Tuesday 5 March – Canada Water (D7), Canary Wharf (D7), Canning Town (D8), Cannon Street (D6), Canonbury (B7)
It’s a beautiful morning with the promise of more to come. I’ve got grand ambitions for the day. I’m hoping I can bag seven stations. The first three, Canada Water, Canary Wharf and Canning Town, are one stop and two stops apart on the Jubilee Line. I’ll be able to visit them before lunch.
I’m at Forest Hill at ten to ten.
There’s a black woman, smartly dressed, opposite me on the Overground. She’s about thirty years old, a professional I’d guess, something legal or accountancy. She’s got a book open on her lap, with a Metro folded around it so that no-one can read the title. But the Metro slips from her lap coming into Surrey Quays …
and I see that she’s reading Fifty Shades of … She’s probably the fourth or fifth woman I’ve seen reading that particular bonkbuster, but she’s the first who’s tried to hide it. What does that say?
That’s the only excitement on the way to Canada Water (D7). I’m there by 10.10 am.
I’ve been through this station many times, but I’ve never got off here. It’s a typically vast, polished-concrete Jubilee line station. There’s a class of young primary school kids in yellow high-visibility gilets on a tour of the station. They look tiny. It’s as though the architect got the scale wrong. They hold hands, bump into one another, pause for no reason, start off again, get separated from each other. Their teachers and helpers shoo them into line, a squiggly line, the best anyone can do.
I take the escalator to ticket hall level. It’s vast and empty, its walls decorated in tiny terrazzo tiles in fifty shades of grey. There are directions to the shopping centre and the business park. I opt for the latter. The sun slants in – it’s a lovely sunny day.
Outside, it’s all flats – flats in towers, flats in blocks, flats completed last year and ten and twenty years ago, flats still being pushed-up, flats in straight-line steel-and-glass, flats in wavy steel-and-glass. I study them. There’s not a single bicycle on any of the balconies!
You could call it flat-land except, of course, it’s only the bits between the towers that are horizontal. Apart from construction workers in orange high visibility gear and delivery drivers and one or two joggers, there are few pedestrians. People are outnumbered twenty to one by cars, delivery vans, lorries and buses. This is a place that empties of people in the morning and fills up again in the evening. It’s empty, sterile, but not unpleasant.
Two joggers jog past. I inspect them carefully: people or zombies? Difficult to say. A class of five year olds in yellow high-visibility jackets and matching yellow baseball caps jiggles past. Definitely people. And there are coots, moorhens and ducks in Albion Channel, the waterway that feeds into Canada Water, a huge stretch of water, presumably an ex-dock. There’s a little wooden drawbridge over the waterway that looks like something out of an eighteenth century Dutch landscape painting – apart, that is, from everything else in the landscape. I couldn’t care less: I’m a sap for wooden drawbridges.
I haven’t found the business park. I straggle around Decathlon instead. I ponder on an Archery Starter kit in the Nature section. I jiggle into what Decathlon calls a ‘sports café’ but there’s nothing sporty about it. I exit.
Across two car parks I see another store: What!!! Beyond it is Harmsworth Quays where the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, the Metro and the Evening Standard are printed and, perhaps, written and put together. But it is What!!! that attracts me. I really should have investigated my first What!!! back in Anerley. I can’t chicken out now.
It’s another huge tin shed. It’s not even decorated. There’s no false ceiling inside. But what does it sell? It sells everything you can’t think of and everything you’d prefer not to think of. There’s Hula-Hoops (the crisps), rat and mice glue-traps, party poppers, batteries. There’s plastic bowls, jugs, containers, trays, bins, flowers. There’s plastic wicker work and chintz, loads of chintz. There’s an endless array of things to put up on your walls – decorations, ‘popular paintings’, notices such as ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, blow-up photos of Wayne Rooney, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe. It’s a celebration of popular taste.
I could lose myself for hours in a place like this, but I’ve already dallied far too long. I make my way back. There’s a curious modern building over the road from the station. It’s not flats, it’s not a decorated tin shed. I’m not sure what it is.
Silly me! It’s obvious when you get close to. It’s a library. Not quite as wacky as the Peckham Library but getting that way. There’s another jiggle (that has to be the collective word) of primary school kids in yellow hi-vis and baseball caps. The teachers form them into a more-or-less orderly queue. They’re on a visit to the library.
I head back into the station.
As I’m going down the escalator a voice comes on the PA: ‘Transport update. There is a good service on all London Underground lines.’ But the voice is the voice of a seven-year old boy! I give a hoot of laughter. There’s yet another jiggle of primary school kids in yellow high-visibility jackets walking along the platform. I look at the indicator to see when the next train to Canary Wharf will be arriving. ‘Hello Group 2’ It reads. ‘Please wave!’ I give two more hoots of laughter. Good on you, Canada Water Station Attendants.
