Six Favourite Tube Stations
Baker Street – Original and Best
I suppose this is a bit of an odd choice for a favourite tube station because large sections of it are not pleasant at all. Especially the Bakerloo and Jubilee platforms, which have a dubious 1970s-style skankiness about them. However, the bit I am referring to is the Circle/Hammersmith and City platforms, which are the oldest part of the station, and indeed the oldest part of any tube station. This was part of the first-ever underground line, the Metropolitan Underground Railway, which ran from Paddington to Farringdon, and steam trains used to run on it. Realistically, I guess steam trains running semi-underground must have made for a particularly filthy atmosphere, but looking at the old-fashioned brickwork, tiled staircases and wrought-iron signage around this platform, you can easily imagine the bowler-hatted or crinolined passengers of days of yore, and almost imagine how picturesque it would have been.
Mornington Crescent – Most Legendary
This station is a legend for two intertwined reasons. One of them is its immortalization in the Mornington Crescent game, as popularized on Radio 4's I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue. This very amusing radio programme is possibly the most British of all British things, and I cannot even begin to explain its realms of in-jokery to the nationality-challenged among you. The other reason is that in 1992 Mornington Crescent was completely closed and remained so for most of the 1990s, so you couldn't go there at all, and although it was promised that the station would reopen at some point, it seemed for a long time like it might never do so and would become a ghost station. That didn't happen, however: the station reopened in 1998, having been refurbished in an old-fashioned retro-style with lovely Victorian-type tilework. However, its long closure created a running joke between some of my friends that the closed boards of MC actually hid some lost earthly paradise that Londoners were now permanently exiled from. Thus, the first time that we visited MC station after it reopened, we lingered a while, admiring the lovely tilework and moody lighting with due reverence, and then my mate Joe pointed out several snogging couples who were using the smoothly curving walls as a means of romantic support, and commented "See? It is paradise. There's people just loving each other." Well, I thought it was funny.
Westminster – Most Futuristic
I've seen the future, brother, and it's full of civil servants going to work. The newest section of London tube line is the Jubilee Line extension which opened in 1999, and it contains many stations that seem to have been designed by people who've watched Blade Runner 3,498 times and believe that the only architecture worth building is the sort that wouldn't look out of place with a horde of irate Imperial Stormtroopers running through it. Canary Wharf is a fine example of this kind, but my own particular futuristic favourite is the ultra-industrial Total Recall-lite look of Westminster (photos can be found here or here). I know Daleks can fly these days, but I'd like to see them try and negociate all those escalators without banging their heads on the overhead beams. Not so clever now, eh?
Gloucester Road – Best Artistic Achievement
If you're a graphic design dweeb like myself, you'll know that London Underground has a fine tradition of excellent poster design and typography, which you can find out more about here. However, the Tube now likes to promote contemporary art too, and its primary means of doing this is the Platform for Art campaign. This notably involves small poster-based exhibitions at Piccadilly Circus station, and, most impressively, HUGE poster exhibitions at Gloucester Road, which are generally visible even from trains that are just passing through. We approve of this sort of thing, and wish to encourage it.
Finsbury Park – Best Wordplay
As well as the intricacies of Mornington Crescent (see above), there's something of a London tradition of word games based on tube station names. Which are the only two stations whose names contain all five vowels? And which is the only station with a name that doesn't contain any of the letters in the word "mackerel"? (I'm not going to tell you the answers: you can all stare at the tube map and work it out yourselves.) Anyway, the lowest common denominator among these, and thus the one that appeals most to my infantile brain, is the fact that Finsbury Park spelled backwards is Krapy Rubsnif. I've known this fact for years, and it only gets more amusing. Sorry. I'm such a child.
Arts et Métiers, Paris Métro - Best Foreign-Language Station
Like the Oscars, this list has a token internationalist award and here it is. The Paris Métro is pretty cool on the whole, what with its art nouveau twiddly signs and all, but the most impressive individual station is Arts et Métiers, which is the location of some sort of society of industrialists, and to reflect this, it's been done out to look like the inside of an enormous machine, with copper-clad walls and big cogs coming through the ceiling. You can seen the final effect here or here: it's like the closest real-life equivalent to being trapped in that ridiculous factory production line scene in Attack of the Clones... only rather better than that. And there are no big hammers swooping down to bop you on the head. Which is rather a relief, n'est-ce pas?