Monday 18 March – Canons Park (A3), Carpenders Park (A3), Chalfont & Latimer (A1)
I’m not looking forward to today’s Tube for LOLs: Canons Park, Carpenders Park and Chalfont & Latimer. If you look for them on the Tube map, you’ll find them all at the far left top corner. (Forest Hill is bottom rightish.) Look a little closer and you’ll note that Canons Park is almost at the end of the Jubilee line, Carpenders Park is almost at the end of the Overground to Watford Junction and Chalfont & Latimer is almost at the end of the Metropolitan. Study the map some more. To get from Canons Park to Carpenders Park, you’re going to have to treck back on the Jubilee to West Hampstead changing there to the Stratford to Richmond/Wimbledon branch of the Overground and on to Willesden Junction where, finally, you can board the Watford branch of the Overground. That’s two changes and 22 stops.
Except that, if one is following Tube for LOLs’ arbitrary rules, Transport for London have, how shall I put it, been a tad economical with the truth. Or should that be economical with the journey?
Why? Because West Hampstead is not one station, but two. (Actually it’s three if you count West Hampstead National Rail station, but let’s not go there.) West Hampstead Jubilee line station is a hundred yards from West Hampstead Overground station and to get from one to the other you have to walk outside, along the main road. And, for Mr TubeforLOLs, that’s not allowed. (See The West Lothian Question for explanation.)
The single cherry on this otherwise indigestible cake is that by sheer good fortune I know this before boarding at Forest Hill. I know that from Canons (no apostrophe) Park to Carpenders (no apostrophe) Park entails a journey from Canons Park back to Baker Street, switching there to the Bakerloo to Queen’s (apostrophe) Park and then on to the Overground towards Watford Junction and Carpenders Park. I elect to switch on to the inward Metropolitan at Wembley Park. That’s three changes and 24 stops – though two of those stops are from Wembley Park to Finchley Road and Finchley Road to Baker Street and count as nine on the Jubilee.
I set out after an early lunch. I haven’t checked the weather forecast today but it’s looking fairly forbidding overhead. No matter. My motto today is ‘it’s the journey that counts, not the arrival’.
In this I belong to a long and fine tradition of travel-writing. My mentor is the 19th century French aristocrat Gauthier de Clagny. I will follow in the wheel-tracks of his magnum opus, From Paris to Nice in Eighty Days. This, according to Graham Robb’s wonderful rag-bag, The Discovery of France, was an anachronistic account of travelling in a restored vintage coach. Good old Gauthier ‘saw himself as a pioneer to the past, a guide to the days when people went off on journeys instead of “transporting themselves from one point to another”.’ Moi, aussi!
More from Robb (who, incidentally, is a keen cyclist therefore, perhaps, not totally objective; indeed he may have left his bicycle at Canonbury for all I know): ‘He knew that pleasure and discovery were inversely related to speed. The faster the mode of transport, the less one saw and the more slowly time seemed to pass.’
At 12.59 pm I board the Overground to Canada Water. I stare through the Overground windows eastwards, London rolling down, house on house, street on street, towards Ladywell and Catford, then rising to Shooters Hill and Oxleas Woods. It’s all a dark grey smudge. I screw my eyes up and concentrate. No, it’s not a single dark grey smudge, it’s a spectrum of closely-related, dark-grey smudges, each one imperceptibly smudging into its neighbour. Only the line between the dark grey smudge No. 67 of the ground and the dark grey smudge No. 73 of the cloud overhead stands out.
All in all, it’s a bit miserable. I prefer my smudges blue and yellow as in sky, sea and sand. Green smudges are OK, too. I time-travel back to Gauthier and to the time before ‘the heroic tone of shared discomfort gave way to the peevish impertinence of the modern traveller’. I channel that heroic tone.
Actually, I can hardly wait to get underground at Surrey Quays and on to the Jubilee line. I won’t have to look at that two-tone smudge until Finchley Road.
Alas, I’m still reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a good book in some ways and appeals to me as an introvert. But like all self-improvement guides, the tone of the book is relentlessly upbeat and I’m not convinced by its potpourri of borrowings from more weighty scientific tomes. I’m not sure you can extrapolate E.O. Wilson’s neo-Darwinism to assert – I’m summarising here – that in the good times the extroverts, with their outgoing go-getting personalities, will thrive, but come the bad times the introverts, who think before betting the farm, will come into their own.
I change at Finchley Road on to the Metropolitan. There’s a copy of today’s Metro on the seat opposite. 1.5 million see child abuse ‘by accident’. How come 1.5 million people happened to see child abuse in the first place? On their tube commute to work? Outside the school-gates? On the internet, dear, the deep dark internet, that scary mirror of our own deep dark souls. Of course, it’s the scare quotes around ‘by accident’ that say it all. Those are souls already half-way to hell on the modern equivalent of a hand-cart – bandwidth.
