Numbers 26-50

Arcade-iaThere are very few station entrances on the Underground through which you want not to walk, but to saunter, or even sashay.

South Kensington has one of them:

Sashay while the sun shinesEverything about this entrance, the layout, the lettering, the curve of the pillars, the curl of the brackets, screams – or rather sighs – breezy elegance.

This isn’t somewhere to slope or sidle. It’s a place to step jauntily, or to mooch enigmatically, or even to promenade wistfully.

Given its proximity to the Royal Albert Hall, the last of these traits seems particularly fitting.

Mooch this wayIf all of this seems rather fanciful, then that’s because the arcade that garnishes South Kensington like ribbons on a teacosy is itself fanciful.

It is shamelessly Victorian in both pretence and purpose. It is anti-modern, in that it tries to mask rather than celebrate the real purpose of its existence. Thanks to the arcade, the Underground at South Kensington can feel a bit like an undignified sideshow: the equivalent of someone coughing during the performance of a light opera.

It’s a delight in spite of rather than because of its role as part of a public transport utility, and that makes it rather an anachronism on this blog. I don’t think, however, that such a distinction diminishes its status as a great thing about the Underground. On the contrary, it sparkles with a personality that is simply different from, not necessarily inferior to, the parade of stylistic icons that march up the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines.

Plus it also looks gorgeous in the sunshine. Fancy a stroll?

D'ya Ken, John Peel?

An uplighter shade of paleI was chased out of Southgate station for taking this picture.

It’s bemusing how arbitrary the “rules” about photography inside the Underground are implemented. In most locations staff turn a blind eye. In some they even look on with encouragement, especially at the station I’ve earmarked for number 50 (spoilers!).

But there have been a few – and only a few – where stern gazes have been topped with stern words, and on one occasion, here at Southgate, stern actions. I was followed back up the escalator and off the premises, my behaviour judged disruptive enough to merit the kind of treatment I’d expect to see  meted out to a bottle-wielding stoner than a camera-wielding loner.

The whole episode rather spoiled my appreciation of the uplighters at Southgate, which only now, several months later, I realise are utterly gorgeous.

Fifty-two steps to heavenThey are originals – survivors of the inter-war years, stoical and mute, speaking volumes but saying nothing. They radiate history as well as illumination. They inject a dose of the exotic into the otherwise pedestrian business of moving between daylight and the deep.

Slack, drool... illuminations!They are also products of the delicious imagination of Charles Holden, the man who dreamed up the station’s brave, eternally-beguiling exterior.

An exterior I got to know rather better than the interior.

Timey-wimeyParked by the eastern entrance to Earl’s Court is something that competes for attention from passers-by with a frozen-yoghurt parlour, a branch of Pret a Manger, and a kiosk selling international newspapers.

When I was there, it was losing to all three.

Like the TV series, it’s a relatively contemporary reimagining of a once ubiquitous staple of everyday life that had ended up somewhat irrelevant and unloved.

Unlike the TV series, it’s seen better days, looks somewhat shabby and could do with sprucing up a bit. The dirt has, however, led to some topical graffiti:

Hello sweetie!You can’t use it to call the police. You can’t even go inside. And those that have the power to do so better not think of lighting up.

Sterner on the outsideIt’s probably sterner on the outside than the inside.

A thoughtfully-embossed brass panel fixed to the box explains who, where and when:

SpoilersI’m used to being eyed suspiciously while taking photographs outside an Underground station. On this occasion, though, not only did I fail to be eyed at all, I also got the sense of being actively ignored, even shunned. It was as if the twin bodies of the London Underground and Doctor Who had suddenly aligned in such a fashion as to send anybody in close orbit scurrying for less obsessional climes:

The anoraks have landedEarl’s Court station: change here for the District, Circle, Piccadilly and Gallifrey lines.