I got my window seat again, and with my favourite view. I could have cried I was so happy. Each time I’m here I seem to have my tour guide duties requested.
‘What’s this big building here?’ A nurse asks, and I have to check twice that we’re talking about the same one. I’m surprised she’s not aware of it.
‘That’s University College London,’ I tell her.
‘That’s the University?!’ She asks, amazed.
It’s an impressive building, with big impressive columns looking out onto a courtyard, and a big dome on the roof. Construction started all the way back in the 1820s when the university first opened, but funding ran out before they could finish it. But you know, sometimes projects need to sit on the shelf for a bit before you come back to them… maybe for about 185 years… because in the mid 1980s, the original plans were eventually finished, and here it stands, ready for me to perch at the window and look down on it.
From the hospital you can see the whole quad, the little Astronomy shed, which replicates the dome on top of the building, and the way the sunlight falls on the steps and the columns is sublime. They had a Christmas tree up, which has now been pulled down, but red lights illuminate the columns at night.
It’s my favourite view I think, and I can feel the creative energy from the place – Chris Martin went there, collecting other students who were to become his bandmates in Coldplay. Other notable attendees include writers G.K. Chesterton and Ken Follett (there’s one for my Aunt), as well as Christopher Nolan.
Another fun fact about the University that I love, is that it features in John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids; the university building where Bill and Jo meet another group of people before they move out of London is now the University of London (Birkbeck College), the distinctive tower is called the Senate House.
‘I went for a walk down that road once on my lunch break and I got to this huge white building with columns and cat statues and I’ve always wondered what it was…’ My nurse says as she looks out the window.
‘Yeah it’s an amazing building, isn’t it?’ I reply. I know the one, right by Mornington Crescent Station. I know it because I wondered too, on one of my ubers past, probably in my days of coming home late at night and seeing them all lit up.
‘It was built by a cigarette company in the 20s, back in the tobacco industry’s heyday, and was based upon Egyptian Architecture. They wanted to emulate that feeling of Egyptian grandeur in their Headquarters. It originally had two big black cats guarding the entrance, and even a solar disc to the Sun-god Ra, but they were lost over the years as the Egyptian style became unfashionable and it was modernised. But vintage came back into style, didn’t it, and the new cats were added in the 90s when a new owner restored it near to its former glory. No more cigarettes for it anymore though, it’s just offices. ASOS is stationed there, and there’s a gym…
‘I wonder what all the lights are over here, it looks like it’s just a big pit of sand…’ The nurse is looking out the window to the left.
I couldn’t see at the time because I was hooked up to an IV at my bed but I could guess.
‘That will be the construction of the HS2.’
‘The new High Speed Rail they’re putting in. It will connect Birmingham to London, essentially, though I think they’re looking at extending it further too, up to Manchester and Leeds. It’s meant to cut anywhere from half an hour to an hour off trips, depending on their length. Birmingham will become an outer zone of London in effect, being less than an hour away… Commutable.’
But don’t get your hopes up yet, the first phase (to Birmingham) will open between 2029 and 2033…..
I’ve pointed out the names of buildings, the direction of Canary Wharf, King’s Cross, Streatham (one of the nurses lived there), the Google offices, at one point I could see out over Primrose Hill, so I pointed that out when asked, too. That red building? The British Library. Then beyond it, you can just see the glorious St Pancras Renaissance Hotel on the edge of the station, one of my other favourite buildings in London.
Have I mentioned I love London? So much history, so many little stories held within the buildings that we pass every day. I’m desperate to learn them and happy to share them when people join me in wonder at the world going on outside the hospital walls.