Sunday 13 January – Anerley, Angel and Archway
It’s cold and it’s grey. There’s a bitter wind from the north. And I’m not feeling upto scratch. Perhaps it’s the enormity and sheer ludicrousness of this crazy project (‘enorludicrity’ anyone?) sneaking up on me. But, hey-ho, it’s only a short hop on the Overground to Anerley, three stops down on the West Croydon stretch.
I get off on the southbound side and exit through the modern minimal (for art-loving hippies that’s minimal not minimalist) booking hall. Anerley. Hey-ho. Ahead of me is … is What?It’s something like a cross between a Sainsbury’s Homebase and a Pound Shop. The hoarding at the car park entrance announces: What!!! The name above the door is slightly less exclamation-mark-abusive: What! It sells furniture, electric goods, DIY stuff, paints, pet products, garden products, stationery …
Behind it there’s a bus stand and a brash blue and yellow painted self storage shed. In the mid-distance looms a tower block sheathed in scaffolding and netting. On a corner there’s a boarded-up but freshly painted Victorian building. I guess it was once a pub. I guess again and think it’s being transformed into flats, no doubt ‘luxury’. I turn back. It’s too cold for guessing. There’s another ex-pub, The Railway, now the Streetwise Youth Project with a streetwise tag over its door.
I walk up to the main road. Maybe things will be better there. There are two handsome turrets either side of the railway lines, probably the original Victorian booking halls. I turn left. There’s a small parade of shops: Mace (open), the Anerley Pound Star (closed. I peer in. It looks a mess. There’s a few nondescript goods on some shelves, what could be wizened red peppers on a tray), Denniss Matthews (solicitors: closed), Rosie Lee’s Café (closed), Hudson Dry Cleaning (closed), something called Butcher’s (closed). I investigate. Inside there’s a couple of stuffed armchairs, boxes, a mattress, a palette, some planks of wood … I can’t imagine it ever being a butcher’s. I can’t even imagine it as an ex-butcher’s. I turn back.
To be fair to Anerley, the shopping parade on the road to Crystal Palace holds out a little more hope. There’s a decent sized Costcutter, a chemist, a newsagent cum post office, as well as a barber’s, hair and beauty salon, a tanning salon, assorted fast food joints, as well as offices masquerading as shops: a housing office and a builder’s office. All in all, though, it’s a sorry little shopping parade.
I scurry back to Anerley Station and hide from the wind in the minimal (not minimalist) glass shelter while waiting for the Overground north. North, via the Jubilee and Northern lines, to Angel.
Fifty minutes later I’m walking through the wide marble underground lobby of the Angel tube, the long gleaming escalators ahead of me leading upto Upper Street. Forty years ago this was a poky little station with a narrow island platform and a weasel exit on to the City Road. It went posh some twenty or so years ago. The Angel, and Islington as a whole, has been trying to go posh for the last half century, but it’s still got some distance to run.
I head for Chapel Street Market where Fran and I used to shop almost forty years ago. It’s still there. Stalls selling knick-knacks, bags, clothes, material, accessories for mobile phones and ipads, but still some fruit and veg stalls, a fishmongers … It gets more up-market going west: there’s a notice saying there’s a Farmer’s Market there every Sunday. The stalls sell olives, high-cost cheese, beetroot pasta, organic juice, sourdough bread …
The shops either side sell most things most anyone could want most of the time. (I think maybe Bob Dylan said that.) There’s a Waitrose and an M&S at one end. Walk to the far end of the street and you pass a Manzi’s Pie and Mash shop, a Chinese acupuncturist, a tattooist, nail and tanning shops, a Cashconverters, pubs, betting shops, fast food outlets, ‘upscale’ bakeries’ and shops selling mystic stones (Precious Stones – and we’re not talking jewellery here), school uniforms, anti-ageing treatments …
Near the far end of the street the Indian restaurant I remember from years ago is still there: Indian Veg. Vegetarian buffet and all you can eat for £4.95. I enter. It’s the same as ever. The walls – every wall – is plastered with laminated plastic notices extolling the virtues of vegetarianism in chunky green type: Rice the key to lower cholesterol; The great potato debate; The Obesity Timebomb; Waste Not Want Not; Onion bhajis can reduce the risk of colon cancer. The lighting has a greenish hue. It’s like eating in a polemical aquarium.
I fill my plate and eat. Most of the other customers are white, a mixture of men and women, different ages from babies in buggies to old men. I read about the virtues of vegetarianism. I warm up. I think about the cold outside and the need to take in extra calories. I fill my plate a second time, topping it for a second time with onion bhajis. I’m doing my bit to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
There’s an old man with a genteel accent boring the owner of the restaurant who’s trapped behind his counter. The old man grew up in London during and after the second world war. ‘My mother was a German refugee but I grew up hating the Germans. I was English.’ He retells his life story. He engages the owner in a debate about Christianity and Reincarnation. He mangles Descartes’ cogito ergo sum ‘I think therefore I am’. I suspect he’s lonely. I suspect he’s the Ancient Mariner. I pay my bill and exit speedily. I take a photo of Indian Veg but I forget to take a photo of the Angel tube. It’s cold.
