This train terminates at Sainsburys

A business proposal to transform the 26 “ghost” stations of the London Underground network has been proposed this week, which means that whereas people used to use stations for travel and going to work they will now be using them to access branches of Costa, Click & Collect their Ikea furniture shopping and generally attend shopping mausoleums below ground amidst diabolical overhead lighting and Take That being piped in at a friendly decibel. (It’s always a friendly Debenham’s-level volume, and it’s always Rule The World ).  Of course, there is a need to use ghost stations.  It’s not entirely fair that the ghosties should have first dibs on them.  But I’m not entirely convinced that what our metropolis needs is another ball-clenchingly orange Sainsburys shoving red pepper hummus at commuters and essentially taking business away from local shops and more money away from us.

Sainsburys have yet to recover from the lunatic shame of their Christmas commercial, whereby they inferred that wars could be won much easier and with far less bloodshed if we exchanged bars of Dairy Milk instead.   Whilst not adding war propaganda to their list of unsavoury achievements, they are now convincing us to buy their savoury and unsavoury nasties from a former ticket hall at a station that was used as an emergency replacement Cabinet War Room (when the original wasn’t available) during the War and has since been used only in James Bond films starring Daniel Craggy McCrag Face Craig.  34 sites in all have been identified, one of which may be turned into a herb garden (Hello the disused station of Clapham North!) and another a nightclub (Leinster Gardens!).  York Road will be incorporated into the Kings Cross residential and commercial development triangle, which shows little signs of stopping.  Down Street, the afore-mentioned Cabinet War Rooms stand-in for Churchill when the Germans were busy bombing his other one, is the deepest, and the one with the most potential.  But the plans are so recidivist and reductive that they are tragic : a waxwork Churchill presiding over a muddling mock-up of his war time fags, cigars, champers etc whilst offering the visitor a tour of his daily life (sleep, half bottle of Moet, ham sandwich, RULE, CAMPAIGN, snooze, port, lunch, SPEECHES, snooze, Bordeaux, cocaine lozenges etc).  Another tourist-inciting museum in the centre of what should be a working city?  Another non-station trying to convince us that what we need are waxworks, which haven’t been thrilling since 1978, and only then to 11 year olds?  In addition to that Churchillian melting pot of wax nightmare on Platform No 3, there will be a restaurant and above ground retail zone – which is brilliant obviously, because London doesn’t have enough of those.

We don’t need more waxworks.  We need real things.   We are talking about a total of 10m sq ft of land, much of which is in some of the most expensive areas on the planet.  What is it that London is beginning to lack, that these ghost stations could aid in creating?  The obvious answer would be affordable housing, but not everyone would want to live underground like eerie characters in an HG Wells story.  The plan currently is that TFL would lease the properties out to business clients, and the profits from the leasing will be fed directly back into the public purse.  Therefore the renovations of the ghost stations will cost you and I nothing, but will benefit those who use the TFL system on a daily basis as the profit will be spent there.  Yet there are practical difficulties.  Many of the sites are very close to live railways, and therefore require investment to ensure safe change of use before Waitrose rock in and open up.  Procurement law dictates that all bids for stations must be open to a series of commercial tenders.  TFL want to accept the more interesting and appropriate ideas that celebrate individual stations’ histories, but may not find themselves able to do so.  It had been hoped that Brompton Road tube would be opened as a museum to celebrate its history as one of the RAF anti-aircraft secret underground divisions in World War Two, from where V1 and V2 rocket attacks were monitored.  But then, suddenly Brompton Road was sold to luxury developers last year (presumably by TFL?).  There goes another good idea up in Russian billionaires’ cigar smoke.

So, what should happen to those 32 stations:

1.  Five of them should be turned into community resource centres, with free internet and library services.  Whilst many of London’s community centres are non-profit, independent organisations, this will include a small annual fee.  This gives book-lending rights for the library, access to printers / the internet for those seeking work, and the introduction of homework clubs for the children of working parents.

2. Five of them should provide small scale, minor ailments assistance to people, assistance that A&E departments all over London are currently struggling to provide : drop in centres for sprains, cuts, basic antibiotics dispensation and non-emergency illnesses.  Funding will be an issue, so Londoners will each pay a fee to use medical facilities and private nurses.  Central London disused stations will be particularly vital for people who have drunk themselves into vomit and bile inducing oblivion during a West End night out too.

3.  Three of them should be converted into temporary fire stations, especially in light of the raised terrorist risk to the UK (and the fact that the West End actually only has one fire station – Soho).

4. Five of them should be grant leases to local, sustainable cafes and restaurants within a 5 mile radius of that disused station to promote the growth of local, small businesses and ban the presence of all supermarket and coffee chains.

