Sunday 31 January 2010

You Just Can't Buy Class

Prepare yourself for some snobbishness of galactic proportions. You may have noticed before that I really enjoyed the First Class experience on my way down to London - you'd have had to read between the lines, it was so subtle, but it was there. Well, I'm now on the train home, and it's a Sunday, so there are people on here taking advantage of the £15 upgrade to the posh seats.

Let's just say there are first class passengers, and there are people who travel in first class. And the four across the aisle from me are very much in the latter category. In fact, the way they're talking (loudly, thickly, incessantly) I'm not sure they're familiar with trains. They seem to think we're all sitting still and the scenery's moving. ("And we saw a tranny on Oxford Street! A real one! We couldn't stop staring!" It's like the Algonquin Round Table, but with more profanity.)

Ah well. I suppose no weekend is perfect. This would appear to be the unpleasant cap on a thoroughly pleasant weekend - the screw top on the bottle of Dom Perignon. I had lots of good food, drink, and decent theatre. We saw Oliver!, where I admired the set a lot - draw from that what you will - and also The Little Dog Laughed, which not only featured Gemma Arterton (Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace), but also a guest appearance from Harry Lloyd's arse. (For the record: a bit white and pasty, but very nice curves).

And, of course, I got to put my Oyster card to use on the Tube. I didn't actually get to do that much riding of the rails, for various reasons - one of which was a fear that the lovely Tubewhore would object to me muscling in on her territory - but I still nipped around and captured a couple of the Underground stations for posterity. I'll save the rest for when I win the lottery and can romp around London to my heart's content.

Queensway was our local station for the trip, and a nicely preserved example of a Central Line tube station. White tiles, lifts to the platform level, a general Victorian air. There was a cafe just across from the station which featured various Turkish men smoking hookahs on the pavement, which I found fascinating; I managed to stop myself from asking for a drag. Queensway is famously about fifty yards away from Bayswater station, no matter what the Tube map may tell you; you can stand outside one station and see the roundel for the other one in the distance.

(The extremely common people across the aisle have just registered their disgust that there's no free booze on offer at the weekends, and they'll have to lump it with a bottle of water and a packet of crisps. And then the woman opened her cheese and onion with her teeth. Between the four of them, it sounds like a shoal of piranhas working their way through a roll of asbestos).

Transport for London decided to take advantage of my visit as an opportunity to close most of the Tube for maintenance, so I wasn't able to ride the new-look "Teacup" Circle line, or go and have a ride on the Jubilee Line, my favourite. Instead I did a lot of walking around, and eventually ended up at Oxford Circus, ogling some of the beautiful oxblood tiles. Most of the entrances to this station are through subways but the original has been preserved for exit only.

What's impressive about the network, just from my last visit about eighteen months ago, is how much the stations have been tidied and cleaned. The tiles gleam in the passageways and platforms, white and shining, reflecting back the new lighting and almost iridescent. There are now LCD screens on the escalators, flashing moving video adverts at you, and projectors at Oxford Circus beamed full commercials onto the wall across from the platform. And of course, there's electronic information signs, and ticket machines, and gates at every station. It shows the cash that has been pumped into the network since Ken took over (I consider Boris to be just continuing with Livingstone's legacy). I can't wait until the new trains start arriving, and Crossrail finally comes to fruition...

(They've been to the shop and have two cans of Heineken each - quelle surprise - while the woman talks loudly on her phone and everyone else chips in).

Final stop on my whistle-stop Underground tour was Euston. I did go to Holborn (nice murals of the British Museum, freshly scrubbed) and Embankment (as dowdy as it always has been, sadly) but I forgot to take snaps there. So instead you'll have to see my chirpy smirk on the concourse at Euston. It's that rarest of buildings: a railway terminus which is completely devoid of any charm or class. It's an Arndale Centre and, like those misguided shopping hellholes, it's a period of architecture which everyone wishes had never happened. Even though it's barely forty years old, there are already plans for it to be replaced within the next decade - plans which will probably make it even more soulless than before, and turn it into a mall with pretensions. That it exists down the road from the awe inspiring St Pancras and the grubby but fun King's Cross just rubs salt into the wound.

Fortunately the First Class lounge at Euston is resolutely 21st Century, and is like the Lime Street one, only x100. There's less Swedish sauna pine, admittedly, but plenty of leather banquettes and plasma screens showing the BBC News channel (though one screen was tuned to Songs of Praise, for some reason). There's even a charging station, which lets you plug in your mobile and get it powered up while you enjoy the facilities.

All really marvellous, but completely ruined for me by the miserable cows who work on reception. I left my backpack in the lounge - not clever, I know - but I realised on the platform and rushed straight back. In total, I must have been gone for all of three minutes. However, the hatchet faced harridans on the front desk subjected me to the kind of interrogation not seen outside of Iraqi prison cells before they handed my bag over, with a snotty "You're lucky we didn't call the police."

Get over it, you rancid witch; you're in a First Class area at Euston, not the Concorde lounge at Heathrow. You can drop the attitude.

As I said, a downer of an end to an otherwise fun weekend. I must go back again soon; you can never get enough Tube.

(Oh God: she's picking crisps out of her bottom dentures with her fingernail. Why don't trains have sick bags?).


Mister Roy said...

Heh. I'm ambivalent about First Class now that anyone can go on it. When it boils down to 'slightly different size seats' it doesn't seem worth it. For the money you either want lots of empty seats around you, or a set of all-captains-of-industry fellow travellers, well scrubbed and tailored, speaking in hushed tones, the only drama being the occasional myocardial infarction. And lashings of free food and alcohol. In decades of undeserved 1st classness I have had everything from cooked breakfasts and unlimited free wine to a packet of comedy snacks I had to queue at the shop for. Where's the love?

Scott Willison said...

I agree: if you just starting letting anyone in you mays as well charge the same for everywhere. I pay extra money so that I don't have to sit with the common people. In fact, I'd pay even more money if they could promise me that the only people around were rich/famous/any combination thereof, and weren't just bingo winners on a jolly.

I've been in touch with Virgin and suggested the restoration of Third Class for their trains, where some customers will be held in open freight cars with just wooden benches to sit on and no protection from the elements. Apparently they feel this would be a hazardous arrangement at 130mph. Pathetic. It's health and safety mollycoddling again - political correctness gone mad, etc etc.

Anonymous said...

You're lucky your rucksack was not removed, damaged or destroyed by that shadowy outfit known only as 'the security services.'

Mister Roy said...

Or 'the BRITISH Transport Police' as the lady says it over the tannoy, as if the extra Britishness is important - maybe they show up in Beefeater costumes or something

peezedtee said...

I suspect the original inspiration for Euston station was the airports of that era, rather than an Arndale Centre. I remember quite liking it when it first opened because of that big, airy, roomy space, but it's now all cluttered up with kiosks selling everything except anything you might actually want to buy. Gotta maximise the revenue per square metre, you see.

Scott Willison said...

Euston is architecturally such a disappointment. It's as though they went to Grand Central Terminal and decided to take their inspiration from there - only instead of bringing back the beautiful building and elegant designs, they just liked the underground platforms and oppressive trackside roofs. I can see what they were trying to do with the concourse area but as with so much of the architecture of the 1960s, in reality it fails. Hopefully once they open it out in the redevelopment, get rid of that pointless bit of concrete out front, and chuck in a few windows, it'll be less of a mess.

Anonymous said...

Very good write-up. Sauna wisdom. Respect your information.