I change back on to the Jubilee at Wembley Park. I’m pretty certain, five minutes or so later, that I board the same Jubilee train I left at Finchley Road. Channel Gauthier, I tell myself.
I look out at the North London cityscape and sky. It’s a huge congeries of dark and darker grey smudges. The Wee Professor pops up. Congeries, he informs, means ‘a disorderly collection’. He’s only showing off, grumps The Inner Curmudgeon, meaning it’s me who’s showing off.
Far off towards the horizon it’s microscopically lighter. But it’s colder and it’s raining. Heavy, heavy, heavy. Pouring. The station lights are on at Kingsbury. It’s gloomy. Funereal. The air outside looks thicker, granular, as though a storm is brewing.
Nearing Canons Park there’s a huge business park to the east, serried ranks of steel-grey hangars. To the west there’s pieces of wood and parkland and rows of football pitches. The wood and parkland are sodden grey, tinged with green. The football pitches are dark grey puddles reflecting the ominous grey cloud above. A new football stadium is all grey tin streaked with rain. Its pitch, still being laid, is grey type-one aggregate, rain-streaked. There’s a yellow digger which leaves a scorching impression on my eyeball.
It’s as though all the cones, the colour receptors, inside my eyes have pounced on this single splurge of colour. At it boyos, they yell gratefully to one another. Then it’s gone. The rods, the black-and-white receptor jobbies, resume abnormal service. I wonder if there’s a psychological link between ‘rod sight’, when we see only in black and white, and inner gloominess and thoughts of the apocalypse. That when only the rod receptors are activated the effect is both physiological and psychological.
After all it’s mainly during the gloaming and the dark of night that fairies, witches, goblins et al come out to do their nasty business. Hmm. One more thought on this. Has anyone done a study on the sight receptors of Goths?
It’s 1.59 pm, exactly 60 minutes since leaving Forest Hill, when the train draws into Canons Park (A3). The doors open. It’s hailing. I step out on to the platform at Canons Park. Unfortunately, I’m at the wrong end of the platform, the one that isn’t shrouded by the canopy. I’m soaked and battered in the few seconds it takes me to get under cover. I stumble to the steps down to street level. Overhead the hail crashes against the staircase roof. It’s thunderous. I’m submerged in a cacophonous, thunderous underwater world.
I peer out of the station foyer. The hailstorm is rising to Biblical proportions. Canons Park is being visited by a particularly angry Old Testament God. Girding my loins, I rush to the shelter of the bridge that carries the underground over the road. I get more drenched. I’m like Flann O’Brien’s policeman: half-man, half-bicycle from riding his bike so much. Except, I’m half-man, half-hailstone. And I’m one hundred per cent wet.
I take photos.
I wonder what those Canons (as in members of the clergy – one ‘n’ – rather than large heavy guns used in war – two ‘n’s’) who gave their name to this neighbourhood did to offend the Almighty.
The hail slackens a little. I re-gird my loins and walk past the parade of shops outside the underground. It’s the usual mixture. There’s a café empty except for the two assistants sitting at a table like something out of an English Edward Hopper. There’s a few unexpected outliers – a place selling motor caravans, a motor factors and Abacus which makes specialist plasterwork – mainly ceiling roses, cornices and covings but also an enormous selection of figurines, from ancient Egypt and pre-revolutionary France to Disney.
I’m completely soaked. There’s nothing for it but to dry off somewhere. Hmm. How about the tube to Carpenders Park? I’m on the southbound platform of Canons Park in seconds. And here comes the tube.
I remember the The Velvet Underground song, Train Round the Bend. You can tell how out of it I am. Normally I only ‘sing’ when I’m alone in the car or in the bath. But now I positively bellow it (if one can bellow, positively or negatively, when really one is croaking like a frog). Lou, I think, ya really nailed it there!
Of course, I stop as soon as the tube doors open. I enter looking exactly like any other nondescript sodden old geezer. No-one here suspects that I’m a secret agent from New York circa 1970. I let my coat drip on the seats to either side of me. I channel the heroic Gauthier de Clagny. I slowly – very slowly – begin to dry out.
There’s a young Asian woman sitting opposite texting on her smart phone. She’s immaculate, not a hair out of place, not a spot of water anywhere. She has a violin in its case on her back, a small Chanel carrier and a leather satchel on her lap. Her umbrella stands on the floor in front of her in a small but immaculate puddle.
I get to Baker Street and change on to the Bakerloo line. It’s lovely and warm. I get a little less wet as we chuff to Queen’s (apostrophe) Park where I’ll change on to the Overground.
The bad news at Queen’s Park is that I have the best part of twenty minutes to wait for the next Overground. The good news is that the rain is pounding on the tin and perspex roof and cascades of water are sloshing and spouting joyfully around the pillars on the platform. I take a photo of a particularly fine waterfall at the far end of the platform. A tube driver is waiting for his train. I ask if the waterfalls are normal.
