Travelling beneath Kolkata

THE PRESTIGIOUS TOLLYGUNGE Club, where we are staying in Kolkata, is close to a metro station. The Club’s manager recommended that we used it to reach the city centre quickly rather than taking a much slower taxi into town.

The Kolkata metro, which now has three lines, began operating in 1984.

We travelled from Mahanayak Uttam Kumar Station, which is above ground to Park Street, which is subterranean. At the ticket office each traveller is given a circular plastic counter in exchange for the fare, which depends on the distance to be travelled. At a barrier operated electrically, the counter is placed on a designated panel, and the gate opens to admit the traveller to the platforms.

The clean trains are very efficiently ventilated with an air-conditioning system. There are sections of the carriages for ladies only. Passengers were using their mobile phones in the underground stretches of the journey, which suggests that, unlike in London either broadband or WiFi is available on the train while in a tunnel.

Electronic screens provided information about the journey and the use of the trains in Bangla, English, and Hindi. Announcements made over a loudspeaker system were in Bangla and English.

The train ran smoothly and passengers seemed very calm and polite. The journey was twice as fast as if we had gone by road. Although we travelled at a quiet time of day, the train was quite full. I imagine that during rush hours, we might not have been so comfortable.

All in all, our brief experience of the metro was very satisfactory. After disembarking at Park Street station, we bravely crossed a six lane main road to reach Park Street, which we discovered has now been renamed ‘Mother Teresa Sarani’, but most people still call it by its older name.

Two in one at South Kensington

SOUTH KENSINGTON STATION has two street entrances connected by an arcade with a glazed roof. Its subsurface ticket office and foyer gives access to three of London’s Underground Lines: Circle, District, and Piccadilly. But this has not always been the case. People standing outside the southern entrance to the arcade will notice that to its right there is a building faced with the blood red glazed terracotta tiles typical of many London Underground stations. Above the façade are the words “South Kensington Station”, but there is no public entrance to this building.

The arcade used to be the entrance to the station at which passengers could embark and disembark from trains operating on the District and Circle lines, which were part of the Metropolitan Railway. This station was opened in 1868. In 1906, a station on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (now the Piccadilly line) was opened at South Kensington. Its platforms are far deeper beneath the surface than those of the District and Circle lines. Lifts inside the building with the red façade carried passengers to and from the Piccadilly line platforms. This building was then the entrance to the Piccadilly Line station, which was separate from that (with the arcade) which led to the shallower subsurface Circle and District platforms.

In the early years of the 1970s, the lifts to the Piccadilly Line were replaced by escalators. Access to these was made from the concourse that serves the District and Circle line platforms, and then the entrance via the building with the blood red façade was taken out of use. So, what had been two stations became one.

You can read much more about South Kensington in my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” (see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE-MAYFAIR-EXPLORING-LONDON/dp/B0B7CR679W/)

Transported back to childhood on the Isle of Wight

IN THE EARLY 1970s, I used to travel on the London Underground’s line from Golders Green to Euston or Warren Street, both stations being near University College London, where I was a student. Back in those days, smoking was permitted on the Underground. Each Northern line tube train had two carriages for smokers. I have never smoked, but I used to travel in the smokers’ carriages because they were usually emptier than the other ones in which smoking was forbidden. Thinking back on this, I suppose that I must have been passively smoking on the Underground. On the other hand, because there were fewer people in the smoking carriages, my chances of catching other people’s airborne germs must have been reduced.

From an early age, before I became a daily commuter, I liked travelling in the rear carriages of the Northern Line tubes. These carriages contained control panels, which the train’s guards operated to open and close the doors and to inform the driver when the train was ready to leave. As a child, I was fascinated by watching the guard at work. Actually, there was little else to watch after the tube entered the tunnel after leaving Golders Green. Incidentally, what was the rear carriage, was also the front carriage when the train changed direction on reaching the end of a line.

The Northern Line trains I have been describing were built by Metro-Cammell in 1938. By the end of the 1980s, the trains were taken out of service and newer units began operating on the Northern Line. The 1938 trains were shipped out to the Isle of Wight, where they carried passengers on the Island Line. After many years of service on the island, the sea air caused these venerable trains to corrode and deteriorate. In the early years of the 21st century, they were taken out of service.

In late October 2022, we visited the train museum at Havenstreet on the Isle of Wight. One of the exhibits is a collection of old train carriages and engines in a large shed. Amongst these exhibits is one of the former Northern Line carriages built in 1938. Visitors are permitted to enter it. I was delighted to find that the example on display was one of the rear carriages containing the guard’s control panels. Seeing these again after so many years was a curiously moving experience. I felt for a moment that I had been transported back to my childhood days, when travelling in these trains used to fill me with wonder.

A WALK IN THE PARK

BANGALORE IS RAPIDLY BECOMING AN URBAN DESERT, but luckily there are some green oases. One of these is Cubbon Park, named in honour of Sir Mark Cubbon (1775-1861). When it was first laid out in 1870 it was called ‘Meades Park’. Now, its official name is ‘Sri Chamarajendra Park’, although few Bangaloreans would recognize that name as being Cubbon Park.

Although a few roads traverse the park, they do not detract from ots pleasant sylvan nature. And, on Sundays many of these roads are closed to make them free of traffic.

