diamond geezer

 Friday, July 12, 2013

King's Cross stories: Platform 9¾

In amongst the commuters and long distance travellers at King's Cross station, one group of visitors is going nowhere. They've come to see a platform that isn't here, and even if it was here they wouldn't be able to see it. Platform 9¾ played a big part in the Harry Potter novels, even though JK Rowling later admitted she'd got the terminus wrong and meant Euston instead. In the early days of Pottermania station staff kept visiting muggles occupied by sticking up a sign saying 'Platform 9¾' near Platform 9, and stuck half a trolley in the wall. Plenty of people came along to take photos, but you didn't usually have to wait too long because it was stuck out by the Cambridge platforms, not the mainline. In the restructure of King's Cross station it's been moved to the new whoop-de-doo entrance area, on a wall between the bookshop and the currency exchange. It's not an exciting wall, and it's not inbetween platforms 9 and 10 either. One day it will be, when King's Cross's Platform 0 is renumbered 1, and all the other platforms hike up one. But for now the tourists don't care, they just want their photo taken by the sign. The queues were short to start off with, then a rope appeared, and so did an 'official photographer'. It's a very different experience at Platform 9¾ today. And very popular.

The queue slinks back, and round, and pokes out into the concourse. I'd say there are three dozen waiting, almost all of them between the ages of 16 and 25. They've willingly submitted to queueing for an organised attraction, because they're tourists and they have no idea this used to be free and easy. At the front is a small group of folk wearing wine-red waistcoats. One is the photographer, and he stands a little off to the side to get an unobtrusive shot. Another (on this occasion) is the scarf holder, who has the none too taxing job of holding a long strip of knitwear back horizontally and then letting go, to make a good photo. And another is the whipper-upper, who chivvies the crowd, and moves them forward, and explains to each in turn how the process works. "Is anyone here from Finland?" he asks, and two hands go up. It's that sort of queue.

When it's your turn a scarf is wrapped around your neck, then you're ushered forward and invited to grab hold of the bar on the half-a-trolley. And raise one foot into the air. And look to your left. And smile. All trace of originality has been snuffed out because everyone gets shaped into this single pose, but the uniformity helps move the conveyor belt forward. If you have a significant other there's nothing to stop them standing beside the official photographer and taking a photo of your own. It's even encouraged, because this isn't some evil cartel operation. But on a given signal the scarf holder lets go, and the scarf flutters momentarily in the air, and that's the moment when the official photographer clicks to take the money shot. And if you want to see that, you need to go visit the shop. Oh yes, there's a shop, the Platform 9¾ Shop, just to the left below the stairs to The Parcel Yard.

It's not a big shop, indeed it's rather narrow. It's been set out to look a bit like Ollivanders in Diagon Alley. And it opened last December, so it's pretty well established now. £8 gets you a copy of your photo, which is less than I think I was expecting, if you queue again at the counter in the centre. Ooh look, they also have scarves just like the one some waistcoated bloke just tied round your neck, but they cost over £30. The walls of the shops are completely packed with official Harry Potter merchandise, from Marauders Maps and Chocolate Frogs to more expensive cashmere 'house' sweaters. Head down the back and you'll find a display of wands, quite evocatively laid out, but essentially little more than carved bits of something woodlike stashed in a nice box, for £30. It's clear that the photo is merely a hook to get visitors inside where there's then every chance they'll spend a fair bit more. The shop's run by the same bloke who runs the London Film Museum, and he's clearly tapped his market well, but those commuters aren't missing much by walking past.

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