Former Glory

In the Sixties and Seventies the Poet Laureate John Betjeman campaigned vigorously (and eccentrically) to prevent the destruction of Britain’s great 19th-century buildings – most notably Euston Arch, which formed part of Euston Station in London, one of several vast Victorian railway stations built in the capital during the 19th century. Sadly, he failed to preserve the Arch, but he succeeded later in saving St Pancras.

Euston Station, along with the Arch, was entirely demolished, and replaced with a hideous, now shabby and crumbling set of 1960s buildings. It is no joy to depart from or arrive at today’s Euston Station. The low-ceilinged railway shed is a stark contrast to the soaring arches of those at King’s Cross and St Pancras. It is hardly surprising that Euston Station is now also being considered for demolition and redevelopment. No voices are raised in favour of its preservation, as far as I know.

320px-euston_arch_1896

But, of course, tastes change in time, and we sometimes come to appreciate buildings that we initially loathe, and vice versa. For example, I now loathe the childish post-modernist buildings of the 1980s that borrow ideas from everywhere and have none of their own, though they seemed quite fun at the time. But I still loathe the fake-archaic styles of Poundbury that Prince Charles loves so much, and which represents a complete rejection of progress and change, and I suspect that I always will.

Architectural la-la land.

poundbury

There are some great buildings from the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, but so much was so badly built, using new and untested materials, that much of it became ugly, stained and unusable in just a year or two. It leaked, or people peed in it. These were times, also, when architects believed that they knew better how people should live than people themselves. Vision is one thing. but prescription is another.

Large Victorian buildings, on the other hand, were generally well built, and though they suffered the usual wear and tear, they stood and continued to stand reliably and safely, and continued to be enjoyed. Fortunately, destruction is no longer the fashion, and many of them have been restored and incorporated cleverly into larger schemes that combine the modern and the old, imaginatively and beautifully. Paddington Station, Marylebone Station, Liverpool Street Station, Fenchurch Street Station, Kings Cross Station and St Pancras Station are still largely intact and will probably stand for many centuries to come.

I was changing railway stations in London a few weeks ago, crossing the road from Kings Cross to St Pancras. It was a sunny evening and London looked splendid. Though building work and restoration in this vast area of railway shunting grounds, gasometers and warehouses isn’t complete, it’s wonderful, especially, to see King’s Cross restored to its former glory. For years the splendidly  plain functionalist façade was obscured by a hideous Sixties pre-fab-style ticket hall.

oldkingscross

Now the ticket hall has gone, and a vast modern replacement has been constructed to the side of the station, though it looks as if it has actually grown from the yellow brick.

The entire area between and behind the two stations has been brought to life with restaurants, bars, concert halls, apartment buildings and offices, giving the lie to the notion that areas surrounding railway stations must always be shabby. At the heart of the whole complex stand two great railway stations/hotels of very different styles-  Kings Cross (1852), presciently modern and simple,  and St Pancras (1868) unashamedly flamboyant and gothic.

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Would Sir John Betjeman like what’s been done? Probably not entirely. He would decry the modern additions, I believe, but might at least have applauded their daring and the quality of their construction, certainly in preference to the shabby make-do of the Sixties and Seventies.

The Cut of My Jib

Everyone knows that love can be sudden, foolish and catastrophic. On the whole it’s better assembled gradually than experienced at once as a bolt from the blue, like the stigmata. Quite how love happens ‘just like that’ no one knows. It might be an ankle, the toss of a head, an imbecilic smile, or an equine laugh. Read as many romantic novels as you can and you’ll never discover the cause. Barbara Cartland, William Shakespeare, they were sensitive observers, but they weren’t true scientists.

Spontaneous hatred is equally inexplicable but we all experience it from time to time. Flowing from us or coming at us. It might be the licking a finger before the turning of a page. It might be a matter of table manners. It might, from a different perspective, be that imbecilic smile or that equine laugh. Sometimes it’s the tiniest, almost imperceptible thing.

I was the victim of it myself, the other day, a spontaneous burst of hatred coming in my direction on the tube between Ladbroke Grove and King’s Cross St Pancras. A man sitting opposite me glared at me in an alarming way as I took my seat, and he went on glaring, even when I wasn’t looking. I could sense it. He didn’t look like a terrorist bent on the indiscriminate taking of many lives, so I wasn’t inclined to reach for the emergency stop. No, it was my jib he didn’t like the cut of, and mine alone.

As far as I could tell, there was nothing odd about my jib. There never is. I was dragging a suitcase towards Luton Airport and my jib was the usual jeans and polo shirt. I caught his angry eye, and looked away, and then back again as we passed through Paddington, and Edgware Road and Baker Street, to see if he was still looking, and then I decided I wouldn’t look at him at all. The last time I looked, he raised a finger at me like this:

thefinger

I was frightened, to tell the truth, just a little, but I couldn’t see that he was any danger. The previous evening a young man had run amok in Russell Square leaving an American woman dead and several people injured, so I was alert to the dangers of insane behaviour in a public place and ready to run should he lunge.

At Great Portland Street he tottered to his feet and lurched towards the exit, and it was only then that I realised he was completely drunk. I heard another passenger commenting on the smell of drink as he stumbled from the train. Even so, why did he pick on me?

Drunk or sober, instant dislike is disturbing. My father used to say, ‘I don’t like the cut of his jib’ when he took against someone he didn’t know. He used to say it quite often, and, to give credit where it’s due, he was often right about the people whose jibs he took against, and I often ended up taking against them too. But I never remember him raising a finger to make his point.

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I looked up ‘cut of his jib.’ It’s a nautical term, apparently, from the early 19th century, the jib being the forward sail that indicated a ship’s nationality. So a ship with the wrong cut of jib is an enemy one best avoided. Wear your jib carefully.

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