Thursday, February 22, 2007


Transport for London has just launched an online exhibition of photos by Rut Blees Luxemburg : modernist photographs of the most beautiful modernists buildings that exist in London : the stations of the Piccadilly Line.

The line is 100 years old this month, and while its zone 1 stations are nothing to shout about, being suppressed amidst the muddle of the inner-city, its station-buildings in the outer zones, and especially in the north, are almost gothic in their mystery.

I must admit a prejudice here : the area covered by the stations between Arnos Grove and Caledonian Road has been my stomping ground for the last five years. The northernmost stops of the Piccadilly Line represent a hinterland in London. Whenever there is a northbound delay on the Piccadilly Line, it is always because of "an incident at Arnos Grove." God knows what goes on up there, but it is as if we are not supposed to know : the activities of the residents of Enfield and north-Haringey exist in isolation. They are for them to know, and the rest of us to wonder about.

I don´t really know Cockfosters and Oakwood (they are just a bit too northern even for me), but reading the comments which accompany the photos of those stations further south (written by London Underground staff whose workplaces are their preserve) are illuminating. Of Arnos Grove, Juliet writes : "working here somehow feels like stepping back in time." Actually, the journey from Arnos Grove into the centre is my absolute favourite, far better than anything the Ballardian Jubilee Line, or the hideous DLR, has to offer. Arnos Grove is more than suburban - it is almost rustic. Waiting for your train in the open air (and the sun always seems to shine on Arnos Grove), you might as well be in Manningtree. I get the same feeling boarding the train at Arnos Grove as I used to get at Manningtree station when I was a kid : the pure thrill of the knowledge that you are only minutes away from the bright lights, the pavement cafes, the roar of the traffic, the bookshops on Charing Cross Road and Bloomsbury. And because the sun always shines on Arnos Grove, it is still shining when I get off at Leicester Square.

Wood Green and Turnpike Lane are hives of frenzied activity, far livelier and carnivalesque than Piccadilly Circus. Strangely enough, the sun never shines on Wood Green, but if I had to choose an area of London to be preserved forever, it would be Wood Green. Goddamnit, I would fight wars to defend Wood Green. Unlike other comparably gritty areas of London (Brixton, or Hackney, for example), I can´t believe Wood Green will ever be trendy. You won´t find many Observer readers quaffing their mochas here. But the ethnic mix of Wood Green (and Haringey, easily the most beautiful borough in London) is incredible - it feels to me like one of those 80s socialist experiments gone right. You couldn´t say that it is entirely integrated : Ghanaians have their area, Turks have theirs, Greeks have theirs (a little further north, in the (I find) surreal Palmers Green). But it is awash with excitement, a little like (don´t laugh) downtown Manhatten. Plus, while we´re going hogwild with the hyperbole, it also boasts the greatest park (Alexandra) and the greatest walk (Alexandra ward to Crouch End, and down to Seven Sisters Road), and the greatest view (that from the palace) in London.

Then there is the no-man´s land of Manor House, the spaghetti-junction of Finsbury Park, the match-day only Arsenal, the antedeluvian Holloway Road, and the calm-before-the-storm of Caledonian Road (with its randomly multi-lingual lifts) ... and then King´s Cross, whose renovations I currently think have ruined it, but which, come the end of the summer, I know I will love.

In fact, I´d go as far as to say that the only thing the northern Piccadilly Line doesn´t have is the only London Underground station not to contain any of the letters in the world "mackerel". Which, as we all know, is -- ----- ----.


Blogger minifig said...

St John's Wood.

Of course, you've asked me that before, but there we go, I gave others the chance to answer first...

2:19 PM  

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