5. Five of them should house some of the permanent collections that our 240 museums cannot permanently display and which are currently languishing in archives.

6. Five of them should provide temporary homes for those business that have been silently “cleared” in Soho / Denmark Street over the last decade thanks to the development of the Crossrail project, at affordable rents.  The rents are paid directly to TFL as landlord.

7. Four of them should be granted temporary live music licences and offer affordable gigs and evening concerts to schoolchildren (and grown ups) across the capital.  The concerts and gigs will have a cover charge which will be processed into a system to ensure musical education with the possibility of several hours of free music tuition to all London children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There you go.  Do that and those stations will never be empty.  There won’t even be room for the ghosts.  You see, only two of the seven points are not directly funded by the pocket of the consumer (The Fire Brigade and the Museums).  The rest we will pay for.  My argument is, we will be happy to pay for them if they provide us with some meaningful improvement in the nature of our civic life.  I’m just not entirely sure that a Tesco Direct with a large shoe shop on top of it will offer us anything at all that we actually need.  It only offers us something that we might, from time to time, require.

London is getting beyond itself; we need to identify precisely the kinds of services – civic and retail – that we need, in a city overrun with greed, new restaurants and endless opportunities to spend money many of us feel like we don’t have. Money for vital services is far more required in a city where the numbers are growing but both wages and access to services are not.  The difficulty with over-bloating the market with retail outlets is it implies that we all have the desire to spend money on things that we only ever buy through choice.  A Tesco muffin is a Tesco muffin.  So what?  What I propose is that we are encouraged to make the choice to buy things we as a city currently need as a necessity.  If London’s empty spaces can’t create this for us, who on earth can?

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is now updated intermittently, so please add yourself to the mailing list to ensure you receive updates.  Thank you!  The London Bluebird. x x x.

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Alice in Wonderland

And so to 2015.  Another year where I still don’t know what those enormous bell-type things are on the pavement at the corner of Finchley Road and Circus Road, NW8.  Have you seen them?  They are like enormous giant’s earrings or houses for gremlins or garden gnomes.  I think at this time of year, if we were to hesitantly open them up they would be full of the Bastard Wishes of New Year’s Resolutions, tiny Londoners with futile expressions attending spin classes in miniature Virgin Active Gyms for they have forgotten that their bodies are only going one way, and that is wherever gravity sends them.  When it comes to moobs and flab it’s a tireless race against the inevitable. It’s down, down, down….falling through life’s rabbit hole.

So maybe, for the ageing student here, it’s a moot point that the only bit of my body I am focusing on is my brain – which is a clever tactic as its moobs are hidden inside my head.  But the problem is my brain has displaced itself into a nether hormonal region of highly strung madness as I am seven months pregnant.  Everyone else is concentrating on dieting and getting smaller, but I have the ultimate opt out and am out of the control seat here.  I just get bigger.  I see those adverts at bus stops for people to get miniature meals featuring grains delivered to their office desks at exorbitant prices and now I guffaw.  Although I’m sure I did guffaw last year.  The EAT‘s and Pret A Manger’s are overflowing with quinoa and nasty things to exercise your colon when all you want is a hearty bowel of porridge.  My hormonal craziness is almost liberating.  Today I saw a corgi outside Baker Street Station and wanted to kill it.  They don’t tell you this in the Baby and Fashionable Breastfeeding Guide from Udders.com.  I am not making up Udders.  They are a company, a company that provides terrified first time mothers with extremely bad taste shawls in which mothers can choose to feed who they breed.  Apart from killing corgis, other desires have been turning around and saying “I’m NOT your darling” to some innocent, 50-something painter and decorator type – whose stomach was at least twice the size of mine – who was offering that I go in front of him in the queue at Pret A Manger in Bond Street Station.  The bastard.  I look forward to degenerating into total mental disarray in the next 10 weeks.

At Ageing Students HQ, I met with one of my supervisors who told me, entirely unprompted, not to worry about the “adulterous dreams and sleep orgasms”.  It took me a quarter of an hour to work out she wasn’t talking about my PhD.  Two framed photographs of blonde angelic children sit perched on her bookshelf alongside The Cambridge Companion to Dickens.  She said she had a dream of such sexual lucidity at some point in her third trimester that “I can never bring myself to tell my husband about it”.  I would like to know about it, I said, so that I could go home and tell my husband. It would be a refreshing parlour game, and certainly a change from what we have been playing since Week 28 which is me, sitting on the sofa asking “Can you see my feet?  I can’t”.   She wouldn’t tell me.  However, it was reassuring.  The previous week something dreadful had occurred at night in my subconscious involving Russell Brand, and I felt cheated, because I have never once fancied Russell Brand.  He has a really cruel face, so that’s him out.  But there he was lurking in my fetid imagination, refusing to dislodge.  I’m just grateful a corgi wasn’t involved.   Of course it’s not too late for that.  I’ve got 10 weeks to go.

