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"So, where shall we meet for drinks."
"Dunno. South Bank? Covent Garden?"
"Nah, done those loads of times. Maybe somewhere a bit more, you know, off-the-beaten track?"
"How about Paddington? I hear they've got a new Draft House, and the Pergola roof gardens have just reopened."
"Paddington? What? Are you stupid. That's miles away. Let's just go to Borough Market again."
Hands up if you've ever had a conversation like this? It happens to us all the time and, unless we have particularly lazy friends, we suspect it's a common prejudice.
Paddington has a reputation as a distant, inaccessible place. In our mental maps of the capital, it's as far flung as Kentish Town, Hammersmith or Lewisham. Special effort is required to get there. You might as well suggest a meet-up in Addington as Paddington.
Why is that? And is this reputation justified?
Transport's a bit crappy
The presentation of so many cold shoulders towards Paddington must surely be linked to the transport options. In theory, all is fine. The station is served by no fewer than four tube lines. The trouble is, these are the most wretched and woebegone tube lines. Perhaps it's just a reaction to the poo colour, but the Bakerloo always strikes us as a bit rickety and smelly. The Circle, District and Hammersmith & City routes, meanwhile, are all prone to shaky service and dodgy next-train information. And what-the-marmalade-sandwich is going on with the tube map here? Should we catch the Circle line to Paddington, or the other Circle line? Is this one station, or two... or three? Arghhh!
Obviously, there are mainline train and bus options to the area, but most people would only look to the tube when invited to a night out in some place like Paddington.
There's not much around it
Visit the South Bank and you can take in Thames panoramas, dine in rooftop restaurants or spend some time in half a dozen world-class cultural attractions, plus the Shrek Experience. Stroll over to Covent Garden and you're in a magic kingdom of boutique shops, famous theatres, London Transport Museum, infinite restaurants, ballet and opera and street food and the Apple Store.
Paddington has a statue of a bear and some listed railway infrastructure.
OK, that's totally unfair. There's a heck of a lot to see and do in Paddington, from canal-side dining, to bridges that move, to the place where Penicillin was discovered. There are actually two statues of that bear, and one of seven memorials to Simon Milton. But while Covent Garden and the South Bank are surrounded by other areas of culture, Paddington is something of an island.
Sure, there's fun to be had in Maida Vale, and Bayswater, and the western fringes of Marylebone, but it's not exactly the stuff that postcards are made of. We're arguing about perceptions rather than realities here. To the typical gad-about-town Londoner, we'd speculate, Paddington feels like an isolated hub with not much happening around it. Once you're there, you're committed.
But is it as isolated as people think?
We've always argued that Paddington isn't so far from the centre as might be imagined. It's in Zone 1, after all. It's an easy walk from Marble Arch, which is kind of Oxford Street, which is obviously central.
But wait. We've outmanoeuvred ourselves with the next bit of research, because it turns out that Paddington really is a bit of a slog from the centre of town.
If we measure as the pigeon flies from Charing Cross — the official centre for mileage, if not the geographic centre — then Paddington turns out to be 3.5 km distant. That's precisely the same as South Kensington and Old Street tubes. It suddenly doesn't seem quite so central.
It gets stranger (at least to our mental map). Paddington station is further out from the centre of London than the edge of Battersea Park. Donald Trump might bemoan that the new US embassy is isolated in the hinterlands, but it's a kilometre closer-in than the bear-attracting terminus.
So is it a bastard to get to?
Well, it depends on your perspective — and where you're starting (and measuring) from. On the one hand, it's no further from the West End than the Tower of London, or Old Street station. Paddington is just 12 minutes from Charing Cross by Bakerloo line. Yet if you're venturing to the area from Bank or Bankside, for example, then it is a bit of a drag.
Whatever, the notion of Paddington as 'somewhere out in the sticks' is bound to change when the Elizabeth line is up and running — from December 2018. Tottenham Court Road will be just 4 minutes away; Liverpool Street 10 minutes. Maybe, finally, we'll be able to convince our friends to join us for a tipple in Paddington, and they won't equate it with deepest, darkest Peru.