Lately I’ve been commuting to a station in Islington called Essex Road. The trains that pass through it don’t go anywhere near Essex. They run from Moorgate in central London to places like Letchworth and Stevenage. It’s called Essex Road Station because it’s situated near Essex Road.
Essex Road doesn’t lead you anywhere closer to Essex, either. The whole Essex thing is a bit of red herring.
So that’s one thing you already know about Essex Road Station.
The other is that it is the only deep-level underground station in London that doesn’t see any Underground trains. The trains that stop here are all operated by First Capital Connect, part of the above-ground rail network. (Confusingly, Essex Road used to be part of the Underground, then in 1975 it suddenly went all high and mighty and switched to being overground.)
Anyway, it’s also one of those stations that’s served by lifts rather than escalators. Summon a lift and it effortlessly transports you down to platform level. Except that it doesn’t. It takes you beyond platform level. For reasons I cannot fathom, when you exit the lift you then have to take about 20 steps back up to where the trains are.
Flashback to 1904:
“OK boss, we’ve reached the platforms, can we stop digging now?”
“No, keep going! Another twenty feet should do it.”
“But this is perfect, boss! We’re exactly in line with the trains.”
“I told you to keep digging, dammit!”
Under the heading ‘Disabled Access’, one website says of Essex Road Station: ‘Partial’. I suppose this means disabled people can ‘partially’ board a train or ‘very nearly’ leave the station.
I mentioned this to the man who didn’t beat me up.
We’d both been at street level awaiting one of the lifts. He with his tracksuit, his golden, jangly adornments and the various piercings about his person; me with the bag that I was suddenly aware contained my whole livelihood. He had the darting eye movements and the rapid, jittery body motions of someone who’s totally wired on something other than café cortado. The lift doors opened and we both walked in. After a moment the doors closed.
“Umeddmimmasmaffkintren,” he said. I pulled off my headphones.
“You made me miss my fucking train.” Oh, great. I was in a lift with someone using the past tense to describe something that couldn’t have happened even in the future.
“How did I manage that, then?”
“You held me up. Getting in the lift.”
This was bollocks, of course. “Going somewhere good, are you?” Change the subject. Get him talking about him.
“Yeah,” he said, without elaborating. Then: “I could have beaten you up. But it’s all right, I’m not going to do that.” The lift completed its descent and the doors opened. There was no one else about. He glanced at me as if he was about to reconsider.
“Weird about the stairs, isn’t it?” I said.
“Eh?” I talked about the madness of the lifts taking you to a point way below platform level. He said he’d never noticed that before.
It has since occurred to me that imparting London trivia might be an effective way of disarming would-be attackers.
“Wait! We’re in the only ‘road’ in the City! Everything else is a lane, street, way or square!”
“Don’t hit me! See the Monument over there? Do you know more people have died falling from it than in the Great Fire it was built to commemorate?”
“Guys! Guys! We’re in the only Tube station that doesn’t contain any letters from the word ‘mackerel!”
Think I might be on to something?