diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 19, 2004

London Open House: Saturday

1) BBC Television Centre

My life is complete. I have stood in the Blue Peter Garden. Look, there's Petra's statue, and there's the pond full of goldfish in the Italian Sunken Garden which yobboes thoughtlessly trashed one tragic day in 1983. Oh how Janet Ellis cried, and oh how we laughed at school the following morning. The garden is a lot smaller in real life than it looks on screen delimited by a magic rectangle. But then everything on television is like that, and yesterday I went on a guided tour of the house of illusion.

My illusions are shattered. I have seen the Tardis and it is nothing but a wooden box on wheels. I did wonder whether what we were being shown wasn't the Tardis but just a Tardis, but our charming guide assured us that it was being used for filming the new series. I'm also a little jealous that the tour group behind us were allowed to go inside (not all at once, you understand, although had this been the real Tardis I'm sure that would have been possible).

I have stood in the central circular courtyard where Roy Castle broke the mass tap dancing world record. I have seen the world's first multi-storey cantilever staircase hidden inside the question-mark-shaped TV Centre building. And I have stood on the floor of Studio 8, once home to Fawlty Towers and currently being used to stage that rather more forgettable sitcom, The Crouches. But during the 50 minute tour it was the Blue Peter Garden that resonated most. Here was my childhood laid out over a few yards of turf, from the legendary Tree for the year 2000 to the more recent grave of George the tortoise. Youthful memories are always strong, and here were some I made earlier.

2) St Pancras International

The whole Kings Cross area looks like one giant building site, and yesterday I got to don a safety helmet and walk into the middle of it. A new international station is being created at St Pancras so that, in three years' time, quarter-mile-long Eurostar trains can pull right up to the buffers under the magnificent Victorian arched roof. An extraordinarily complex engineering operation is underway to enable this, whilst simultaneously keeping Midland Mainline, Thameslink and London Underground trains operational throughout the construction period.

From our vantage point high above the construction works we could see the platforms of the extended station taking shape and the concrete roof of the new subterranean Thameslink station being poured into place. In the distance we saw the original mainline station (the 'Barlow Train Shed') being gutted, and scaffolding being erected inside so that the roof can be restored and replaced. Today an extremely busy building site, but in 2007 the gateway to a nation. Let's hope the work stays on schedule.

3) Freemason's Hall

It's not every day that you're allowed to enter the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England without a rolled-up trouser leg, so yesterday I took the opportunity to investigate this imposing building. No expense has been spared on the internal decoration, and the central Grand Temple is an opulent mix of gold leaf and symbolism (rather like an Egyptian-themed 1930s cinema, I thought). There's a huge cloakroom with 600 coathooks where suited men can change into their Masonic regalia, and a shop in the basement that sells apron-clad teddy bears should you ever run out of Christmas present ideas. To me the whole thing looked like a lot of middle-aged men who've invented their own substitute for religion and like to dress up a lot. I was relieved that nobody attempted to shake my hand on the way out.

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