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5 November 2015

The underpass under Marylebone Road will be transformed . . . into a urine-free Wonderpass

You can’t have a Wonderpass with a big lake of piss in the middle of it and half the lights not working.

By Nicholas Lezard

The underpass beneath the Marylebone Road, running from Baker Street Station, has been closed for a couple of months. This has had little practical effect on the human traffic crossing from one side to the other, except to make it slightly more dense and fraught than before – you have to be alert, nimble and ruthless in casting aside those who are neither alert nor nimble when going from north to south, the pedestrian lights being sadistically timed that way.

Also, the kiosk selling waffles has disappeared, and although I discovered long ago that spending £3.50 to smear whipped cream and chocolate all over my face was an extravagance too far, it really wasn’t doing much harm.

Oh, well, I thought, these things happen. People weren’t using the underpass much, unless they were in a hurry, or had a weird thing for places that managed to smell of both urine and disinfectant at the same time. A particularly horrible kind of disinfectant, as I once observed in this column: the kind that makes lingering impossible, presumably sprayed in order to discourage the homeless.

There is also a pub at the southern end that is used as a staging post for fans on their way to Wembley and, on the appropriate days, you could hear their bellowing magnified through the corridor. (The worst fans, by a country mile and then some, were and remain the England fans. Club fans are sweethearts and not just by comparison. Still, the noise can be alarming to the gently bred.)

It turns out that they’re not filling the underpass in at all. I paused to look at the information sign that had gone up at both ends – then I walked away in a daze and I’ve barely been able to think about anything else since. And so, just before starting this column, unable to think about anything else, I shoved a notebook into my pocket and walked to the underpass and transcribed its burden, while getting in the way of thousands of irritated commuters. You will forgive me, I hope, for quoting at length. (Owing to handwriting difficulties, some words were unclear, even shortly after I wrote them.)

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Commissioned [?] by the Baker Street Quarter Partnership [?] and made possible by Transport for London and Westminster Council, subway upgrade works are taking place to the subway that blah, blah, blah [I paraphrase slightly] to transform it into a Wonderpass.

A what? Maybe the signwriter wearied of the word “subway”, having used it twice in the space of nine words, but that is scant excuse for perpetrating an infamous crime against the English language.

There is more on the sign. Maybe, I thought when I first came across it, the rest of the rubric will be devoted to telling us that this subway will indeed merit the creation of such a striking linguistic construction. Will the other end actually emerge in Oz, say, or Narnia? Will the vents pump air laced with gentle hallucinogens at us? Will the floor be bouncy, or will we find, in the middle, a table set for tea, with the Hatter, a dormouse and a young girl named Alice arguing over the pot?

It will be . . .

. . . transformed into a pleasant, entertaining [?] and vibrant experience for everyone who uses the facility.

That’s good, and doesn’t rule out any of the possibilities raised in the previous paragraph. We then get a bit more detail: “Maintenance work to drainage and lighting will take place.”

Fair dos. You can’t have a Wonderpass with a big lake of piss in the middle of it and half the lights not working. The stairwells, we are told, will be “refurbished”. They will also put in new flooring, panelling and handrails.

“Decorative work will also be undertaken.” The walls, we are told, “will be adorned with artwork and graphics that will showcase the area’s . . .” Basically, they’re going to paint it and put up some daubs of Sherlock Holmes. They add that there will be some “miniature model displays from [sic] a number of local attractions” – but I don’t see these lasting for long, even if they are installed.

Anyway, it’s going to be a Wonderpass and I, for one, cannot wait to use it. But somehow I doubt they’re going to be letting any homeless people take cover there, much less sleep there overnight.

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