I’m in Archway less than half-an-hour later (direct up the High Barnet branch of the Northern line, no changes). Archway is an oversized scrotty roundabout where the A1 of the Holloway Road tangles with the main roads from Tufnell Park and Crouch End and none of them wins. It seems colder in Archway.
The wind swirls bitter around the cracked decrepit ex-shopping precinct that cowers under the Archway Tower. An empty sixties office block boasts that offices come for less than £20 per square foot. I think you could be buried more successfully for less. There’s a old red telephone kiosk down in the precinct. It’s top is open. It seems to have a tree, perhaps a Christmas tree, growing inside it. I wonder if it’s Art. But it’s cold and I’m jaundiced and I hurry on. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson: The only good thing that came out of Archway is the road to Scotland.
But I’m doing Archway a disservice. There’s a host of shops, pubs and eateries here. There are the usual fast food joints and there are ‘upscale’ (translation: expensive) coffee shops and bars. There are interesting looking Iranian and Turkish groceries, bakeries and restaurants – the Turkish restaurants half-way through a rebranding exercise (‘Turkish and Mediterranean’ cuisine). There’s a supermarket and a Budgen’s. There’s a Holy Cow. What’s a Holy Cow? It’s an Indian takeaway. I’d never seen one before today but there’s another in Chapel Street, Islington.
I walk round the back streets. There’s stately Victorian piles converted to multi-occupancy. There’s spruce Victorian villas and semis and terraces reconverted back into family homes. There’s local authority estates. All crammed in, cheek by jowl. I can’t imagine anyone in Anerley travelling to Archway: they live in different universes. But there are parallel universes in Archway. The rich – OK, the well-to-do middle classes, the stretched and not-so-stretched middle – walk the same pavements as the poor – the skivers and the strivers. But there’s no Closing Doors. They walk the same pavements and then they diverge into different houses, different jobs, different landscapes, different shops and pubs and restaurants, different schools, different ways of life … Different, parallel universes.
That’s what is often cried as one of the strengths of London: how so many of its neighbourhoods are ‘diverse’, how we haven’t succumbed (or only a little and only around Mayfair and Park Lane) to upper and middle class enclaves and gated communities, how we all manage to rub along with each other. Well, maybe. But couldn’t we try all living in the same universe? Perhaps? Maybe?
I hunch my way back to the tube. That cold wind has already zipped off the calories from my first plate of rice, dhal, curry and bhajis. I turn into the tube. Blow me! There’s another ‘Thought of the Day’ – or rather, ‘Quote For The Day’: ‘Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring; all of which has the potential to turn a life around.’ This saccarine billet-doux is ascribed to Leo Buscaglia. I find out later he’s another American, a best-selling author, also known as ‘Dr Love’.
You wait years for one Holy Cow and two turn up at once. You wait years for one Thought/Quote of/for the Day at a tube station and two hit you between the ears within 24 hours. I ask the London Underground guy who’s attending the ticket barriers what’s up. It’s happening at a number of tube stations he says. It’s a ‘station-based’ initiative. Local ‘SA’s’ come in and post up their thoughts. SA’s? Station attendants. Or Station Supervisors, he adds. Good on you, good on you all, I enthuse as I plonk my Coffin-Dodger’s Pass on the Oyster Reader and pass freely through to the Underground.
Six steps in and my enthusiasm has waned. Two underground stations and two Thoughts for the Day. It sounds like the beginning of an epidemic. What happens when all underground stations are beaming you their Thoughts for the Day? What happens when each station has run through their top hundred Thoughts for the Day? Is this really going to make commuting life better? Can’t we have democratic centralism and a politbureau which decides what’s what? Or, at least, can’t we have a bit of grist and Inner Curmudgeon-pleasing quotes amongst the happy-clappy, self-improvement, new-ageist clap-trap? Can I survive without hyphenation?
On the tube back (fifty minutes to Forest Hill), I sit opposite Elder Flowers and Sister Flowers. I know they’re called that because they have big badges with their name and ‘Church of the Latter Day Saints’ after, as some kind of explanation. So what if they’re Mormons, I think. Don’t be prejudiced, Sandy. Anyway, Romney didn’t get in. I smile at them. They look away. Admittedly I’m not good at smiling. I’m better at scowling. Some people say my smiles rival most people’s scowls. I let a couple of stations pass and smile at them again. They get off.
I’m nothing if not determined. At Canada Water, I let a young woman with a big buggy and a well-behaved toddler get on first, holding the other passengers back. I get a smile from the young woman. And about three separate shoves in the back from those whose passage I’ve delayed for a few milliseconds.
Back home I think: I’ve now visited 11 of the 376 stations on the map. I calculate it quickly on Excel. That’s 2.93%. I study it. Excel defaults to two decimal places. What’s the point of that? I refine the calculation. That’s better. I’ve now visited 3% of the stations. But I’ve taken almost two weeks, or 3.56%, of the year to do it. (Oh, alright: 4% of the year.)
The demon on one shoulder says: You’re behind target! You’re going to have to up your game! The angel on the other shoulder rationalises: you’re still learning the game. Besides, it’s winter, there’ll be many more daylight hours through the summer months. And it’ll be warmer. The demon replies: But it might rain for 300 days this year just like it did last year.