kink - this the only other tube station still with its original island platform because nobody's ever had the money to dig anything wider. By now the train is probably rather full, as south London's residents crowd aboard the only rail service that can take them to the heart of town. But Stockwell acts as a release, its ever-so-convenient Victoria line connection attracting many from their seats. It also doesn't have that turquoise-grey-white look, having been upgraded to a more modern Victoria-like design in the 1960s.
Oval has that familiar colour scheme again, as does Kennington, but this time with a twist. Kennington's where the Northern line divides, one branch through the West End and the other through the City. These days trains rarely run directly onto the former, so another exodus sees passengers slipping across the passage to continue their "via Charing Cross" journey. Look, now there are seats again, and not that many people dashing aboard to sit on them. The decor at Elephant & Castle has been upgraded, almost sympathetically, with a more modern vinyl strip along the top of the platform. Borough meanwhile is a symphony in black, with the tiling detail for once reflecting the Northern line's designated colour. And it turns out London Bridge is precisely half an hour from Morden, almost all of which has been spent travelling directly beneath the same road (that's the A24/A3).
Here we are at Bank, the station that's going to see a major upgrade over the next few years. This northbound tunnel will survive, but had we been travelling south the tracks would eventually be converted to a passenger concourse. I breathe a sigh of relief at Moorgate because, after seventeen stations, finally an interesting group of passengers board who I'll be able to write about. They're a Japanese family - mum, dad and two young sons - who immediately pose for a thumbs-up photo (as tourists do on the tube). The youngest son is grinningly excitable and starts to squawk, which mother isn't at all keen on. "If you scream," she says, "a policeman will come and catch you and take you to jail." He squawks again, and indeed again, having ascertained that arrest is not imminent, but so endearingly that the rest of the carriage merely smiles.
By Old Street the social mix has switched from those departing South London to those journeying North. Trainers are swisher, carrier bags are hipper, and the tone is only lowered (at Angel) by a middle-aged man entering with a rolled-up music magazine protruding somewhat suggestively between his legs. I note that King's Cross St Pancras has brand new white-on-black tourist signs above the platforms pointing towards the British Library. These'll be really useful if you ever alight here, because now you can always follow these yellow arrows to avoid TfL sending you on an unnecessarily devious route to your destination. Interchange is much easier at Euston, a simple switcheroo across to the northbound Victoria line platform (although admittedly rather more complicated if heading anywhere else).
At Camden Town the last set of doors will not open. A recorded message announces this in advance of arrival, but the volume's not especially high and I think I was the only person in the last carriage to hear it. I deduced this when 21 people stood at Camden Town and walked towards the last set of doors, including the Japanese family who'd boarded earlier. They stood expectantly as absolutely nothing happened, then twigged they'd need to walk down the carriage to the penultimate doors to escape. Turning round the Japanese toddler proved problematic, blocking progress for a few crucial seconds, so when the door beep came there were still six would-be market-goers trapped aboard the train. This half dozen continued to Kentish Town (Chalk Farm wouldn't have been so bad), unexpectedly good-natured about their unnecessary diversion. But when quite so many people fail to spot an important announcement about not being able to alight, you have to wonder if there's a better way to get the message across.
The train's much emptier by Tufnell Park, or :TUFNELL:PARK: as the tiling on the platform wall has it. We're in the middle of a run of three Leslie Green stations, each with marvellous tiling similar to that seen on the original Piccadilly line. Kentish Town's signature hue is a darker brown, whereas Tufnell Park's is lighter, the colour of smokers' fingernails. Archway goes for emerald, and then Highgate breaks the pattern entirely with a much more clinical white and green, in matching style to the southern Hainault Loop.
And that's it for underground. We've been in the former record-breaking tunnel for 56 minutes as we emerge into daylight at East Finchley. This is a lovely Art Deco station, another of Charles Holden's, with semi-spiral stairwells rising (inaccessibly) within curved glass buildings on the platforms. At last there are views of London to enjoy, this the thick of suburban Barnet, as allotments, rooftops and a series of arched road bridges roll by. Finchley Central's flowerbeds are still blooming strong, alongside an array of pot plants and a small wishing well which would look more at home outside a bungalow. Ahead the tracks strike out for Mill Hill East, but the mainline veers right and the banks become a little woodier.
West Finchley has an almost rural air, Woodside Park definitely so. Both have short gabled shelters on their platforms with green and white wooden canopies, both have a lattice footbridge, and one even boasts a period signal box. Not so much happens passenger-wise this far up the line, not off-peak northbound, apart from a few local souls nipping aboard to go shopping in Barnet. Thence to Totteridge and Whetstone, one of the longest station names on the network, with the unexpected appearance of plain brick as the dominant building material. And then we're nearly at our destination, rising up on a viaduct at Underhill before waiting to dive into cutting once a final platform becomes available. The station at High Barnet is distinctly low, with a long ramp to climb to escape upwards towards the town centre. An hour and a quarter all told, joining two sides of London, to the most northern the Northern line gets.
NORTHERN: Down the line
The Northern line is essentially two entirely separate lines. That's not historical, it's a position TfL have been slowly edging towards with an eye on increased capacity. Outside peak hours they've split the line at Kennington, with trains on the Charing Cross branch turning back via an underground loop. If only Camden Town station could be upgraded then the line could be split full time, but TfL have never had the planning permission and sufficient money to make the break. Which means I can take a ride back down the line from Edgware and only repeat three of the 32 stations I travelled through yesterday on the way up.
