So the other half and I missed our connection at Kings Cross the other day and decided to make use of the extra half an hour waiting time to nip across the road and see the newly refurbished St. Pancras on which so much praise has been lavished. I used to spend a fair bit of time there back in the Nineties, waiting for the Derby train, and I had a soft spot for it then, despite its air of ramshackle dilapidation. And I’m a sucker for a fancy train station and had heard good things so I was prepared to be delighted.
We were … underwhelmed. Yes, it has a sky-blue roof, and a champagne bar and an endearing statue of John Betjemen. And yes, it doesn’t look like the inside of Terminal 2 during an air traffic controllers’ strike, or at least not yet. And it hasn’t been turned into a vast shopping mall (that’s all downstairs, cunning, eh?) or covered in horrible corporate logos and the new clock’s quite nice, what we could see of it under the scaffolding. But the snogging lovers statue is grotesquely out of scale and deeply naff, and the blue ironwork – well it’s not exactly the most macho colour for a railway station, is it, baby blue? It’s all right on the girders which are actually up in the sky, I suppose, but a lot of the ironwork is down at the concourse level and frankly that makes for a lot of blue. I suppose we should be grateful that the marketing lot didn’t get hold of it and decide women would be more likely to take the train if the station was painted pink.
I can see why the commentators got so excited about it, of course. Given the things they could have done with St. Pancras – knocked it down, sold it for luxury apartments, turned it into a shopping centre – I suppose we should be grateful they let us use it to catch trains. And nothing can take away from the excitement of the original gothic frontage and the soaring single arch, pastel colours or no pastel colours. But since when did not actually cocking something up become a triumph of regeneration? And what on earth is supposed to be meant by the phrase ‘a destination station’?
Still the proof of the pudding and all that, and I’m prepared to reserve my final judgement until we have used the station for real – not just to gawp and take photographs. we’ll be catching the Eurostar to Paris for Christmas again this year and we can see then how it compares with Waterloo. Because the point of a station, in the end, has got to be the trains. Not the bloody station itself