Monday, November 19, 2007

The other side of the road

Last Friday night afforded me the opportunity to consider two very different slices of history, seperated by twenty years and a few metres. I was ten years old when the Kings Cross Underground fire was started by a lit cigarette on an escalator, and developed into a blaze that not only claimed the lives of thirty-one unlucky commuters, but fundamentally changed the maintenance and running of the London transport system. Now, at thirty, I was able to wander across the road from Kings Cross and climb the steps to the grand entrance to the new St Pancras Eurostar terminal, joining the crowd of curious spectators making getting a first look at London's answer to New York's famous Grand Central Station. It was a genuinely poignant contrast.

In 1987 my whole world extended not much beyond the Surrey/Berkshire border, but my mother worked at Elephant & Castle, and commuted to London daily, passing through Waterloo and taking the Bakerloo Line to get to her office. I can remember few occasions when I was genuinely worried about her and even tried to persuade her not to go to work. There were a couple of IRA bombings, and there was the Kings Cross fire.

Looking back, it was only about three years since the Valley Parade disaster at Bradford, also caused by a discarded cigarette, which killed an even greater number of people. It's hard to believe now that smoking was ever regarded so casually. With smoking now banned from all such venues as a matter of course, such an anniversary as this weekend's gives cause to reflect on the dramatic shift in attitudes wrought by the last two decades, and the reasons for them. Passing through the Kings Cross underpass today, I caught a glimpse as I hurried past of a fresh wreath of flowers laid at the foot of the staircase, and immediately recalled the last time people had cause to lay flowers at Kings Cross, in July 2005. It seems crass to have hurried past so swiftly in my haste to get to work. I must linger a while longer tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the new St Pancras is a genuinely impressive sight. I used to commute from Leicester every day, and as the Midland Mainline trains rumbled into the old St Pancras, I used to wonder at how so grand a facade could be attached to such a dull terminus. There was a pub, a plastic-laden coffee bar, and a compact WH Smith. During my two years passing through it daily, the station was clearly in the early stages of some fundamental reconstruction, and I counted myself lucky to have escaped the worst of the inconveniences by moving when I did. Wandering through the arch on Friday evening and gazing up at the vast expanse of the glass roof far above me, the gothic grandeur of the sculptures around the forecourt and the gleaming escalators transporting starstuck commuters down to the shopping arcade, I found myself silently thanking the vision of those behind it. I have heard rumours of the enforced removal of the homeless dwelling in the the area and generally draconian measures imposed upon local residents whose faces don't "fit", but the whole area is undoubtedly in need of a bit of a lift, and hopefully this can be the start of something genuinely transformative that can benefit everyone.

Now I just need to find a reason to go to Paris.

2 Comments:

At 4:07 PM GMT , Anonymous Moaning Minion said...

Stumbled across your blog about how difficult it is to get to and from work - I have started one about how difficult life can be in the office.

Please link to my blog "Why I hate my line manager" at http://linemanager.wordpress.com

 
At 8:34 AM GMT , Blogger DJ Kirkby said...

We are considering going to Paris ourselves, the new system looks very impressive!

 

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