London Bridge has changed. It has quite possibly been changed for some time, it’s just that I haven’t been anywhere near it for a while (all my recent clients have been more central, so it’s been ages since I stood in the Mount Doom-esque shadow of The Shard).
But changed it is. And my question to you, TFL, is why? WHY? You took what I think most of us considered a perfectly functional, train station-y station and have transformed it into a rabbit warren from hell.
I surfaced from the Jubilee line at rush hour (my first mistake perhaps) and was chucked headlong into a gushing human river of terribleness. As I bumped along wondering where the Krispy Kreme stand had gone, I noticed that the whole bottom floor of the station was now under a sort of white tarpaulin decked out with red pipes and jaunty posters informing me of the ‘new look’ London Bridge, as if LB were a child-actress making the tricky leap from adolescent starlet to serious grown-up artist à la Emma Watson after she’d finished being Hermione and cut all her hair off so that people realised she was not, in fact, a schoolgirl witch anymore.
So I’m staggering through this labyrinth of metal and human flesh, unseen trains rumbling somewhere overhead, when I’m deposited into a hub-like hall with half a dozen escalators leading skywards (to nirvana, perhaps?). A friendly girl in a blue TFL-branded waterproof jacket immediately honed in on me and asked if I needed help. Yes, love, I do.
You KNOW the new layout is fucked if the need to hire TRAVEL AIDES has arisen. I asked the nice lady how to get out of the station, I didn’t actually want to catch a train yet and simply wanted to meet a friend on the station causeway before we both headed for the 19.29 to Horsham (said friend, Nat, lives in South Norwood and we were going to her house to eat pancakes and drink fizz to celebrate her birthday). Somehow, there had been no opportunity to exit the station between Underground and Overground. She indicated one of the celestial escalators and told me that if I ascended it, it would lead to my freedom. I obeyed and hopped aboard.
The escalator did not lead to an exit. It lead to a platform. I had to physically fight my way (salmon, up stream) against the going-home crowd NOT to end up on board the 19.07 to Tunbridge Wells. I had no business in Kent, but nobody seemed to care. I managed to get back down the escalator I had come up and, flustered, began walking back along the metal corridor from whence I came, totally discombobulated. My phone rang. Nat.
“Bird, I’m heading towards the Barrowboy on the bridge. Where are you?
“The new London Bridge, I’m trapped in it.”
“Oh god, it’s a nightmare isn’t it? OK. Remain calm. What can you see?”
“Red pipes and people. Cross people.”
“Head for Tooley St.”
Keeping her on the line, I ducked down a passageway marked with a huge sign that read, happily, “TOOLEY STREET”. A TFL-branded arm came down in front of me. I was thwarted.
“You can’t go this way.”
“Why? There’s an arrow pointing this way.”
“You can’t go this way. It’s closed.”
“So how do I get to Tooley Street?”
The bored-looking chap in the waterproof waved vaguely back towards the hub of escalators. I wasn’t falling for that one again. I tootled off in the direction of the Underground. Maybe I could ride it one stop on from London Bridge, back to Bermondsey, and walk to the pub from there? Hanging up on Nat, I tapped the name of the pub into CityMapper. It was a mere one minute’s walk away. There had to be a way out of London Bridge station, there just had to be. Faced with the options of ploughing on or sitting down on the cold concrete floor and weeping, I chose to plough.
At this point, I am seriously wondering if I will spend the rest of my life in this fucking station. I am on the hunt for fresh air. Where there is traffic and roads and bicycles and outside space, there is freedom. So I wend my way back to the Underground, down into the bowels of the tube, and locate a different exit to the one I previously took. Surfacing onto the hallowed cobbles of Tooley St, feeling not unlike a Chilean miner on his first gasp of freedom, I battle through rush-hour people traffic, eventually bursting through the doors of The Barrowboy on Borough High St, a broken woman. I drink the gin and tonic waiting for me like it’s the very elixir of life.
Propping up the bar and laughing at my agitation, Nat asks, “How can ANYONE get so lost in a train station?”
I don’t know. I genuinely do not know.