Notes from West London

Earls Court, Monument and Bank

While writing a piece about Underground exits and interchanges the other day (“Where to get off”) two stories came to mind, one related to Earls Court station and the other from my brother’s university days.

At Earls Court station there are exits at the front and back of the train. If you are travelling from the west (Hammersmith for instance) the exit at the front takes you to Earls Court Road (coffee shops, bars, McDonalds, Wagamama). The exit at the back takes you to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre (not many coffee shops, bars or restaurants), although there don’t appear to be any exhibitions or other events there these days.

Back in the late 90s the Spice Girls were playing at Earls Court, in the Exhibition Centre. I was working at a hospital nearby and when I got to the station at about 6pm it was packed with concert-goers, mostly families consisting of at least one parent and at least one girl under 12, dressed as if for a party (lots of Princess dresses and glitter in evidence). One family group comprised a girl of about 10, her shaven headed father and a stressed-looking mother. They were heading towards the wrong exit, back along the platform towards Earls Court Road. The girl told her father they were going the wrong way. She had seen the signs advising people to use the other exit for the Exhibition Centre, and there were announcements being made over the public address system. He wouldn’t listen and said, in what sounded to me like an aggressive way, things like, “Look, I can read. It says Exit. I’m going to the Exit. Right?” And he led them the wrong way. It was December and it was raining. They would have had an extra 6 to 8 minutes walking the long way round, down Earls Court Road, then down one of the side streets to get to the concert. In the rain. If they’d taken the correct exit they would have stayed out of the rain until they got to the pedestrian crossing, and then would only have to cross the road.

I thought about telling the father that his daughter was right and that he should follow her advice, but figured he’d probably tell me to mind my own business. So I did. He didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would appreciate being given advice by someone he didn’t know.

Many years before this, in the early 1980s, my brother was working on a building site in the City of London during one of his summer vacations. His instructions on how to get to the job (which came via a phone call, on a landline – that’s how it was back then) were to walk down from Bank station, just a few minutes from the site.

As you may know Bank (on the Central and Northern Lines) is connected to Monument (District and Circle Lines) via tunnels and escalators. You can interchange between the two stations without exiting to street level. (And these days you can also connect to the Docklands Light Railway, but that didn’t exist when my brother was working near Bank. You can check a PDF of the current tube map here.)

Every day for six weeks or more my brother would take the District Line from Turnham Green station to Monument. He would then progress by tunnel and escalator to Bank station, take the exit, and walk to the job. When he had finished work for the summer and his university term was about to begin he arranged to meet up with the lads one Friday evening after work. He had a bit of time to spare so decided to take a different route to the site and got off at Monument rather than take the route that he’d taken all summer. He thought that he’d explore the local area. To his amazement the site was right next to Monument station, less than a minute away. He hadn’t realized this all summer long, and had added ten minutes each way to his journey, either walking (via tunnels and escalators) to Bank station, and then walking at street level down to Monument, or walking at street level to Bank station, then via tunnels and escalators back to Monument station. It’s easily done. You follow someone else’s advice, you take the route that they suggest, and weeks, months or years might go by before you realize that there’s an alternative way to get to where you want to, a quicker way.

This story is not intended as a criticism of my brother. Any of us could have done the same thing, and there was no harm done. He had an extra 15-20 minutes exercise every day (not that he needed it – work on a building site is exercise enough) and he was never late for work. But I still feel sorry for that poor girl getting soaked on the way to a Spice Girls concert because her father wouldn’t listen. And I still wonder if I did the right thing, minding my own business.

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