STATIONS tend to be passing-through places, where we step
hurriedly from platform to exit, eager to be on our way. But, at
King's Cross St Pancras, the station itself might be the way.
I had time on my hands as I made my way north: it was an hour
until my train to Nottingham, and I saw the figures first from
afar. The sculpture The Meeting Place is enormous: nine
metres high. A man and a woman embrace: it is a fleeting moment on
a station. An arrival - or a departure?
It is based on the film Brief Encounter, and the
sculptor, Paul Day, explained the emotions on display: "All
separation involves a suspended moment when one wonders: 'Is this
for ever?'" He also spoke of his criteria for success: "To make a
work of art that's going to succeed, it needs to look like it was
always meant to be there."
Some love the sculpture, and some don't: online it has been
called "kitsch", "touching", "bad art", "clever", "patronising",
"hideous", "fabulous", and "absolutely gorgeous".
Many, however, think that there is a better statue at the
station. This time, it is a recognisable person: hand clutching his
hat, coat-tails caught by a gust of wind, Sir John Betjeman gazes
up at the wonderful arch of St Pancras Station's "freshly restored
train shed". Or at least his likeness does, cast in bronze by the
sculptor Martin Jennings.
He is here because in the 1960s he fought against the proposed
destruction of St Pancras. It is unthinkable now; for George
Gilbert Scott's neo-Gothic station building is one of the landmarks
of London; but it was not unthinkable then. Different days. "He
didn't save it single-handedly, but it wouldn't have happened
without him," said Sir Andrew Motion, one of Betjeman's successors
as Poet Laureate.
I take the escalator down, and discover a young man playing the
lilac-painted piano on the con-course, just along from M&S. It
is an old piano, but almost in tune, and a place where travellers
can play or listen for a while - and I do.
With my harassed soul focused and restored, I wander outside and
behold the Francis Crick Institute. It is currently a building
site, but very clear about its mission in the world when it opens
in 2015: to create a world-leading multi-disciplinary biomedical
research centre in London. No absurd hierarchies here, no
inter-departmental squabbles - just research excellence and energy
set free. A grand vision indeed; and presumably it was with such
fire in its belly that the Church announced itself to the
It is time to find my train. I have passed through here so many
times, but never before stopped to contemplate. On my way, I see
the piano-player buying some water. I say "Thank you" to him. He
shrugs modestly, as if it was nothing.