10 Years of… things I like about London (part 2)

Published on 7 October 2009 in , , , , , ,

Yesterday I shared the first part of a list I wrote about things I like in London.

Kenwood House

But that was only five things. And if you’re doing a ten year celebration you’ve got to have ten things. It’s tradition, or an old charter, or something.

So in that case, here’s another five.

6. St Pancras Station

What do you mean you can’t cope with yet more public transport in this blog post? Someone who thinks like that can certainly not ever have visited the St Pancras International…

I don’t remember ever using St Pancras before the builders moved in, so I don’t remember the rather shabby looking station that appeared in an episode of Spaced. Seriously.

In a way I don’t want to know what it looked like before. I only want room in my memory for what it is now. For this is not a railway station. This is a temple of the railways. This is a place to come and worship the might of the old railway companies. This is a place that makes you feel proud of of the British railway system.

And frankly, how often can anyone say that?

From the mighty single arched train shed roof, through to the Eurostars gliding in from the continent, parking up next to a statue of the man who spearheaded the campaign to save this brilliant building. Sir John Betjeman stands proud looking up at the station that British Rail wanted to bulldoze and destroy forever.

It wasn’t, and it’s there now, lovingly restored and quite probably the best railway station in the whole of this country. Stuff that. It’s up there as one of the best buildings in this whole country.

7. Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

Tate Modern isn’t even ten years old yet but has become a firm fixture on London’s art landscape and a popular tourist attraction. It’s a gloriously bold building that sits on the South Bank in a large, dominating, “Look at me!” kind of way. And the Members Room has one of the best views in the capital.

The Turbine Hall at Tate Modern

But for me there’s only one place that really hits the spot. The Turbine Hall.

It’s a room that has a big impact on visitors, especially when one of the major installations is filling it. In 2003 The Weather Project saw people lying down sunbathing in front of a giant sun, whilst last years TH.2058 featured rows and rows with metal bunk beds and, inevitably, people sat down reading books on them.

It’s a space for wonder. It’s a space for contemplation. It’s a space to enjoy.

8. Sitting on the front seat of the Docklands Light Railway

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I am, of course, saying that to anyone who is not from London as I’ve met few people in the capital who don’t also share this delight. Indeed there regularly seems to be a rugby scrum as people jostle each other to get the prime position on the DLR.

So if you don’t know London (and if you don’t, you might be a bit fed up of this series of posts) then the Docklands Light Railway is a light railway through the Docklands area.

And it has no driver.

Okay it has a driver, but it just so happens that the driver is a large computer in a control centre somewhere in East London. So because the trains are computer controlled, there’s no drivers cab which means that you can sit right at the front and pretend you’re the driver! (People living in London – do NOT try and deny you don’t think like that cos I know you’d be lying!)

This futuristic looking railway also goes through the ultra modern glass empire of Canary Wharf, and it’s a joy to sit at the front as you glide through the area.

Tell you what is disappointing though. When you’ve wrangled pole position, and then the computer system breaks down and the staff have to drive the train manually. One minute you’re the “driver” then the next, someone in a uniform has booted you out of your seat cos they actually do need to drive it. Grrr.

9. Borough Market

Many years ago I did a secondment with a company based on the South Bank who were doing some work for the BBC. My job was to work with them and to guide them through our mad processes and systems.

Filming at Borough Market

They were based near Borough Market, and it was then that I really discovered London’s true gourmet paradise. Plus I lost about half a stone as the building they worked in had no lifts meaning I had to walk up four flights of stairs twice a day.

For most of its life Borough Market has been best known as a wholesale food market which is a role it retains now. However over recent years it’s become increasingly popular as a retail market and has become known for its wide range of high quality produce.

Whether it’s mushrooms and garlic, or gravlax and manchego cheese then you’ll probably find it there on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

To add to that, there’s some lovely pubs in the area – The Rake, the insanely busy and popular Market Porter and the Brew Wharf, all offering an exceptional range of beers.

A popular game is also film crew spotting. Catherine recently saw Martin Freeman filming there, whilst I saw some bloke who was once on Saturday Kitchen! I can tell you’re impressed. It’s featured on more TV food programmes than I can believe – I think Delia’s about the only person who has not cooked something there.

It’s my kind of food heaven. My only problem with it is that it’s too far from where I live and work to regularly visit!

10. The view from Blackfriars Station

I’m going to end with something that, disappointingly, isn’t quite as it was. However once the laughably named Thameslink 2000 project has been completed, I’m sure it will be even better. (Okay it’s no longer called Thameslink 2000 – they rebranded it for rather obvious reasons… like it being nearly a decade late…)

I have a theory that all my favourite cities have rivers flowing through them, or water dominating somehow. Durham – river – fantastic. London – river – brilliant. Bern – river – top stuff. Bergen – river – oh yes. Reykjavik – sea – luvely. Manchester – ship canal tucked out of the way – hmmm.

As you can see in this list, the Thames features pretty a fair bit, from the South Bank to the view from Waterloo Bridge. And it features here too. Because whilst there’s quite a few bridges over the Thames for great views, there is only one railway station that actually sits on top of the Thames. Blackfriars is that station. And once the upgrade work is completed, it will be the only railway station in London that actually straddles the whole width of the river.

St Pancras station is great, but Blackfriars offers you a view and a half. Looking down the river you can look down and see HMS Belfast, City Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral and there, right in the middle is the majesty of Tower Bridge which has to be up there in the list of Top 10 Greatest Bridges in the World.

On my final day working at Bush House, we were told to leave at lunchtime so they could pack up our stuff. We went to the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and afterwards I walked to Blackfrairs and just stood waiting for my train soaking it all in. It’s even nicer when the moon is out and the lights of the city are shining.

If there was one flaw with the old Blackfriars railway station it was that you could only take in the view looking east – looking west you’d just see a wall at the edge of one of the platforms. It seemed madness. Here’s a railway station with one of the best views possible in any railway station ever and they’d built a wall to block it off. Okay so it was to stop passengers falling in the river, but still…

Despite the building work, the view still remains but it’s interrupted by temporary walls and tools. It’s not the view it was. But the work won’t last forever. Blackfriars station will return in even more glory. And I’ll be standing on that platform, waiting for the Sutton train, revelling in every last second of it.

So that’s that then…

Yep that’s it. There’s more I could have put in. Greenwich, Somerset House, Fullers beer, Kew Gardens and the Red Lion pub in Ealing. But you have to end somewhere. The ten above sum up nicely for me what I think makes London a great city to live and enjoy. The day I stop enjoying them is the day I probably should leave.

Here’s hoping it will be some time away.

If you think there’s anything I’ve missed, why not add a comment and let me know…

And so as the sun shines in the sky and inevitable wheel of inevitability keeps on turning, we come to the end of this post. But hey, come back tomorrow for idle musing on London beer…