London is usually full of pregnant people, or at least it seemed to be when I wasn’t pregnant.  Now I feel like the only pregnant person I have seen.  I have been quietly impressed by the people who stand up for me on the tube, and buses.  But why are they always women – usually in their late 50s / 60s who, frankly, look as if they could do with a sit down?   People are kinder than I thought about standing up on the tube (I don’t go for the nonsense of one of those “Baby on Board” badges.  I don’t have to.  I am huge).  But mostly they don’t look at you with kindness.  They look at you with pure, unbridled pity.  “Oh, God, I remember that,”  their tired City eyes seem to say.  “You’ve not seen your own vagina since October have you?”  It feels churlish to reply to people when I’m having imaginary conversations with them in my head, so I keep schtum, but the pity is interesting.  I think they should save the pity for childbirth where I’ll be rolling around on a bed screaming for diamorphine and an epidural (knowing my luck Russell Brand will arrive to inject it).    Meanwhile, I lurch around London like a latter day Alice in Wonderland, who has taken a magic “drink me” bottle of potion that means I shall get bigger and bigger and bigger, until, like her I wave goodbye to my feet at the fender and end up with bits of me sticking out of the chimney.  The Londonist sends regular updates to my email box daily, reminding me of all the fabulousness of the City that I am not seeing, and shall not be likely to see for several months, as the highlight of my day seems to be perusing the daily email from Bounty and eating mammoth supplies of expensive out of season raspberries.  Sometimes I wonder how I will finish my PhD.  Sometimes, I think I will finish it because I haven’t given myself an alternative career plan so I have to.  Sometimes, I realise that I have spent precisely 1 minute and 54 seconds, and £2,500, on it, since September, and am perplexed as to how I will manage to spend as much as 1 minute 54 seconds on it in the coming year.  Sometimes I think I will rely heavily on strong coffee, like Balzac, but coffee has not passed my lips since June 2014 and may have a dramatic effect on me.  But then, as Manuel in Fawlty Towers once said “I know naathing…..”  Nothing about any of it.  Nada.  Zilch.  Nil.  Oh, I’ll pick it up along the way.

Central London has been a place I have commuted to for 12 years, five days a week.  What will London be to me when that stops becoming a characteristic of my daily life?  Will London do nothing more than allow me to shrink my life into four rooms for as many months?  I look at the view from my second floor Bond Street window and imagine the person who will take my place sitting out and looking at it instead.  The city churns and moves and pushes forward outside the window, whilst I will be out in Zone 4, working out what the best thing for cracked nipples is  (and to think this time a year or two ago I thought a Cracked Nipple was a kind of cocktail).  I got heady when I returned to Oxford Street after the Christmas / New Year hiatus.  That, dear reader, was a gap of 11 days.  It seemed overwhelmingly exciting and strange.  What will it be like when I come back to work part time after 6 months?  I shall probably have a collapse and be found hysterical and unbalanced in a gutter in Wardour Street, but then that seemed to happen most Friday nights in my 20s.  In those days we thought we were the only people in the world who had discovered mojitos.  We spent so long discovering them we drained the rum reserves dry and competed wildly for Type 2 Diabetes thanks to the sugar syrup.  I am not allowed alcohol now.  Sometimes I have a cup of Darjeeling tea, and I get somewhat off my tits.  I’ve lost the ability to process toxins and drugs, which isn’t at all helpful when you considered the smorgasbord of drugs that childbirth involves on the NHS, courtesy of the Great British Tax Payer.

What shall happen here, I hear you cry?  What shall become of The London Bluebird during this biological transition?  Well, I shall be taking a rest from the blog, and going on maternity leave in February for a few months, but I shall be back…..By February it will be, incredibly, the blog’s 5th birthday.  Please stay with me.  Please keep The London Bluebird in your bookmarks and visit again in the autumn, where I shall be again, writing happily into the ether to you, dearest unknown friend and reader, unaware who is reading and what is being read but hoping that somehow these words end up out there somewhere.  I never know where my words end up, or who you are, or what compels me to report fortnightly but something does, and the thought that you all might be enjoying it on some level is certainly up their in the Top Three Reasons to Keep Hammering Out the Articles.  I’ll be seeing you once more before I disappear, with a further update in early Feb.   As updates become less regular please sign up for our email alerts, which will tell you when I have recovered enough from sleep deprivation to write something.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog will be now updated intermittently. Please sign up for the email notification to have The London Bluebird delivered directly to your inbox in future! The London Bluebird xx

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,300 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.