Oh yes, he says, every time it rains hard. There’s a particularly fine water feature, he says, on the other platform. He recommends it.
We chat about this and that: Health and Safety, Global Warming – nothing heavy. Borne on the wings of humour, we rise heroically over our discomfort. I wave him off as he goes to drive his Bakerloo tube train northwards.
It’s 3.35 when I get to Carpenders Park (A3). It’s raining. Raining, gurgling, dripping, splashing, sploshing, sloshing. But it’s not a Biblical deluge, merely full-on chucking-down. Carpenders Park is dreary in the grey and rain, all the colour washed out of its small centre. It’s too small to call it a ‘town centre’. ‘Love England, Love Fish & Chips’ proclaims The Fisherman’s Cabin. I walk around. Despite the Chippy’s assertion the area reminds me more of one of Scotland’s 1960s New Towns or those vast housing estates stuck up at the periphery of Edinburgh or Glasgow.
The sort of estate that’s usually called ‘soulless’. The sort of estate plonked far away from the genteel bourgeois folk. The sort of estate where life is lived on benefits, cheap greasy takeaways (‘Deep-fried Cadbury’s Cream Egg, anyone?’), cheap booze and drugs.
Though that might be unfair to Carpenders Park. This is the worst day to visit anywhere.
Besides, Carpenders Park has a Tesco Express, a Co-op, shops of all types, a pedestrianised area with bollards, hanging clusters of street-lamps, an abundance of sturdy litter and recycling bins and what look like small painted concrete rhinos for kiddies to sit on. I can imagine it looking very different on a sunny summer’s afternoon.
I head back through the sodden world. A tall narrow guy in a long rain-streaked gaberdine lopes in front of me. I meet up with him on the platform. He’s got a long narrow face with a long narrow greying beard that spindles downwards and disappears under that long gaberdine. Apart from his voluminous knitted hat which sits like a giant marshmallow on his head, he could be an impoverished Russian patriarch. He takes a hankie out of his pocket and pats the top of his hat with it. He examines the hankie. He pats the top of his hat again, solicitously. It turns out that the reason his hat is so massive is because he’s got his hair tucked up there. His hair which, he says, reaches to the ground.
Thoughts of Isadora Duncan, long scarves and Bugattis flash through my mind. I usher him into the tube before the train doors close.
As one does, we talk about the rain and global warming. (I steer clear of talk about health and safety.) He remembers back to the eighties when people started talking about global warming. It’s just like they said it would be, he says. Wet and warm. Except, of course, it’s not, at least not today. Today it’s wet and cold.
The Overground takes me back to Baker Street. I’m beginning to dry off when I get there. I catch the 4.37 semi-fast to Amersham. Chalfont & Latimer is the penultimate stop. I dry off some more. I read some more of Quiet until the author describes Kamo No Chomei as a ‘12th century Japanese recluse’.
The Inner Curmudgeon rebels. We’re talking here of Kamo No Chomei? The one who wrote the long Buddhist poem, Hojoki? Hojoki, which some claim is the national poem of Japan, one that is taught in every primary school? That’s like calling Robert Burns the ‘18th century Scots drunkard’. He snorts.
I focus quickly on heroic discomfort. I don’t want The Wee Professor anatomising the merits and demerits of Burns’ long poem Tam o’Shanter.
I arrive at Chalfont & Latimer (A1) a little before 5.30 pm. The rain has eased to a gentle drizzle. It’s hardly even a drizzle. It’s more a wetness in the air as though the earth is so water-logged that every particle of H20 in the air has to wait patiently for its turn to descend. Like planes over Heathrow.
Chalfont Ampersand Latimer is the sort of place where even the drizzle is well-behaved. That’s not meant as a sneer. It’s a compliment. I’m all for good behaviour. If the bankers and high-flyers at Canary Wharf and the despots from Russia to Zimbabwe could learn good behaviour then the world would be a better place.
Lordy-Lord, interrupts The Inner Curmudgeon, you’re sounding like a Church of England parson.
I decide to ignore him. OK, so Chalfont & Latimer is a cosy little village. OK, so like its larger neighbour Amersham, it’s solid Tory. (Actually, these days it may be solid Ukip.) But … But what? But there’s nothing wrong with that? Hmm. Clearly all that hail and rain has led to some softening of the brain.
There’s an interesting-looking Italian deli and I decide to go in, buy some mozzarella or whatever takes my fancy, engage the shop-owner in conversation – ecclesiastical misdemeanours, global warming, nothing heavy.
But it’s a touch after 5.30 pm and the shop, like the rest of Chalfont & Latimer, has closed. I can’t blame it. It’s the end of a very long wet miserable day. I slope off back to the Tube. I take a photo of an ornamental cherry which is patiently waiting to flower.
I get back to Forest Hill and Gingerbread Cottage at 7.30 pm. It’s time for me – patiently, heroically or otherwise – to shut up shop.