When the Accidental Father was a small boy, many moons ago, he and a similarly be-shorted school-friend used to pass many happy days hopping between Kings Cross and St Pancras rail stations, trainspotting. The two train stations are united by a common underground stop, with subways facilitating the transfer from one to another; providing a highspeed trainspotting transfer route, if you will. However after the recent heavy redevelopment of both stations, trainspotters have become lesser spotted. St Pancras station, redeveloped first, has becoming a surprising icon of the city, or if that's taking it too far, a rather popular location in the city, given that it is 'just' a train station. A train station which has risen from the ashes more than once, avoiding demolition in the 1960s, and decrepitude in the years that followed.
On the completion of its £800 million refurbishment in 2007, St Pancras became home to the Eurostar train service, making it an international station, and allowing passage from London to the rest of Europe on a single train. The new station is undeniably majestic. A stunning, high barrel roof with hundreds of glass panes, allows in swathes of sunshine (when the city's weather sportingly obliges). Two layers of trains contribute to the bustle and activity within the terminus. Were it not for the quiet and unsatisfyingly steam-free trains one could easily imagine billowing smoke, and glamorous strangers in trench coats and homburg hats with a folded newspaper tucked under their arms meeting for assignations and affairs.
The lower concourse of the station contains the sorts of shopping and eating venues that make you long for a delayed train, so that you have time to browse and graze. There are civilised and charming (rather than simply the bland and ubiquitous Costa and Starbucks) places to drink coffee and eat cake. Lunch need not be a limp sandwich and a bag of Walkers crisps here. There are freshly-made salads and tartines to munch, or, if you're feeling flush, even oysters at the station's own champagne bar. You can pick up the perfect gift for whoever you may be travelling to see, or re-buy whatever crucial piece of luggage you have left behind.
The station is home to several pieces of artwork, some of which were loathed instantly on installation. Paul Day's 9 foot high, bronze sculpture of an embracing couple was criticised endlessly, famously by Antony Gormley. It is not the most subtle of art pieces, and sadly it just does not do justice to this beautiful old space, which has otherwise effected its rebirth with great style. Less offensive is the bronze of Sir John Betjeman, who stands marvelling at the station's staggering roof. Suspended high above the station's trains, in anticipation of next year's sporting festival, currently dangles an enormous set of Olympic rings. (At least they're better than the awful logo.)
And there is now of course also a suitably glamorous hotel for the secret assignations of the homburg hat-wearers, or just an excellent cocktail for the weary Londoner. I took the Accidental Father here for supper one evening when he was in town, and lost him to his younger self. I finally found him, snapping away with his camera-phone, at a series of brass plaques on the roof supports. Forty or so years on he could tell me the date they bore without looking.