Most of the park is not laid out in an obviously planned way and much of it is pleasantly in the shade of the leafy branches of huge old trees. Wherever you go, you will encounter dogs with their owners, wild dogs, people sitting or sleeping on benches or logs, people exercising, and picnickers. During a recent visit, I saw groups of young art students sitting in circles on the ground. They were cutting up old newspapers and magazines to gather materials for collages they were preparing.

Cubbon Park has its own metro station. One of its entrances is close to both a statue of King Edward VII of Great Britain and also a disused fighter jet, advertising the products of HAL, whose offices face the park.

After passing through the security check, which is present at all metro stations, I descended to the subterranean concourse. This and other parts of the station has been decorated by artworks created, with varying degrees of skill, by students of the Shristi school of design, which is located at Yelahanka, in between Bangalore and its Kempe Gowda Airport.

I was escorted by one of the Shristi students through the metro ticket barrier to another concourse that can be entered via a station entrance near the Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium. This particular concourse had a temporary exhibition of photos of Indians who served in British armed forces during WW2. Sadly, this exhibition looked hastily conceived and did not make much of an impact either visually or historically. The involvement of Indian troops and officers during WW2 is undoubtedly of great interest, but this exhibition did not really explore this even superficially. While I was looking at the show, a Sikh gentleman spoke with me and pointed to one of the photos on display. It showed his father, who had fought during the War.

The exhibition ends on the 22nd December, but the delights of Cubbon Park remain … at least for the foreseeable future, but for how long it is impossible to say in a city that gives more importance to real estate investments than to preservation of heritage.

The FREEdom of the press

EVE STAND

 

In my youth, there were no free newspapers in London. There were, and still are, daily newspapers that were available to buy every morning. In the evening, there was a choice of the Evening Standard and the Evening News. Both were available to buy for a few pennies.

The Evening News disappeared some years ago. The Evening Standard remained on sale. Then, a few years ago (in 2009), the Standard became available free of charge. In my opinion, its quality decreased a bit after it became free. Shortly before the Standard became free of charge, a morning paper, the Metro, came into existence in 1999. It was free of charge.

The Metro is a perfect read for a bus or train journey lasting 15 to 25 minutes. It covers much news and contains plenty of other interesting features. As free newspapers go, I would far rather have a copy of the Metro than the Standard.

Time Out is a weekly which provides fairly thorough information about what is happening on the London leisure scene and includes often useful reviews of films, restaurants, bars, theatres, etc. Founded in 1968, it provided a far more intelligent and edgy account of the London scene than its rivals. Until 2012, Time Out was sold to readers for a fee, which was well worth paying. Since September 2012, it has been handed out free of charge each week. For sveral years, I thought that the free version was not as interesting as the former paid version, but of late the quality of Time Out‘s contents has been improving.

These various free periodicals are great but in these days of worrying about the planet, should we not be minimising the amount of paper being used just as we are trying with plastics? Although I am not so keen about using on-line versions of newspapers, they do not involve sacrificing trees or rubbish creation.

A sip of water

bottles

Like many other parts of Europe, here in London we have been ‘enjoying’ some exceptionally hot weather. Hot as it is outside, it can be even hotter on some of the lines of the London Underground system. The Central Line is one of the worst: its trains are hot as are its below ground stations.

I was travelling on the Central Line recently when I noticed a late middle-aged woman sitting opposite me. Her face was hidden under much make-up. At one point, she opened a metal water bottle, whose colour matched her dress, and took a couple of sips of (presumably) water. I guessed what would happen immediately after she had screwed the lid back on.

My guess was right. She reached into her large handbag, fumbled about, and then withdrew a bag full of cosmetics. First she examined her face in a mirror, then wiped something invisible off her chin. This was the prelude to using a furry brush to re-powder her chin and the skin between her nose and upper lip. When she was satisfied with that, she applied another layer of bright red lipstick to her already heavily ‘lipsticked’ lips. Then, she smiled to herself. I was amazed that such a tiny sip of water could cause so much trouble. 

 

Picture adapted from Amazon website

A young explorer

Green signal_500

 

When I was a child, our local Underground station was Golders Green on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. It was the first station on the stretch of the line, which remains open air, above ground, between Golders Green and Edgware. As a small child, I yearned to know what lay beyond Golders Green, where we always disembarked, but my parents did not share my yearning.

Long ago in the 1960s,  the trains bound for Edgware stopped at Golders Green on a stretch of line that ran between two platforms. The doors would open on both sides of the train. The platform on the left side of the train gave easy access to the centre of Golders Green and its large bus terminus. The right side, which we always used, led to an entrance that was on the way to Hampstead Garden Suburb, where our family home was located. 

One day, my father and I arrived at Golders Green after having spent some time in central London. As usual, we waited alongside a door on the right side of the train when we stopped in the station. Unusually, the doors on the right side of the train did not open, but those on the left did. By the time we realised that the right side doors were not going to open, the doors on the left side had closed, and we were beginning to travel beyond Golders Green above ground to Brent, the next station. My father was not happy, but I was delighted to be travelling along a stretch of the line that I had always wanted to see.

Since that time, I have always been excited at the prospect of travelling to the ends of the London Underground lines. Yesterday, I travelled to Watford, the terminus of one branch of the Metropolitan Line, and enjoyed it as much as I would have done when aged about ten!