Tuesday 21 October 2008

Viva La Deva. Or Don't. See If I Care.

I like London Midland, I really do. I like the nice green trains, the little route diagrams above the doors which go Liverpool-Birmingham/Birmingham-Nottingham/Nottingham-Euston, the smiley smiley ticket inspectors (there is in particular a lovely Asian woman who is an absolute joy first thing in the morning). But when a train is cancelled, they are absolutely rubbish, as I discovered yesterday trying to get to work. All Lime Street's destination board said was "Cancelled"; no please, thankyou, we apologise for the inconvenience, nothing. It just flagged up, in tiny letters, that there was a bus service to Crewe.
Well, sod that; getting up for work at 7am is bad enough, without being crammed on a Green Line full of grumbling commuters in a traffic jam outside Runcorn. So I dashed back down the escalator (and incidentally, fat woman with suitcase: IT SAYS STAND ON THE RIGHT. Thank you for your time) and caught a Wirral Line train to Chester for the Arriva shuttle to Crewe.

Can I be brutal here? Of course I can - it's my blog. I don't like Chester. I just don't. Even before I spent four and a half years slaving there in a thankless capacity, I didn't like it. It's just so... smug. It's an appalling generalisation, but I feel it's a valid one. There's just a sense of self-satisfaction oozing out of its ancient walls, and dripping from the Rows. An implied sense of superiority over you, the visitor; like they're doing you a favour by letting you have a gawp at their stupid clock (am I the only one who doesn't get what's so special about the Eastgate Clock?).
As a city, Chester seems to have built up this impression that because it has a Roman name, this entitles it to a seat at the top table. What it actually means is the last time Chester was important or interesting was two thousand years ago, so stop harking on about it. I especially dislike the snobbery that the city has towards the mighty city of Liverpool to the North. When I worked there, and it was race day, people would suddenly start ranting about "pissed up Scousers". Because apparently only Scousers went to the races to drink; everyone one else was there for the racing. Obviously. I know there's a bit of residual bitterness because the Dee silted up and made the Mersey important, but if the Mersey had silted up as well, Chester would be as important as Oswestry right now, and no manner of black and white faux medieval Rows (because they're Victorian copies, you know) will save you. Chester should be grateful that it's getting some reflected glory, and Chester station should be glad that platform 7b (as seen above) is there to bring interesting, vibrant people into the city every half hour, before the rest of them contract terminal rigor mortis and their lips purse themself into oblivion.

There's a lot of bitterness there - can you tell? I speak as someone who grew up in Luton and now lives in Birkenhead, so clearly I'm harbouring some kind of inferiority complex; but those towns are gritty and unpretentious, while Chester is home to Hollyoaks, where not even the tits or the hair colours are real. And even that's filmed in Liverpool.

Anyway, the gist is: I stayed away from tarting it. Even though I've travelled through Chester more than any other MerseyRail station, I couldn't bring myself to snap it. This was also tied into the aforementioned job, which I loathed with a passion exceeded only by the passion with which I hate my current job. Snapping the station for this blog would mean I'd have to write about it, and pour out my thoughts, and then, when I was done, I'd still have to go there every day. I thought: I'll tart it on my very last day. It will be my last goodbye. As it turned out, on my very last day, I got so drunk I missed the train home and had to get the Bf out of bed to come and pick me up, so it remained uncaptured.

Until today. (Cue DUM-DUM-DURRRRRR!!!! music).
Yes I know I need a haircut.

Once called Chester General, that's the frontage of Chester Station poking up behind me, and more importantly, the "Station Square" that has been contrived in front of it. It's another one that's being redeveloped, and it was ages since I'd visited. Last time I'd been here, about four months ago, the coffee shack had been demolished and they were serving lattes out of a trailer. The toilets were a load of portaloos behind the ticket office - the ticket office which had been opened by Giles Brandreth MP. Anyone who disagrees with my Chester dislike should know this: Chester voted for Giles Brandreth to be their MP. Twice. Case closed, don't you think?
I'm not sure about the blue. This new, funkily shaped pavillion now squats in the brick hall of the station, and it doesn't completely work. As regular readers (hello you!) will know, I am not a heritage buff, and I like my stations modern and gleaming. Amongst the good quality Victorian artistry of Chester General, however, this modern confection jars. I think the turquoise is somehow meant to remind us of the green of a copper patina, the ancient metal corrupted through years of time; instead, it just reminds us that notorious barrel scrapers Arriva are responsible for maintaining this station (the only one on the MerseyRail network not run by Serco, which is why this most ALF-worthy location has no ALF) and so it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. The design is as though someone said "build me something modern" and didn't care how it looked inside the station. I applaud their refusal to comply with the heritage facists of Chester, who forced that Grosvenor Court on the city (it's the building in the roundabout at the end of Foregate Street, which is a modern office block forced to pretend it's a Georgian terrace even though it's surrounded by a dual carriageway). But couldn't the architecture have been... well... better?

