Notes on Stations

Friday, March 16th: I walk through King’s Cross and St Pancras stations and note a few things. King’s Cross is just about to have its new concourse open, with a panelled golf ball-like dome similar to the Great Court at the British Museum. There is even a countdown board, ticking away the seconds to the hoarding coming down. I pick up a leaflet about the changes:

“Have a wander around the new shops, you’ll notice a few surprises. Just don’t get so carried away that you miss your train!”

The ‘new’ shops include: Boots, WH Smith, Paperchase, Accessorize, M&S Simply Food, Pret A Manger, Starbucks and Caffe Nero.

Some thoughts on franchise cafes:

- I’m happy with the drinks and snacks being the same in every single branch of Costa and so on, yet I resent the music being the same. I wonder why this is. Possibly because music connects directly to the emotions, whereas for food and drink the only emotion is satisfying hunger and thirst. Unfamiliar music is interesting, unfamiliar food might be inedible. It’s okay to always drink the same coffee, eat the same panini. But when the same CD plays in every Costa cafe sound system, I am annoyed.

- Some franchise cafes express their individuality by either playing the standardised music on a very low volume, or – God bless them – not having music full stop.

- Franchises are popular because they give the illusion of familiarity, of being at home. One feels a regular, even if the branch itself is unfamiliar. The Marks & Spencer in Gibraltar is a surreal comfort. Perhaps arriving at King’s Cross and not seeing the usual high street brands would be upsetting.

- There is a link between the emotion of franchise cafes and of going to see a band when they’ve reformed,  just to hear the old hits. Comfort food. No surprises. A journey one has already been on. Reformed bands as trusted brands.

- I wonder what the ‘few surprises’ in the new King’s Cross concourse are going to be.

In St Pancras I pass the toilets near the southern end. There is usually a long queue for the ladies’, and no queue for the gents’. Why brand new public conveniences still fail to address this discrepancy between the sexes baffles me. Swanning in past the ladies’ queue to use the gents, and wandering out afterwards to see the same faces still waiting, I feel the unfairness of nature made worse by the myopia of architects. And I can’t help wondering what gender the architects are, and if that is something to do with it.

I also wonder if gendered toilets per se will be a thing of the past in my lifetime, and hope for more unisex facilities to be brought in – lots of cubicles for all, plus a few urinals for those who want to use them (whatever gender – with a free dispensing machine for those funnels one hears about). Or just increase the amount of cubicles for women until the queuing problem is dealt with. Maybe it’ll happen in Brighton first.


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