Thursday, 8 November 2007
SOS. Save Our Station
It was a beautifully crisp blue-sky morning so I decided to take La Fille to Battersea Park on the bus. She had declared it to be a "lovely sunny day". Sometimes this statement is a true reflection of the weather; sometimes, given the grey clouds outside, I can only assume she is referring to her mood. This day, it was both so we jumped off the bus near Chelsea Bridge and,wrapped up in scarves and pointy woolly hats, stumbled through piles of browning yellow leaves as she shrieked with excitement and urged: "Run, Mama, run." Later we laid out lunch on one of the wooden tables in children's playground, which, like much of the park, was eerily empty. I loved Battersea Park when I lived in London. I loved the optimistic idealism of the Peace Pagoda, I loved the park's tranquility and detachment from everything around it. I loved feeding the ducks and rowing boats on the lake and I loved watching the wallabies, which have now gone. I especially loved being able to gaze out at the Battersea Power Station nearby, and to salute its defiance and triumph over both the Luftwaffe and the property developers who hoped if left to rot long enough it would simply fall down. Living in France for the last few years, Battersea Power Station has also come to symbolise something else: a return home. As the Eurostar trundled past it I would scan the distant horizon trying to identify the street where I bought my first flat or the pretty bridges along this stretch of the Thames - Chelsea, Albert, Battersea - their twee twinkling night lights since outshone by the wattage from a thousand luxury apartments. I feared for the station's future waiting heart in mouth for it to appear and dreading a day when I would gaze out from the Eurostar window and see nothing but a pile of rubble prepared for another of the dazzling housing developments that have sprouted around the station in stark contrast to its brooding splendour. While millions were being splashed out around it, nobody - except a few dedicated locals - seemed to care what happened to the magnificent centrepiece.
It is a long time since I lived anywhere near Battersea Power Station, but in recent years I have used it as a symbolic point of reference to La Fille. "Look, look," I would say, nudging her like an over-excited child and pointing to the chimneys. "That's where Mama used to live." Even at two-and-a-half she would give me that 'Oh-yeah-tell-me-another-one' look. Now I have left it too late to use this as an excuse to share a family legend with her: that my grandfather carved his initials at the top of one of the chimneys. This was not some staggeringly daring act of vandalism; apparently at the time he was working on the power station designed by the architect Giles Gilbert Scott, who, incidentally, also designed the red telephone box. When I was much younger and took everything literally, I wanted desperately to scale the chimneys - unfortunately nobody in the family knew which one grandad had left his moniker - to find out if this was actually true. I was even once tempted to write to 'Jim'll Fix It' to see if he could arrange a climb for me, but it seemed a tad naff and something you would not want your friends watching on a Sunday evening. As I grew older and accustomed to the the tinkle of shattered illusions I decided I would rather take the family legend at face value. That way, as the Eurostar trundled past Battersea Power Station I could conjure up a picture of my lovely grandad, puffing a Senior Service cigarette, scratching JWP into one of the white table-leg chimneys. As I read about the Queen opening St Pancras station this week I realised with a pang of sadness this is a pleasure I have experienced for the last time.