Sometimes you have to peer at the Underground through half-closed eyes. Sometimes you have to compensate for its tendency towards shabbiness by imagining what things should look like, were all for the best in the best of all possible worlds, instead of regarding what’s actually in front of you. Sometimes greatness has to be given a little push from the wings before it reveals its full glory on the stage.
It’s often a matter of finding the right place to stand. From some angles, Dollis Hill looks forlorn. From others – the right ones – it looks sprightly. Visit on a grey day when the wind is howling across north London and all the trains seem to be those louche Metropolitan ones that don’t stop here, it’s not so much finding the right place to stand as finding the strength to stand at all.
But step out of the wind and crouch down by the flowerbeds – ignoring funny looks from passers-by – and the station starts to soothe rather than curdle the soul. OK, you’re cheating a bit. It’s not meant to be ogled from such an undignified posture. But the spectacle is there for the taking. And why pop a row of lovely plants on your platform if you don’t want them to be admired, even from a squatting position?
Dollis Hill’s stately waiting rooms aren’t quite as dapper as they once were. Despite a facelift in 2009, they can feel rather unloved. The curved facades, petite windows and huge, roaming canopies seem a bit out-of-sorts. The station wears its appeal very lightly. Perhaps if it hugged itself a little closer, its charms would appear more readily. Though given its unqualified exposure to the elements, hugging of any kind would be well-advised.
The waiting rooms themselves have a frustrating knack of falling victim to climate-related maladies. Sometimes it’s a leaky roof. Other times it’s damp. Again, a bit of imagination is required to appreciate how cosy it would be inside, were the rooms open and fit for use. Pressing your nose up against the frosted glass will only get you so far. About half an grimy inch, in fact.
It’s the weather that makes or breaks Dollis Hill. The extra sets of tracks either side of the platforms have left it victim to extremes of temperature. There are no adjacent forms of shelter, not even greenery, to stave off seasonal excesses. In high summer the place is like an open kiln; in the depths of winter, an Antarctic outpost.
The elegant platform buildings ought to sail through all of this like a luxury liner through a tempest. But at present they are taking in water and looking like they’re about to start listing. Hopefully one day the station can be viewed again with wide-eyed appreciation, rather than merely through a shrub darkly.