Friday, July 06, 2007

Credit where it's due

When I started blogging in June last year, I had vague notions of charting a year in the life of a London commuter, but mainly just the urge to write something and stick it on the web to see if anyone would read it. My very first post garnered a comment within days from a chap called DM, from whom I've not heard since, but who turned out to be called BigDaveMurray, according to his sketchy profile, and may well have been someone I was at school with who has just accepted me as a friend on Facebook (I must ask him at some point). I didn't honestly imagine I'd still be here 13 months later, still mining the rich seam of nonsensical narrative that commuting provides. But it occurred to me today strolled underneath Euston Road and into the bowels of Kings Cross St. Pancras, that that first post was entitled "Sinister Forces at Kings Cross" (I used to go in for Excessive Capitalisation on my tabloid-esque headlines - as you can see from the above, I don't bother anymore), and the subject was the gradual transformation of Kings Cross into a prison camp, with the exits closed off one by one by the construction workers guided by some unseen and malevolent authority. Now, Network Rail come in for a lot of stick, some of it deserved, but you have to give them credit whre it's due. Kings Cross St Pancras has really evolved since then, and although it's (hopefully) not finished, what they have done so far is a big improvement.

In the old days, getting from the platform at Kings Cross to the other side of Euston Road where I could pick up a bus or, if I was feeling especially energetic, head off down Judd Street on my way to Oxford Street, was a stressful and time-consuming process. Getting off the platform was a trial in itself (and this is not something that has changed) as you had to pick your way past hordes of commuters who seemed to have suffered a collective attack of indecision with regards to where they had planned to go after they got off the train. Then actually making it across the station concourse remains an exercise in snake-hipped gymnaticism, picking a way through the dawdling crowds with bewildering balance that would make Ryan Giggs red with envy. But on emerging into the daylight, the real challenge was still ahead. The synchronisation of the traffic lights was, shall we say, inventive, so that that it became a real-life version of that classic computer game "Frogger" if you wanted to attempt to get across the road up top (substituting fellow commuters with malevolent luggage for those crocodile things that used to lurk in the river). But the alternative was scarcely less intimidating.

There used to be, outside Kings Cross, a rickety old staircase leading from street level to the Underground station. It was wide enough for approximately one and a half average-width human beings. Anyone who has ever experienced rush hour at Kings Cross will know that you just don't get one-and-a-half-times-width people. What you get is one sprawling mass of humanity that even at its outermost extermities is never less than about four times the width of a regular person. So what used to happen was that a row of five commuters would march to the top of the staircase and head downwards using their bags as a kind of protective sheild (a bit like the Roman legionaries used to do). Meanwhile a row of equally-determined Undergrounders would advance the other way and there would inevitably be a clash, which would result in at least two people from each side being knocked out the way, right into the path of the people behind them, leading to a kind of human domino rally.

The powers-that-be soon got wise to this brutal sport, and started posting a solitary (and very lonely-looking) sentry at the top of the rikety staircase with strict instructions to bar anyone from going down it, which I thought very unfair, because effectively it penalised one side and not the other. Evidently I was not alone, because soon enough people started to just ignore the hapless conductors, and the whole thing threatened to get messy again.

So the powers-that-be called in the forces of construction and decreed that the staircase should be widened to allow free access to and from the Underground station to all the denizens of the South side of Kings Cross. Construction work ensued, the whole staircase was sealed up and for a time no one had any idea what was afoot. And that's where I came in, one slightly bewildered commuter who fancied publishing his thoughts on the situation to see if anyone was interested.

These days, the staircase is wide enough quite literally for a train to pass down it, and a steady flow of happy and hardy commuters travels up and down it in perfect harmony at all hours of the day and night. We all remember what it used to be like, and we must all acknowledge our debt of gratitude to the people who made this come about. Even if they can't provide decent access to platforms 9, 10 and 11 meaning that people frequently miss their trains because they get stuck outside Whistlestop waiting for the passengers of the Cambridge train to clear out of the way.


At 11:41 AM GMT+1 , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

'commuters who seemed to have suffered a collective attack of indecision with regards to where they had planned to go after they got off the train'... lol, I am one of them! I can't cope with the swarms of people around me when I have to go to London and end up pissing people off by standing still with a bewildered expression.

At 1:37 PM GMT+1 , Blogger paddy said...

"still mining the rich seam of nonsensical narrative that commuting provides."
But you can cut it. I have to admit as a Paddy I tend to get a little lost / well, did once upon a time. The place would kill me now.
I really couldn't handle it at all.
There are about 33 000 inhabitants where I live-- a very small town and it is about the size of London, roughly.
Y;-) Paddy

At 7:07 PM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

DJ - you can have special dispensation to look bewildered.

Paddy - 33 000 inhabitants and you still can't get decent fish and chips! What to do, eh?

At 4:18 PM GMT+1 , Blogger savannah said...

i've just spent the last week walking around my town with friends who used to live here....what an absolute joy to be out of the car and rediscovering where i live...but i digress, i am glad you've stayed around, glad i've found you and here's to you, sugar! :)

At 11:36 AM GMT+1 , Blogger Rish said...

It is as much of a problem when you are in the supermarket - people dawdling around, deciding whether to get the small block of cheese or go for broke and get the family size pack. Rather annoyingly, I have also found that old people tend to follow the middle of the aisle, while spreading themselves just far enough to prevent a quick sneak down the side, without a clash of trolleys.

Having said that, it does have to be said that walking down Oxford Street at 5.30pm with bulky items in both hands and a heavy bag on my shoulder was a trial like no other. However, one of the bulky items was a hard guitar case, so anyone who did not give way would have ended up with bruised shins. It sounds brutal, but London has that effect on me!

At 6:19 AM GMT+1 , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

*Ahem* next post please...

At 5:46 AM GMT+1 , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

I am not sure why but your past two coments on my 'wild hippie child' blog have shown up as your email address, instead of as a link to your blog. Do you want me to delete your coments?

At 12:54 PM GMT+1 , Blogger JD said...

It's because I've been entering them at work and not from my home . Yeah, if you could delete them that would be great. Got ot preserve my mystique. Am just finishing off my next post.

At 7:11 PM GMT+1 , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

Ok I will go sort them now, be back tomorrow to read new post.


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