Heathrow Terminal Five. It’s an embarrassment isn’t it? Opened to passengers since the 27th of March, and still chaos. An international joke. The world is looking, pointing and laughing. Why hasn’t Gordon Brown hauled the chairmen of BA and BAA up to Number 10, and given them a verbal (or indeed physical) good hiding? They could get to Whitehall via the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow. When Mrs Teninchwheeler and I got back from a holiday in China a couple of years ago – after literally thousands of miles of flawless train travel – we were marooned at Heathrow because the tubes were out of action. It cost us seventy quid to get home in a cab. Welcome to Britain.
In contrast, have a look at St Pancras International. It’s a triumph. OK, it wasn’t built from scratch exactly, but it’s been one of the largest civil engineering projects undertaken in the UK. Service was shifted from Waterloo overnight with no obvious hassle. Trains came and went from the day it opened in November last year exactly on schedule. No bags lost, no journeys cancelled. No sleeping on an icy floor with a coat as a pillow. I mean – take a look at the Barlow train shed – 698ft long, 240ft wide, 100 feet high at its apex. It used to be the largest enclosed space in the world, and it’s still awesome. Look at the frontage – St Pancras Chambers, and the former Midland Grand – about as Victorian gothic as it gets. Wherever you look, things of beauty, elegance and optimisim (apart from the predictable shops).
So what were they thinking of when they chose this bit of sculpture? It’s ‘The Meeting Place’ by Paul Day. It’s horrible, like something Jack Vettriano knocked up in an afternoon. Kitsch. Twee. If they wanted a focal point, (what’s wrong with the clock above it, by the way? The Waterloo equivalent has been a meeting point for generations) they could put the the statue of John Betjeman there. It’s a good, witty representation of the great man that brings to mind Paddington Bear. Betjeman, after all, was one of the first champions of St Pancras. Would he like the new incarnation of one of the world’s great termini? I suspect he would. But I bet he’d hate ‘The Meeting Place’.