God bless the Elizabeth line – haven for built environment nerds | Rachel Cooke

LThe past week has been good for built environment nerds like me. On Tuesday I set off straight to go absolutely nowhere which was very important on the new Elizabeth line, a trip which, although unnecessary, was unequivocally gratifying.

By the time I reached the first escalator, the service was in full swing, its staff directing with giant purple foam hands the commuters who walked so slowly to their trains, cell phones raised reverently above their heads .

Emerging into the light at Farringdon station a little later, the pleasant feeling of disorientation seemed to only add to the joy. (I had chosen the exit near the Barbican, whose brutalist architecture the new ticket office nods to.)

When did I become the kind of person who gets excited about a metro line? How do I know that the platforms at Farringdon lie 30 meters underground and why am I so excited to imagine the beloved buildings that tower above them? Honestly, I do not know. I am more and more a stranger to myself.

But the action wasn’t everything in London. Elsewhere, six historic sites have been listed to mark the jubilee. I’m glad the ultra 1970s Queen’s Theater in Hornchurch and All Saints Church in Shard End, Birmingham, which was consecrated in 1955, were among them (the Christ sculpture above the entrance to the latter is by William Bloye, a worthy artist looking up).

But in truth my heart beat faster on learning that the memorial markers on the M62 through the Pennines are now listed as Grade II.

These stone pyramids, unveiled in 1971, stand on either side of Britain’s highest motorway, the former decorated with the red rose of the House of Lancaster, the latter with the white rose of the House of ‘York. It’s nice to think of the cars passing by them now, unnoticed perhaps, but forever protected – although, of course, I strongly favor one over the other.

When I got married, my bouquet included rosemary for remembrance, forget-me-nots for respect and, yes, white roses for the county that is almost as dear to me as my husband.

A literary trio

English novelist and author Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett (1892 – 1969). Photography: Image Publishing/Getty Images

I meet a new friend for dinner and he arrives, after having read in this column about my taste for bizarre literary memoirs, with a beautiful copy of Elizabeth and ivy, a book by almost forgotten novelist Robert Liddell about his relationship with writers Ivy Compton-Burnett and Elizabeth Taylor. On the bus back, I vow to keep it for my holidays, but when I arrive, a bit tipsy, I can’t resist opening it.

My eyes wander sleepily to a random page…it looks like the early 1960s, and Liddell quotes from one of Taylor’s letters, in which she describes her visit to Compton-Burnett. On the day in question, the latter was, it seems, completely silent “except for small outbursts of violence on capital punishment and Iris Murdoch who wrote too much”. In case you were wondering, I didn’t consider this a disappointment. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The pleasure of design

Althea McNish, textile designer.
Althea McNish, textile designer. Photography: Rose Sinclair

At the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow is a cheerful display of the work of Althea McNish, who arrived in the UK from Trinidad in 1950 and became a famous fabric designer for Liberty, Heal’s and Dior. McNish’s exuberant patterns are so much to my liking – they are irresistibly reminiscent of G-Plan and Françoise Sagan furniture – and as a result, I strolled through the gallery more like someone visiting a boutique than a exposure. At times it was honestly almost more than I could do to stop.

Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist

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