Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The escalator at ST JOHNS WOOD Underground station in London takes 56.48 seconds to ride. To experience this, it is best to arrive at the station by underground train - from the one line that services the station, the JUBILEE line. On disembarking, the escalators are revealed in all their sturdy sweep. They are burnished bronze, the surrounds painted the appropriately buff shades of the steam age- a period still being glorified when the station was built in 1939. The design is friendly in that it seems to want to please those it serves: at the base, just where passengers first step on, there is a thin column which holds a small, lit version of the London Underground sign with the words WAY OUT across it, a chatty gesture rarely seen in the municipal buildings of London. Indeed up the entire expanse of the escalator there are 15 rows of angled spotlights on plinths, such as might be seen in cinemas of the 1930s, lending the ride an expectant and celebratory air.
The escalators themselves seem slightly wider than those installed in modern stations, and so allow riders plenty of room to stand at the right without getting knocked by those passing on the left. The tread of parallel lines on each step is of deep groves, and unusually there are also lines, albeit more widely spaced, on the vertical face of each step. This can be confusing at first for the escalator admirer who is used to seeing the vertical face as flat and smooth, but the benefits soon reveal themselves when the complex pattern becomes the main focus.
I have particular fondness for staring at lines with an intensity that causes them to send my eyes crazy - it's like making my own BRIDGET RILEY piece occur wherever lines are found. The upward journey on an escalator is the perfect time to make this optical interference happen, and as long as no one else stands in front or walks past, the eyes can focus hard on a rigid grid to make the pleasure distortion occur.
At first, the lines remain rigid and correct, framed by the blank gutter and sides of the escalator. But stare hard, and the lines warp, then pulsate, and then strobe. Persevere, and the blind spot comes into play, with a whole chunk of the step now entirely imperceptible. It is at this point that the eye can relax and enjoy the experience that it has caused, flicking to look into the blind spot and causing lines to re-appear, then disappear again. The whole step shimmers.
There is an unexpected treat towards the end of this particular escalator at ST JOHNS WOOD as it rises into a circular atrium. There is a row of rectangular windows that bring light to those emerging from underground. In themselves, the windows are a pleasing design touch. But for those who have been concentrating on the escalator step, they provide a sudden twist to the light-play. It happens around 40 seconds into the ride, when the eye thinks it is in control of what is taking place in its isolated visual field. Suddenly the light hits hits the tread, the shadows completely change, sharpness is restored, and what was a blur becomes steeped in beautiful clarity. Then the steps rise to meet each other, and what was a moving stair now becomes flat. The teeth appear, and it is time to step off.
I am writing this review in THE BEATLES COFFEE SHOP, which sits by the exit of the UNDERGOUND. I hate THE BEETLES, and the coffee shop is the sole reason to dislike ST JOHNS WOOD tube, since near here that band recorded some of their songs and were photographed walking across a pedestrian crossing in single file, reason enough to the make this area a depressing place of pilgrimage. Other gripes: I would like the escalator to have a bit more of a whoosh about it. I don't particularly mean the height, nor for it to be traversing a sheer drop, as I am prone to feeling vertiginous. My ideal escalator would just give a bit more acceleration within a confined space. Yet it has much to offer and, as a mechanism, is a pleasure on which to make repeated trips. It may not be STEALTH, my current favourite rollercoaster, found at THORPE PARK just outside London, but it's good.

{REVIEW, AN ESCALATOR , By Charlie Porter from FANTASTIC MAN No 11}

1 comment:

Caleb said...

The definition of: "I read it for the articles."