I made one of my rare and fleeting trips to London yesterday to attend a conference. I caught the train to and from St Pancras and as I was wandering round the train station waiting for my train home I noticed the above statue from afar. The two giant, kissing figures loom over the station, even as the impressive span of the Victorian station roof looms over them.
I was drawn to the figures and as I stood taking a picture of the statue, I noticed I wasn’t the only one who had stopped to look up at it or indeed to take a picture. The statue is called The Meeting Place and is supposed to reflect the meeting of England and France via the Eurostar, which terminates at St Pancras. Some might think it’s a little cheesy, and it seems the statue has not been well received by everyone, but I quite like it. There is a certain romance about train travel.
As I kept wandering I came across another statue, this time of John Betjeman. It stands on a disc of slate with a stanza from his poem Cornish Cliffs inscribed round the edge of the disc, so that you have to walk right round the statue to read the words. Again I was surprised by the number of people who stopped to walk around the statue and read the stanza.
And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.
I didn’t know at the time which poem the lines are from, but I know about Betjeman’s association with Cornwall and with the train journey there. Those lines, coupled with the blasts of cold December air, wrenched momentarily at my gut. I forget about Cornwall and whole weeks pass without thinking about it, but when I do I miss it a lot.
I wandered some more towards the sound of a Salvation Army brass band, but a dissonant sound clashed with the brass band’s cheerful Christmas song and I went to investigate. I found the source of the sound; a piano has been placed in the station for anyone to play and someone had taken up the offer.
The statues and the music made me think about how our cities could be more interactive. I often find being in large cities like London can be stressful and forces you in on yourself. There is an overload of information and you have to filter it out. But public art work – statues and music – can forces us to stop and actually take in our surroundings, and even take us to places we had forgotten about.