Archive

Numbers 1-25

The white stuffWhen it snows in London, the city loses a million rough edges and raw surfaces.

Everything is smoothed over. The coarse, noisy cornerstones of the capital are substituted for oases of soft serenity. It becomes possible, just for a short while, to hear the sound of silence.

Unassuming objects take on an incredible beauty – but a beauty that is all the more affecting by virtue of being fleeting. You don’t know for how long this change will remain, or when you’ll get to see it again.

It’s a transformation that never fails to enchant me, appealing to various lingering sentimental and childlike traits. As I get older I become more stubborn in my fondness for snow, and at the same time less tolerant of people for whom it is merely an inconvenience. With each passing winter I am increasingly baffled at how something so infrequent and uncontrollable is, for some, a thing to be despised and rather brutally tamed.

Newspaper headlines always equate snow with transport misery. Yet it also works magic.

Take the Underground, or rather those stretches of line above ground. All the varied and inspired shapes and colours that comprise the network’s tapestry of stations and lines are suddenly subverted, or enhanced, or disguised, in the process ending up even more beguiling.

For some, the sight of a railway station in snow epitomises delay and despair. For me, it spells excitement.

Walk out to winter

For the most part, the Underground copes astonishingly well in heavy snow. Inevitably there are times when the network reels and falls over. But it’s never for that long. Plans are put in place, extemporised services spring into life, emergency timetables take root.

And all those quieter, more far-flung stations show remarkable fortitude, remaining open as long as possible, becoming still more of a beacon, a lifeline, a sanctuary.

Standing room only

Why do rows of railway tracks appear so acutely evocative, even romantic, when carving their way stoically not just through a landscape of urban or suburban sprawl, but one that is also decked in snow?

Perhaps it’s something to do with the way they represent permanence, familiarity, even reassurance, among all the novelty and dislocation. Those tracks still know the way home, even if you don’t.

Moreover, the carriages that run along those tracks can still take you home.

Why not step inside?

No more enticing a sight

Time for a mean GreenwichJust when you think the Jubilee line has exhausted its potential to dazzle and entrance, you arrive at North Greenwich with its deep blue caverns and colossal illuminations and your breath is taken away all over again.

All points NorthThe size of the place alone is awe-inspiring. Only those without a soul would fail to get real tingles of excitement when descending into its vast, flickering chambers. Well, those without a soul or those on their way back from a lousy night at the O2 arena.

North Greenwich station sits in a trench 15 metres deep and over 200 metres long. Such dimensions merit, in fact demand, architecture conceived and realised on an epic scale. Which is exactly what happened:

Deep deep downThe batteries of imposing columns, covered with shimmering blue tiles, heighten (literally) your awareness of the ensemble of architecture. I’d wager it’s rare for your eye to be drawn upwards in an Underground station. That’s definitely not the case at North Greenwich.

Why the grand scale? To match the grand intentions of the neighbouring Millennium Dome, naturally, and to accommodate all those millions of people that were expected to flock through the station from around the country.

It didn’t quite work out like that. In fact, in terms of appearance, style and content, North Greenwich station totally outranked the Dome upon its opening in 1999.

And it still does today.

Blue is the colour

Wood, you believe it?I was chased out of Greenford station while taking these photographs. A member of staff objected to me using my camera, even though I was, as I protested, pointing it “merely at an escalator”.

This was a slightly underhand remark, as it clearly wasn’t “merely” an escalator.

Indeed, I’d come to the station precisely because it wasn’t “merely” an escalator, and was instead the only one of its kind still in service on the entire network.

By looking at this photo you are breaking the lawWhy it’s the only one of its kind still to be found in use on the Underground I’ve no idea. I’m guessing it’s retained for its novelty value.

It’s around 100 years old and is certainly a charming oddity. All of its cousins across the network were scrapped in the wake of the King’s Cross fire in 1987.

It's rude to stairWhenever I’m chased out of stations for taking photographs – which is not often, admittedly – I find myself nursing a grudge against from wherever it is I’ve been evicted.

By all means take the effort to visit Greenford and experience this unique chunk of motorised history. Just remember to secrete your camera in a specially-designed satchel, or within a ring like the one Roger Moore had in A View to a Kill.

Oh, and don’t, whatever you do, behave as if you’re there to admire something.

(A different Ian has a different, and better, set of photos.)