It’s eleven o’clock when I get to Canary Wharf station (D7). Except it’s not a station. It’s a temple to concrete, a temple to Mammon. It’s awe-inspiring. Probably if you commute through it daily you don’t notice your awe has been inspired, not even -some. (Sorry!) Perhaps I’m a bit too busy taking it in. Woops! I wobble and almost fall backwards on the escalator. A spot of balance difficulty. I steady myself.
My mission here is to see if I can get to the pointy bit at the top of Canary Wharf. I peer up at the skyscrapers around me. This doesn’t do my vestibular system any good. It makes me feel woozier. Besides, you can’t see the pointy bit from close up.
I walk round the building. There are huddles of smokers, twenty strong, around the side and back entrances. I ask if there isn’t anywhere they can smoke inside, if they have to come down thirty or forty floors to have a quick smoke outside. They look at me as though I’m some kind of alien. We like it here, one says. I realise that they like it because they can withdraw into their own worlds. For ten minutes they can forget about work.
I go in the back entrance of Canary Wharf. The foyer is magnificent. It is massive beyond dreams. There are banks of lift shafts, there are purple marble walls stretching up thirty feet, a marble floor with rugs disappearing into the distance. There are purple tulips in large square glass jars on modern reception desks. Despite all the hard surfaces, the foyer is hushed. The air is filtered, the tulips, perhaps, blessing the air with their perfume. This is opulence beyond measure. Canary Wharf station was but a prelude to this: this is the temple of Mammon.
I walk round to the front reception and talk to the middle-aged receptionist. She is polite but firm. No, I can’t go up to the top of the building. Yes, it would be nice if it could be like The Shard. But no, no-one gets to go to top of the building, no members of the public that is, none of the tenants either.
It’s to do with security. Yes, she can see that I present no security threat. It’s to do with health and safety. Yes, she’s sure that I would run no health and safety risk. It’s the Rules. Ahh – the Rules!
Come on, I urge in my meekest, most polite voice, just this once.
But, it’s not to be. Besides there’s no viewing platform up there, it’s not all that spectacular. She knows, she’s been to the top. As an employee of the Canary Wharf Management Company she’s allowed to go to the top.
That’s as near as I get. I’d never really expected that I could get beyond the foyer. Anyway, the foyer has been worth it.
I wander around outside. There’s an electric-powered rubbish cart parked on the piazza filled with discarded Metros. I reach inside to find out today’s headline: Britain slips down world death table. This is the news that Britons spend more low-quality years before dying than people in most other countries in the developed world. This is mainly due to drugs, alcohol, tobacco and obesity.
A young guy pedals past me on a bike. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ a security guard calls out. ‘Push your bike, please.’ The guy gets off his bike and pushes it across the piazza.
I sidle up to the security guard and engage him in conversation. This is like no place anywhere else in London, I begin.
He agrees. It’s because this isn’t a public space, he says. All of this is private property belonging to the Canary Wharf Management Company. That’s what makes it different.
So you could ask me to leave? I ask.
That’s difficult, he replies. Trespass isn’t a criminal offence and I have no powers beyond a citizen’s arrest. I can ask you to leave three times [if you were misbehaving], I can withdraw our invite to you to enjoy these premises, and then I can escort you to the station. But I have to tread a fine line.
I think about this. ‘But surely you don’t get much trouble?’
‘No, not much. Not so much as a few years ago.’ He looks up at the upper floors of Canary Wharf. ‘But, some evenings … These people have high-powered jobs. They work hard, they party hard. After work they don’t come down here for a couple of drinks, they …
They get hammered? I suggest.
As I leave I wonder why having a high powered job acts as an excuse for hard drinking and bad behaviour. We – society, that is – come down hard on the homeless having a drink in a public place. They’re not allowed any excuse. But, if you have a high-powered job, it’s understandable to let off a little steam… It seems we expect a lower standard of behaviour for the rich, a higher for the poor …
I think about these disparate attitudes most of the way to Canning Town. Thinking is putting it a bit strong. My mind is idling. I’m feeling woozy, the world isn’t as fixed as it should be.
I get to Canning Town (D8) at ten to twelve and take the stairs up to the top DLR deck. I take a photo.
I find a Station Attendant and, pointing at it, I ask, ‘What’s that thing called?’
He laughs. ‘That’s what we call it. The Thing.’ He tells me that it’s made from materials taken from the Olympics site. In the official jargon, it’s been ‘upcycled’. Later, sometime soon, it will be dismantled (downcycled) and carted off for recycling – perhaps into two bits (bicycling). Enough!