Edgware was little more than a village when the Northern line arrived in 1924, but today the surrounding area's anything but. A run of decent shops is broken by the station's pillared frontage, with a taxi drop-off circle in front and a bland bus station tucked behind. Head inside and down the stairs and three spacious platforms are to be found beneath a wide iron arch. It feels like a proper terminus at the start of a journey to somewhere exciting, which may or may not be your description of Kennington 40 minutes hence. The indicator board offers no clues to how long it'll be before the next train departs, so you might rush unnecessarily, or you might saunter and miss the beeping doors. We'll assume the former.
The run to Burnt Oak is indicative of what's to come - the backs of gardens, the occasional overbridge, plenty of trees. The station's typical too, accessed from above down gentle steps to an island platform. The same at Colindale, though a little busier here, perhaps with folk departing the RAF Museum up the road. Thus far you've been allowed to take your bike on the train but no further. Ahead is a brief tunnel to negotiate beneath the M1 and bits of Hendon, only a minute long but enough for TfL to bar two-wheeled steeds forthwith. Before the tunnel portal watch out for the Met Police's Hendon training centre, and yes that really is a blue police box through the fence alongside the cadets' perimeter road.
The tracks emerge into cutting at Hendon Central, then skirt the longest edge of Hendon Park. Crossing the North Circular provides a grand panorama, from a hilltop spire round to Wembley's arch, plus the largest shopping centre in northwest London. Brent Cross isn't quite ideally located for its eponymous mall - that's on the opposite side of a brutal arterial roundabout, which is what happens when you open the tube station first rather than second. Nice station entrance, by the way, very Edgware-esque, which unusually you can see clearly from the train window above. We roll into Golders Green at rooftop level, this a busy multi-platform station with several platforms (and gold clocks, and benches with integrated roundels, and timber canopies, and lovely).
That's it for above ground. Immediately ahead is the entrance to a tunnel, and shortly after that the deepest point below ground on the entire tube network, 69m beneath Holly Bush Hill. Close by is the lost station that never opened, that's North End, its platforms slipping by unnoticed in the dark. Hampstead station's deep too, 320 steps to the surface if you're either very fit or borderline suicidal. This is the start of another run of Leslie Green tiling, with a design on the platform walls that looks a bit like the Millennium bug. Belsize Park's pattern is a richer brown and a little more involved, while Chalk Farm's struck me as more of a sawtooth, although Leslie probably had something completely different in mind.
I made this journey on a Sunday afternoon, hence the platforms at Camden Town were mercifully clear. Entrance from above is barred for four and a half hours while Camden's streets and markets are flooded with yoof, so only those changing between branches stand waiting. One consequence of this shutdown is hordes lined up at Mornington Crescent, this the only time the station's busy, waiting to board en masse with designer bags a-dangle. As the doors start to close one surly shopper jams her torso through, delaying our progress, and another dozen latecomers take the opportunity to squeeze inside.
Next is Euston, approached via completely different tunnels to those on the City branch, indeed almost perpendicular. The platform walls here are decorated with an abstract red, blue and yellow design based on some shield or coat of arms that's locally relevant. All is explained in an information panel for the benefit of inquisitive passengers, but reading that would have involved getting off so I continued in ignorance. Warren Street is the only station on the Northern line where the accent colour is pure black, and which according to Mr Green's tiles still goes by its former name of Euston Road. As for Goodge Street its most notable feature must be the ridiculously overdone pronunciation of "Goooodge" on the in-train announcements, which had two American tourists in fits.
Tottenham Court Road looks a mess, with splashes of mosaic to brighten extensive surfaces of pre-Crossrail concrete. It also signals the start of a flurry of West End activity, lots getting off, lots getting on, ditto Leicester Square. Two grannies make a play to grab adjacent seats, but fail, which is about as exciting, characterfully, as my entire journey gets. I like the black and white mural at Charing Cross, a selection of medieval craftspeople toiling to build the Eleanor Cross above, courtesy of David Gentleman. And from here it's barely any distance at all beneath Villiers Street to Embankment, indeed a mere 260 metres, making this the second shortest journey on the underground network.
We pass beneath the Thames in the vicinity of Hungerford Bridge (Ian can tell you about the sealed-off Northern line loop beneath the river). A mass exodus of passengers departs at Waterloo, because there's only one destination left, and that's South London. It feels quite a long way to the next station, but that's only relative compared to the baby steps we've taken through the West End. And this is Kennington, the 90%-of-the-time end of the line, where every traveller disembarks. A few leave to rise to the streets of Lambeth, but most walk through the cross-passage and onto the next Morden-bound train, departing now. Nobody stopped to check the train was empty, so I should have stayed aboard to ride the Kennington Loop round in a great circle... to emerge on the other side of the station as the next northbound train. But enough already.
From here the train continues through what used to be the Kennington Loop. The carriages are rammed, as usual, with socialites and boutique shoppers heading to MallAsia in Battersea at the end of the line. The tunnel follows a roundabout route to extension station one, that's Barclays Nine Elms, with its characteristic lightbox adverts all along the platform. Nobody's yet seen anyone from the adjacent US Embassy alighting here, because they go everywhere by car, but the American security guards by the automatic smartcard barriers still give every departing passenger an X-ray once-over. Our driverless service has one more stop to go. "We are now arriving at Prada Battersea MallAsia. Please remember to take all your purchases with you when leaving the train." Most take the lifts, because it's less effort than walking to the escalators. And their final destination is the glass boulevard through the old power station, where the chimneys used to cast their shadow. Such prosperity, such conspicuous consumption, even if there's barely a true Londoner in sight. Whatever your view of the half billion overspend, the Johnson Line Extension has sprinkled its magic dust on Battersea.