No matter; there are still a few little touches around to make you enjoy the station. This sign, for example, which is pleasingly visible from the platform where trains to London and Holyhead depart. It's stunningly "romance of the rails", and I'm glad that it's one of the first things you see as you enter the station. The ceiling's been cleaned up in the refurb, too, and I believe WH Smith are going to move out of that cubby hole by the entrance into a proper shop that won't be 1000 degrees in the shade and melt all the Mars Bars.

There's also a tribute to one of Chester's most famous sons, right behind Russ Abbott. Thomas Brassey was a great engineer, who travelled across the globe building railways, starting out with the Stephensons, and then striking out on his own to take contracts for routes across Europe and the Americas. He's basically a Primark Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I should also point out, in deference to my theme of Chester-bashing, that he grew up in Aldford and didn't achieve any greatness until he moved to Birkenhead, but no matter: when they redeveloped the old goods yard behind the station into a load of anonymous flats, they called it Thomas Brassey Close, so clearly it was all worth it. His plaque on the concourse, however, I will concede is understatedly charming, and I gave a metaphorical tip of my equally metaphorical stovepipe hat to him.

My favourite architectural feature at Chester, though, isn't Victorian might or Noughties glamour: it's beautiful, traditional, evocative British Rail. If you head towards the East Car Park, there's a barely used platform which still retains its old fashioned light features:

Wonderful thing. It smells of steam trains, and tea urns: it shouts drab fashions and powdered eggs. It's British Railways, and I love it, and I love that for all the Chester Renaissance gubbins, someone, somewhere has recognised that these seemingly mundane light fittings are actually part of our heritage.

I did enjoy romping through the station, now that it had been shorn of associations with That Bloody Job; I'm especially pleased that it slices off the foot of the Wirral Line from the MerseyTart map. In fact, there are now only three stations left on the Wirral Line (apart from the Loop, which doesn't count). I almost don't want to go and get them, to be honest, because that will mean the end of a chapter. Everything west of James Street will be finished with, and I don't want it to be: I like it too much. When I started romping round the railways I thought I'd polish it off pretty quickly, but as I'm getting near the end, I'm realising I don't want it to stop. There have been a few times when I've thought, "Ooh, shall I go and collect some stations?" but have put it off because... well... I don't want it to end. Being the MerseyTart has brought me a good deal of pleasure, and I'd like to think there's a lot more tart in me (oooh, cheeky! Etc, etc).


Mister Roy said...

Great post. You've nailled Chester - about time somebody did lol

Robert said...

It doesn't need to end... you just need a bigger map!

Scott Willison said...

NO! I will not expand this project! Or I'll never get any work done!

Natasha said...

Sorry it's late

How is Chester snobbish apart from "Scousers go to the races to drink". On Lady's day this year town was packed ith Ladies wearing floral dresses and fancy hats. and the men were in suits.
We have a world renowned race course. More betting shops than Vegas has casinos. and stables
scatterd all over Merseyside despite being an urban area.
and Chester may be historical with an archway from the 1700's, but it's so so tacky. Especially in the winter when there's cars zooming everywhere, it's "quaintness" has been soiled to the ground, littered with the common high street stalls to make it just another shopping place.

It's OK if you didn't tart it, most people reading your blogs have been to the chester station anyway. I haven't been to 'shotton' though, or anyhere else like that in cheshire.
I have to admit, it not just 2 platforms and a rail road track, it's like a proper station, like lime street or Euston.
It's hilarious that the photographs you DID take are the absolute worst and grittiest parts of Chester, to make Chester look "Bad", when I went it didn't look that horrid lol. But I though the welsh translations were interesting. I'm like "what, I came for a day out and i'm already on the border of wales! woooooo"

What is your current job anyway?

Scott Willison said...

I know a lot of people who live and work in Chester, and I like them. I've also worked in a customer service role in the city, and I've experienced first hand some of the superiority complex that some of the residents have. I would say that the city's current War on Wheelie Bins is testament to its NIMBYist attitude.

I first visited the city in 1997 and, for the record, I spent an entire day walking round it. Since then, for various reasons, I've walked a hell of a lot more of Chester than I care to name. I've also driven round it, and taken trains to it on a regular basis. And I still don't like it. It is Middle England, Daily Mail land, and that doesn't gel with me. I accept I may be in the minority on this - I have relatives who lived in the city, and they adored it - but after 12 years it will take a hell of a lot to change my mind!

Chester Station, as I said in the post, has a lot of good points. And I have returned there since the Costa Coffee opened, and it adds a lot to the ambience and excitement of the station. I certainly didn't pick photos to show it in a bad light - on the contrary, I only photograph stuff that interests me!