I was last in the Barking Road three years ago. It was a dispiriting centre then. There wasn’t a single café then that I wanted to eat in. But that was three years ago and three years is a long time in London.
And, indeed, there have been changes on the Barking Road. A huge red and silver and glass set of flats and towers has been pushed-up on the south side by the outdoor market. More pushing-upping is in the offing.
But the shops – East African, Chinese, Vietnamese, Afro-Caribbean shops – are little changed. The neuter clinic for cats and dogs is still there. As is the shop called ‘Mount Zion for bellies’ and ‘Serenity’ which is a ‘Beauty Salon, Refreshments, Cakes & Ice Cream Parlour’. It almost entices. This area is one of great deprivation, one of the 5% or 10% most deprived in the country and it shows in the shops and cafés. There’s nowhere here that I fancy stopping in.
I retrace my steps and go to the small canteen at the temporary London Borough of Newham building called The Place. This is run by a bright Afro-Caribbean woman and is clean and well-presented. I have home-made Pumpkin soup with baguette. The soup is lovely with a full depth and a sharp peppery taste. I follow that up with some of her home-made chocolate cake. This has a light crumb and a sharp chocolate taste. The whole meal comes to less than three pounds. For value that’s on a par with the Becontree fish and chips.
I’ve regained some of my strength but it’s getting on for one o’clock. I’m going to be pushed if I want to get to Canons Park (second last stop before Stanmore on the Jubilee line), far less Carpenders Park (the stop before Bushey on the Overground). I board the Jubilee north to West Ham and switch on to the District line for Cannon Street (D6). I get there about quarter past one.
I’ve never been to Cannon Street, neither the underground station nor the mainline station nor (if I’m allowed another ‘nor’) the street itself. I’ve never been in this part of the City before. I’m only a hundred yards or so away from Bank and Monument stations but it’s quite different. I walk round to what I think is the front of the station, but I can’t see any station. There is a new development about to start diagonally opposite in Walbrook. The archeologists are busy there. Normally I’m a sucker for archeological digs but this time my eyes glaze over and I turn away. All I really want to do at Cannon Street is find the station.
I walk down the side of the underground station towards the Thames. It’s warm and sunny. People here are noticeably better dressed than the people in Canning Town. They seem to walk differently too, as though they’re more self-confident, more used to the world doing their bidding.
I recognise Upper Thames Street, the dual carriageway that follows the north side of the Thames. To the west it burrows its way into a tunnel before reappearing as the Embankment. Here it sneaks through a canyon between office buildings and under Cannon Street station.
The air is grimy. There’s a stifling chemical smell in the air from the traffic hurtling both ways to the next red traffic light. I make it to the Thames. I still haven’t found the mainline station. I walk back up the east side of what can only be the station. Eventually I find myself back on Cannon Street.
And there it is: Cannon Street Station. Now, how on earth could even I have missed that? I walk up the broad flights of steps past the huge British Rail logo and the large ‘Cannon Street Station’ and Underground signs. The station itself is a bit of a disappointment. It’s modern, clean, uncluttered. No doubt it delivers its commuters efficiently in the morning and whisks them away in the evening. But it has no soul. It’s bland.
I descend into Cannon Street tube at 1.45 pm. It’s back to Whitechapel on the District, then north on the Overground.
I get to Canonbury Station (B7) a little after two o’clock. The station is separated from Canonbury proper by St Paul’s Road. It’s less than half a mile from Newington Green and Green Lanes. Normally I’d visit at least one of these localities.
But I’m too tired. I’m walking in a daze. I loiter in the little oasis of peace that’s Wallace Road.
The main thing I notice is the hundreds of bikes outside the station. They are locked to bike stands and bollards. One or two look as though they are daisy-chained to each other. There’s hardly anyone around. Where did all those bikes come from? Do people come here by bike, perhaps to go to a party, and then stumble off leaving their bikes behind? Or is everyone in Canonbury a bike-toting architect? Or have the Canonbury bikes been joined by their Canada Water chums? Or is this the Bermuda Tricycle of bicycles? I’ve no explanation.
I’m definitely not feeling well. My brain feels like mush. My headache is back, my queasiness is pressing the tilt button, the tinnitus racketing in my ears has gone from piano to forte. I am tired, fatigued. A drowsy numbness … Hey ho!
I completely forget to take a photo of the bikes. (Were there bikes? What bikes? Where’s the evidence?) I get to the platform as a train bound for Crystal Palace comes into the platform. I blunder in. It’s about half past two. I fall into a doze.
I reach Forest Hill station around three o’clock. I make my way back to Gingerbread Cottage and go straight to bed.