Thursday, October 7, 2010

London householder

I think it is now about five nights that I have spent sleeping in St Pancras. My bedroom has six-metre high ceilings – not flat, but catherdralling up into the ex-rafters of the ex-Midland Grand Hotel. There is a high attic window, which I can reach to open. One wall slopes inwards and is crossed by a low, huge wooden beam. The character and history of the room is indeed its strength, but I wonder if it would be everyone’s cup of tea? For example, there is no window covering, so the room is light-ish all night, since the ‘train shed’ roof of St Pancras – the great glass semicircular dome – is below, along with the station lights. There is also, as throughout the apartment (or ‘flat’ as I must learn to say), a constant hum of background noise: the occasional train with its station announcements, the vague white noise of the traffic on Euston Road (on the other side of the building), the odd siren in the distance that is omnipresent in all big cities (actually, as I write, there is a cacophony of these occurring). And the cheerful little chime tune in a descending scale of three notes which precedes station announcements.

Looking up at my bedroom ceiling
The guest bedroom is downstairs and has a lower ceiling, and incidentally more convenient proximity to the bathroom, but a similar unclad window and the same access to what I regard as the cheerful throb of city life outside. Hopefully any guests who make their way here will share my enthusiasm. Speaking of which – Evan is on his way! We’ve just asked the travel agent to ‘book him, Danno’ (I did watch TV once, a long time ago). Arrival is in about 10 day’s time for a four week stay! Fantastico! But if they give you one of those little eye-shade things for sleeping on the plane, Ev, I suggest you keep it. I also had another bash at reprogramming the obscure hot water system today – keep your fingers crossed.

Sir John Betjeman
Today was a day with no classes and no gym session. I used it to make various new discoveries about my ‘hood, including investigating the pub downstairs, The Betjeman Arms. This was named after Sir John Betjeman the British poet (a cheerful looking fellow), who was one of the people who worked for the preservation of the St Pancras building. In recognition they have named the pub after him, and there’s a bronze statue too. The pub seemed nice but disorganised, which is not to say I won’t go there again, just not when I’m in a hurry.

I also set out on what is practically a daily chore – the visit to Waitrose, the supermarket. In the non-driving world, the daily food forage becomes routine. At the moment I am also still buying things like an ice cube tray and a pair of scissors. It is sobering to consider how many small tools one comes to regard as essential, even when actively resisting the collection of Stuff. By the way, thanks to a tip from Harry (thanks, Harry!) I found a tiny neighbourhood store with tools and other household bric-a-brac: these little stores are essential when there’s no huge K-Mart of Targét to visit.

On today’s walk (it’s only about 500m to Waitrose) I found a route through some wonderfully quiet backstreets, thus avoiding walking down the ghastly Euston Road – reputed to be the busiest road in London. I passed by a couple of tiny corner pubs, an inner-city school behind a high wall, and around several quiet corners. In fact, I tripped over on the uneven paving (who can I sue?) and fell flat on my face, and remarkably there was not a soul around to see (or hear) me, only two minutes from Euston Road and the British Library.  I am perfectly fine – I tell this story just to illustrate what a fascinating place this is, with remarkably quiet neighbourhoods behind the busiest thoroughfares in the world.

In the afternoon I decided to branch out a little farther afield, and took the Tube to Baker Street. Unable to resist a literary allusion, I checked out 221b, which is now (of course) a Sherlock Holmes museum. Somewhat bizarrely, its website says:

The house was last used as a lodging house in 1936 and the famous 1st floor study overlooking Baker Street is still faithfully  maintained as it was kept in Victorian Times.

I know this doesn't say that Sherlock Holmes actually lived there, but it certainly tries its best to imply that, don't you think?

221b Baker Street

Wandering back Eastwards I passed Madam Tussauds, the Royal Academy of Music, and Harley Street. Then some unerring sixth sense took me to Marylebone High Street, which I am sure is my spiritual home. I turned immediately into a wonderful homewares/furniture/lighting design shop and drooled extensively. No, I didn’t buy, but I made elaborate plans to do so. Many similar shops and three hours of walking later I arrived home with a small bedside lamp, an orange tea pot and six champagne glasses. It is surprising what seems essential. Oh, and a hairdressers’ appointment for tomorrow afternoon. I am in dire need of a cut and colour. That will take about three hours, but I see it as an opportunity to read Plato.

St Pancras Concierge sent a newsletter today. It seems that the scaffolding which presently covers the front entrance to the apartments will be removed very soon. The hotel which is under construction in the west wing of the building is expected to open by Christmas 2010. When it is finished, all kinds of exciting improvements are offered, including access to a gym with swimming pool, a spa, a ‘celebrity chef’ restaurant  and a gorgeous retro bar in the of Booking Office of the Midland Grand Railway.

In other news, residents are advised that on Friday this week the building contractors will be working from 9 pm until 4 am, drilling and cutting. It seems they have to do this at these hours outside of train running times. Evan – save the earplugs as well as the eye shade.


  1. I'm glad you're getting used to the "non-driving world". You can't go far, but you see more. Nice snapshots of city living - and I for one do not miss the daily round of renovation noises from the other flats. Let's hope you don't have a bad piano player upstairs; I put up with that for years.

  2. I AM upstairs, but I can't see getting a piano in here.:-)