Kenneth Williams deploys many persuasive turns of phrase throughout his wonderful diaries, sometimes without grace, sometimes without merit, but never without purpose. One of my favourites is his depiction of himself “sat in the flat, revolving memories.” It’s an immensely attractive description for the otherwise somewhat unexceptional business of brooding, or moping, or – to use another of Kenny’s terms – drearing about.
It also captures very neatly the cyclical nature of contemplation: that sense of turning the same things over and over, and of forever returning to dwell on a matter over which you’ve pondered many times, not always without regret.
The ticket hall at Hanger Lane is a place that smoothly inverts Williams’ wise words, by way of revolving memories not within but around you.
It does this in a literal sense, its resplendent curved interior swooping this way and that, each post-war trinket and trimming igniting a little firework of nostalgia that pops and crackles inside your head. Look over there: a bit of tatty 1950s signage. And there: an uplighter that harks back to the 30s. That typeface: doesn’t it look a touch 1980s? As for that notice on the toilet door, that must be close to 40 years old. Yikes: am I really almost the same age?
But it also does it in an allusive sense. This ticket hall contrives somehow to send other associations spinning through your mind: memories of school assembly halls, of whirling zoetropes in science museums, of dust particles dancing in ribbons of sunlight in provincial libraries, of drums and top hats and birthday cakes and merry-go-rounds and doctor’s waiting rooms and party games and giant, giant silences in giant, giant spaces.
Now, just as one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, so one person’s revolving memory bank is another person’s pile of bricks. Hanger Lane’s elegance can’t bewitch everyone in the same way, or else it would cease to be special. I’m sure it suffers by sharing a name with the eponymous gyratory, even though – as I’ve already suggested – that particular tangle of roads doesn’t quite deserve such a fearsome reputation.
It also has its roots not in the Underground but – heavens – British Rail, whose Western Region architect Peter MacIver conceived the building in an era of austerity that boasted a very different cultural template to that being advanced politically today. (I really must stop moaning about Michael Gove on this blog.)
Yet maybe all these things make me love the place all the more. It wants to be different, it tries to distinguish itself, it defies your expectations… and, to my mind, it succeeds utterly. It not only revolves memories, it evolves them as well. Even the simple, formal elegance of the station’s exterior, bombarded with gales of traffic noise and jostled by neighbouring gangs of blighted shopfronts, keeps my senses transfixed.
Yes, I’m afraid I’m going to have to say it. Hanger Lane is in my ears, and in my eyes.