The Girl at Charing Cross Station: The story behind the song
"Living, I loved her dearly and I shall never cease to love her in death." Edward 1st
This song was originally inspired after I read an article about the marriage between King Edward 1 and Queen Eleanor of Castile. Theirs was an arranged marriage but one which, according to history, was very much based upon a loving relationship. Eleanor died whilst still a relatively young woman (in 1290) having already given birth to sixteen children, many of whom did not survive to adulthood. Edward was deeply saddened by her demise and ordered crosses - the Eleanor Crosses* to be made and erected at the places where she had lain on her way to London, her place of final rest. One of these crosses now looks out over the Charing Cross Station forecourt.
In 2013 I had never visited Charing Cross Station but, as I hurried to a Friday night concert in Trafalgar Square, I took time-out to visit the Station and see the Cross. As I studied the details of the monument, I was intrigued by the notion that Edward would take such trouble to demonstrate his affection. Once inside the main passenger terminal, I listened as train announcements echoed across the walls of the packed platforms. Then, before my wandering gaze, a young couple, a man and a woman, ran to embrace each other, bounding seemingly in slow motion, arms outstretched, completing their affectionate manoeuvre just before they reached the Station sweet-kiosk.
From my position under the arrivals and departures clock, I smiled as I looked for somewhere to sit down, a temporary scribbling place where I intended to record a few details of my visit. Not a seat to be found. I looked up—the woman had vanished, possibly into the scrum for the trains.
“Could all passengers for the seventeen twenty-five departure to Hastings please make their way to platform nine. Could all …”
The man peered out towards the crowds anxiously twisting his head left-right as he looked for her.
And, as the 17:25pm Shuttle to Hastings shunted forward, clattering its way from London towards the south-east coast, coaches breaking noisily through the glare of June sunshine, he too had gone.
Somehow all of this got twisted into a story about Edward and Eleanor meeting again in a future life, reincarnated as latter day commuters together once more after many years apart. I never really bought into the idea of the ‘perfect love’ between them though, so I introduced the idea of Edward regretting some of his harsh treatment towards her (…and though I hurt you, now I’m sated).
Eleanor thus became the subject of the song, the ‘Girl at Charing Cross Station’ – playing out her frustrations on a platform that twisted between the past and the present, ‘slow and slow’, tormenting the latter day Edward with her rush hour ‘now you see me now you don’t’ game. His fate now to spend eternity looking for the someone he would never find.
I guess this idea of seeking and never finding is part of the human condition, a practice many of us engage in from time to time - ‘but we keep on running, why?’ Of course Edward may have been a good guy, but I probably would not have been able to get a song out of this!
*The cross at Charing with its angels at Eleanor’s feet, is a later version of the original, a replica, and was initially erected where Whitehall meets Trafalgar Square. The last journey of Eleanor, "The Faithful" ended at Westminster Abbey, the "Queen of Good Memories" final resting place.
The Girl at Charing Cross Station
The seats are all taken—it’s Friday night at Charing Cross Station
When I first catch sight of you, standing alone. Am I dreaming? A trick of the light?
Nothing’s changed, you look the same, then you slip away
The girl on the train looks like you
She’s looking back so I smile too
Though I hurt you—now I’m sated stop this war—kill the hatred
Slow and slow, slow and slow
Let’s go out tonight and step out into that light
The girl on the train looks like you, she’s looking back so I smile too
A thousand faces, this rain is burning run for cover, our platform’s turning
Slow and slow, slow and slow
It’s not too late it’s never, ever too late
God it’s such a pain—spending half our lives
Going around in circles, but we keep on running, why?
Because you never know who you might find
But which train are you on? Which train are you on?