Numbers 51-75

Air apparentWe’ve conditioned ourselves to ignore most of what lines the platform walls of the Underground, largely because most of it is worth ignoring.

Promotions for someone’s new DVD; promotions for a “laugh-out-loud” comedy or “feelgood hit of the year” that boasts quotes only from reviews in the Daily Star; promotions for novels that begin with the phrase: “You’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey…”; promotions for anything to do with Peter Kay…

These are all, quite rightly, things we have taught ourselves to filter and reject from our list of subconscious concerns. We look at them but we don’t see them. We’ve other things to concentrate on – not least, making sure it doesn’t look like we’re concentrating on any passengers standing nearby.

Three station platforms at the northern end of the Piccadilly line buck this trend by offering up things to which attention is worth paying. But chances are most people don’t see them. And why should they?

Green gaugeThese ventilation grilles are originals: installed when the stations were built in the early 1930s, and designed by Harold Stabler whose charming if sometimes idiosyncratic work I’ve encountered elsewhere.

They can be found at Wood Green, Turnpike Lane and Manor House. Each one depicts a brazenly romanticised panorama of the neighbourhood. You can forgive the shamelessness, however, because of the wonderful attention to detail and – dammit! – their reassuring parochialism.

The grille at Wood Green appears to show two birds and a deer frolicking on the titular parkland. Trees, plants, even the sun’s rays are all neatly aligned and symmetrical. If only life were really like that.

Next comes Turnpike Lane:

In line for a grillingHere it looks like a brigand of courtly gentlefolk are about to engage in some business, possibly – judging by the rider’s deportment and dapper outfit – of a mercantile kind. Or maybe they’ve just come for a fight. Whoever is arriving from the right, however, has already got the upper hand by virtue of showing up with TWO horses not one.

Could do with a cleanThese particular grilles aren’t really helped by sitting within such shabby-looking walls. Someone needs to attend to those tiles with a cloth.

Finally we have Manor House:

Manor maketh manI’m not sure whether this is meant to be an idealised version of the interior of the eponymous building, someone’s back garden replete with a snoozing owl and pot plant, or maybe the grounds of the manor itself. That fine-looking portal on the far right suggests it could be the latter. Those aren’t your average garden gates.

House proudAs with the tiles at Aldgate East, an even-closer inspection of all three grilles reveals the artist has smuggled in a namecheck for himself:

Harold the greatAnd who would begrudge him that? For here are a trio of objects that are properly worth looking out for on Underground platforms – that is, looking out for not merely to avoid seeing.

Yay for greyWere Transport for London ever inclined to hire out its stations for games of hide-and-seek, Westminster should be your number one choice. Regardless of cost, regardless of climate, it would be a palatial plaything in which you would be able to stay concealed for hours, and through which you would hunt your comrades for even longer.

Because this is a joyous, labyrinthine union of architecture and engineering that astounds rather than confounds with its intricacy and ambition. A million wretched M&M Worlds would not come even close to matching Westminster station’s capacity to dazzle and entertain. It is one of London’s marvels, easily holding its own against the Houses of Parliament next door, and Downing Street nearby, and Trafalgar Square just down the road.

In fact, don’t bother with the rest of Westminster at all. Just come to its station, and stand, and stare – in every direction you can.

No step too farHere the late-1990s Jubilee line extension sits on top of itself, westbound beneath eastbound, inside the deepest excavation ever attempted in central London. On top of them run Circle and District line trains, along a route dating back to the 1860s, and on tracks that had to be meticulously “sunk” a milimetre at a time in order to fit snugly into the newly-expanded interchange.

The whole incredible edifice is stitched together with what look like giant knitting needles: dozens of colossal concrete columns that plunge and stab their way with panache through the station’s alluring heart:

Heart of darknessFrom certain angles the interior looks like the aftermath of a fight between some Tripods.

And woven throughout are escalators upon escalators, and stairways that hug, envelope or snake around the escalators, and walkways that curl alongside and amid the stairways and the escalators. It is a breathtaking concoction… but never confusing or overwhelming, and never, but never, menacing.

What happens when architecture dancesI love this place.

Walking through is like being miniaturised inside a Swiss timepiece, or exploring a Brobdignagian doll’s house.

It is a structure that tingles with imagination and which hums with achievement.

Westminster station is what happens when architecture dances.

Stairways to heaven

Angel, angel, down we go togetherThey’re not quite the longest in western Europe; that honour goes to a station on the Stockholm metro.

They’re not even the longest in the UK, being just a single metre shorter than the wooden ones at the Tyne cyclist and pedestrian tunnel.

They are, however, the longest on the London Underground.

And they might have ended up even longer, were it not for the need to anticipate an interchange, at some point in the increasingly distant future, with the long-proposed Chelsea-Hackney line, hence the (for now) superfluous concourse that stops you being carried all the way down to the platforms in one go.

Nonetheless the escalators at Angel are still a feat to behold and a thrill on which to ascend…

Up-diddly-upand descend…

Down-diddly-downThe strip lighting that runs all the way along each side gives the place a touch of the-future-as-imagined-in-the-mid-1970s, despite being built in the early 1990s. This kind of sensation is always a good thing.

The length of the journey tends to promote good escalator etiquette. This is another boon. People seem to settle down when they realise they’re in for a longer-than-usual ride, and as a result there’s less jostling, prodding and (most heinous of all) STANDING ON THE LEFT.

Then there’s the angle of the escalators. They are so steep that you can’t see the top when you start from the bottom, and vice versa. While this can be exciting, I’m guessing it can also be a bit vertiginous. In which case I would suggest gazing off to the side, where a colourful supply of unchallenging reading matter shuffles by like an ailing rotoscope.

Commercial reignAngel, angel, down we go together.