Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Crossrail progress leaves sorry station core

Victoria may be the busiest station on the London Underground network and serve a whopping 76 million passengers each year, but it surely loses out in the battle for Most Annoying Tube Station In London.

The true frontrunners for this dubious accolade can only be two fetid Oxford Street apertures: Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.

During rush hour Ox Circ, as everyone writes in txt msgs, is a ghastly crammed hub of gawping slack-jawed tourist flotsam and hollow-eyed wageslave drones surrounded by irascible drooling religious nutters. The rest of the time it just feels like some ludicrous Orwellian joke. No matter how often or comprehensively it is refurbished Oxford Circus will always look unfinished.

Tottenham Court Road’s festering hole is even worse and is surely the lamest Tube station in London. Many weary passengers would happily fellate an entire colony of lepers rather than use it ever again.


Busking doesn’t always have to be the refuge of the musically inept and those who avoid bathing. The man who performs Abba songs in the tunnel leading to the Bakerloo line at Charing Cross may deserve to have their entire regrettable back catalogue (on vinyl, not CD), shoved up his member but some might be allowed to live, come the revolution. But not the woeful goon(s) bleating away at TCR. Come back Jedward, all is forgiven. All except your version of the Ghostbusters theme tune, that is.

At ground and subterranean levels Waterloo station is prone to more fuckwit-filled crowd bottlenecks than Topshop on a Saturday. Part of this is the sheer size of the cavernous orifice and its 23 necessary escalators. Waterloo is often horrendous, but at least two airport-style moving walkways give one stretch a pleasant feeling of unreality. Particularly if you sprint along one listening to drum ‘n’ bass and dodging fellow passengers in an attempt to make your meaningless life more amusing than it is. You can take sharp little glances behind you as you run and imagine being Jason Bourne in The Bourne Fornication or whatever it’s called, too.

But TCR frequently sees bottlenecks that make sentient beings long for death-by-something-unspeakable like happy hardcore or Jeremy Clarkson.

There are endless other reasons why the thought of using TCR is as welcome as Gary Glitter at a crèche, but enough’s enough. This is a blog not a Dostoyevsky novel.

The one thing TCR had going for it was the building above it. Aside from grotty old takeaways with less than rigorous adherence to health guidelines, this creaking edifice was home to the Astoria and Mean Fiddler, neighbouring venues which could always be relied upon for great nights out*.

Aside from hosting many world-beating bands (and as many appalling artists) the Astoria provided a home for perhaps London’s most famous gay night of the last two decades. G.A.Y ran between 1993 and 2008 (until it moved to Heaven) and regularly saw big pop acts - including Amy, Britney, Girls Aloud and, lordy, Chesney Hawkes – appear live. It was obviously a good thing, whether as a straight man you never went but only saw the queues after leaving a Friday gig, a straight woman who went to party with gay mates and avoid being chatted up by dickheads or, of course, as a member of the target audience of gay men or women. Walking up Charing Cross Road and seeing G.A.Y in big red letters could often instil a sense of pride for London’s occasionally almost palpable sense of inclusion and tolerance.

After all, as a straight, white man, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people of my colour, sex and sexuality have it far easier than, well, everyone else. Except for the rich.

Now the surface building above TCR has been whittled down to an essential core, the landscape around one of London’s most frantic junctions looks alien. Crossrail is coming, so Hackney residents can get to Chelsea games more quickly and the TNT-reading Kiwi and Aussie hordes in Shepherd’s Bush can head to Essex without trouble, should they feel the need.

Whether or not a palatial tower of Haribo, sorbet and pancakes fills the space above Tottenham Court Road or whether, more likely, some ghastly mall is built to suck more soul from this town, some of us will miss the sort of grime you just don’t get at the O2.

Coming soon: Have Hot Chip finally delivered a consistently brilliant album on the fourth attempt? Find out when London Liked gives you the skinny on one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated albums.

*On a personal note, I once drunkenly fractured my thumb falling down the stairs one night in 1999 (after Gay Dad's set but before Mansun headlined) and saw Foals perform one of the finest gigs I’ve witnessed in my life on a Monday night in 2008. A toilet attendant also sang, “Born in Lewisham,” at me while I stood at a urinal in 2004 in the Mean Fiddler, but that’s another story.

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