Zone 6

Face of surpriseIf I’d only waited a few more minutes. For then I could have trotted out the old “stands the clock at ten to three?” doggerel, and I’d have had a not-at-all-hoary-and-cliched opening remark all ready made.

But no. I’d already loitered a little too long for comfort in the ticket hall of a station a little too empty of people to not draw too much attention to my endeavours. I had to grab what time I could – which, in this instance, was 2.40.

This way to LondonThe simplicity and the economy of the clock’s design is entrancing. There’s no room for superfluities like letters or – heaven forbid – numbers, because there’s no point.

As I’ve said before, a glance at a clock face is all most of us ever need (or have time for, ahem.) It follows that the essentials of a clock can, if done sensitively, become components of a broader statement, not merely of information but of style.

Those small circular daubs of colour: look at them, as John Betjeman would say. Do you see how they subtly echo the Underground roundel, in particular the ones positioned at each quarter-hour?

And that stencilled instruction “To London”: surely a reminder of how remote and isolated Ruislip still was when the station was rebuilt in the late 1930s?

Perhaps most striking of all is the colour. You don’t get this much cream in one dose in many Underground stations. There’s enough to rival the total tonnage of afternoon teas in Grantchester.

Which reminds me…

A roundel of roundelsWhat’s the collective noun for a group of roundels?

A charm? I know it already applies to goldfinches, but I don’t think these nouns are bespoke. I rather like congregation, despite it sounding a bit ecclesiastical. Murmuration is lovely. I always murmur when I see a roundel, mostly in my head but sometimes out loud, which in turn prompts others to murmur back, but rarely in the same spirit of appreciation.

Or how about “a Johnston of roundels”? It’d be unique, memorable, and something of a tribute to the man whose typeface they all carry. Though I’m not sure how Sue, or descendants of Brian, would react.

Well, whatever the noun is, or should be, it exists at Loughton. The station’s platforms are a feast of dashing architecture and elegant design, with these spirited battalions of roundels at the heart.

Platform soulI’ve already raved about the ticket hall. The platforms are just as stunning. Giant canopies curve above both of them, sailing majestically and uncompromisingly over the passengers below while throwing romantic shapes against the sky.

There’s an endearing pomposity about this kind of edifice. It’s been conceived and realised in such a lofty fashion for such an otherwise perfunctory purpose. I have infinite amount of time for anyone who thinks a platform canopy isn’t just a way of keeping people dry in the rain; it’s a way of keeping people dry in the rain IN STYLE.

Lucky old RoseFlower beds at the far ends of the platforms add dabs of organic colour to the mix. The changing of the seasons must mean the station never quite looks the same all year round. It follows that if you’re a regular user of Loughton, your relationship with the station is also forever changing.

The same goes, incidentally, for the exterior of the ticket hall, whose shops have, in the few months since the last time I was here, changed hands yet again. Yes, The Flower Stop is no more, ditto Homme Fatal. Sob.

Yes, another oneOh look, another one – and this time embedded in concrete armour, looking indomitable in the sun.

What platform isles of wonder. There’s a collective noun of greatness at Loughton. In fact, maybe that’s it. A Loughton of roundels.


Epping 'ellThere’s not much that’s great about Epping as a terminus. In fact, it’s lousy.

The station buildings don’t come anywhere near to matching the splendour of Uxbridge or Cockfosters. They are reticent rather than rampant. Dowdy and lumpen, they look embarrassed to even exist. Which is not surprising, given they manage to be upstaged by a bus stop:

Terminal feelingsNo, what’s great about Epping has nothing to do with its architecture. It’s entirely due to the peculiar yet beguiling sensation it evokes from being the end of the line… but also not the end.

End of the beginning of the lineIf you linger at the far end of the platforms, you can see the tracks continuing round a corner and under a bridge. They tease you with the thought of what lies just out of view. They also taunt you with a memory of how things used to be.

Because not that long ago Central line trains continued down those tracks; the year Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party, for want of a chronological toehold.

Now the tracks are just a broken limb of the Underground, severed from the host. Their presence, but also their purposelessness, give Epping that curious, affecting feel of being neither one thing nor the other.

It’s a station of sad sighs and sidings.

None shall pass

A terminus that isn’t: like a seaside town out of season.

If you like steam trains and packaged nostalgia, an arbitrary chunk of the old “Epping for Ongar” line runs on those days when its private owners think they’ll be enough customers to guarantee a profit.

If you like proper heartfelt if hopeless nostalgia, Epping is open all year round except Christmas Day. Its platforms are going nowhere. Rather like its prospects.