'London: the Lives of the
LONDON VIEW/Julian Barnes
Every schoolday for six adolescent
years I used to travel by the Metropolitan, Bakerloo and finally District
(or Circle) Line from Northwood in Middlesex to Blackfriars. My school
was in the heart of London, its main steps across from the Thames; there
was just a short walk to St Paul's for the annual commemoration of our
benefactors. This transition from calm, green suburbia to vibrant metropolis
felt in the main a simple psychological process: from family dullsville
to the centre of the world. But there was one thing—one building—one part
of one building—which usefully complicated such daily world-turning. Blackfriars
mainline station (now demolished) was dismissed by Pevsner in a couple
of phrases: 'Opened in 1886. Weak Italianate, of red brick, two storeyed.'
Was that all? No, that was not all. On either side of its entrance, incised
on rising columns of stone facing, were the names of destinations served
by this station. St Petersburg, I remember chiefly, and I think Berlin,
and photographic evidence confirms Dresden, Brindisi, Leipsic with a C,
Vienna and Lucerne; though not Paris, which had presumably been cornered
by some rival terminus across the river. By the time I went to school these
continental connections no longer existed: John Betjeman had once straight-facedly
asked at the Blackfriars booking office for a return ticket to St Petersburg
and had been referred, equally straight-facedly, to Victoria Continental.
But still... St Petersburg was where you might run into Anna Karenina,
wasn't it? And Vienna... And Cannes... As I stared up at this out-of-date
gazetteer, I realized that I did not travel each morning to the centre
of the world. Northwood was to London as London was to Europe. My subsequent
life has been entirely based in the metropolis; I enjoy the city; but I
have always felt it as a place on the way to somewhere else.
the Lives of the City'
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