Saturday 6 April – Dagenham East (Square B9 on the Tube map), Dagenham Heathway (B9), Dalston Junction (B7), Dalston Kingsland (B7), Debden (A8)
I’ve had a cold. I’m still overtaken by the random sneeze and the occasional grab at a paper hankie. But mainly I feel washed-out, languorous. Outside, the sun is up and the weather forecasters seem confident that this is, eventually, the first day of Spring. I decide I’ll go out taking it one station at a time and that I’ll write it up as I go along. I’ve been fixing myself up with a Twitter account. I understand that you’ve only around a couple of hundred characters, sort of like Text messages only less Texty. More like haiku …
There it is: I’ll write up today’s stations and journeys as haiku. Apart, that is, for the mundane details of times, routes, and a little ‘back-story’ here and there. I think of Matsuo Basho, he of The Narrow Tube to the Deep North: Days and months are also travellers of eternity …
I’m at Forest Hill at 11.00 am. While waiting on the platform for the Overground, I write:
White salt pellets crunch. / Sun tears clouds like tissue / Colours bright as toys.
Never-ending salt / Winter’s remnants and tokens – / Blast from the deep north.
I change at Whitechapel on to the District line. After Barking:
Grey clouds, gaps, sunlight / Steel rails glistening water / Ivy basking tin.
Scrub, barbed wire branches / Flags – England’s red cross – slap / Above allotments.
I arrive at Dagenham East (B9) a few minutes before noon. There’s a big pub to one side of the main road. Its sign-board is on the other side of the road.
This is Dagenham? / A Virgin pendolino / Hurtles through Scottish wastes.
A sign of the times? / The Railway – three-storey road-house – / is now a Tesco.
The not-so-mean streets / And the puzzle of the tree – / Cryptic enigma.
One of London’s lost / rivers, the Beam slips Thames-wards / through heath and Ford plant.
Bullrush, teasel – scream / Of a self-important express / Bird-song and silence.
Fractal in mustard- / yellow, grow-your-own bunting – / with lichen crusting.
I get back to the station at 12.50 as a train is coming in and I’m at Dagenham Heathway (B9) two minutes later. This is an altogether bigger centre, with more people than cars.
Far in the distance / The Ford Motor Company. / Streets named after cars,
Cars of the sixties, / Fords of course: Cortina Drive, / Consul Avenue.
Downtown Dagenham, / Roy’s Eel Pie and Mash parlour – / Black tiles set in white
Cramped marble tables, / Nothing unnecessary, / Food dished in seconds.
First time eel and mash. / Eel flakes from bone, tastes meaty, / Oily, texture smooth.
I leave Dagenham Heathway at 1.25 pm on the District line, change at Whitechapel on to the Overground. I’m at Dalston Junction (B7) a little before two o’clock.
Memory card full. / Abbey Road to Acton Town / Make way for Dalston.
They’re pushing up flats, / At Dalston Junction, a high / bright fever of flats.
You window-shopping / For your very own shotgun / of tequilla, sir?
I’m back a quarter of an hour later, take the Overground west to Canonbury, change platforms, take the Stratford branch of the Overground back to Dalston Kingsland (B7). I’m there at around twenty past two.
Ballad of a Working Man
I met a man upon a train
The two of us togither.
He was ganging hame from work
Two hours that took firiver.
Life, he said, is tough, he said
My kids are four and three.
And it’s Nike this and Nike that
And the mortgage’s pressing me.
Six days long I go to work
The seventh I claim for rest.
His black face gleams, he jinks and jokes,
More pay and I’d be blessed.
I leave at the nixt station stop.
I shake his haund, I wish him weel.
The doors close shut upon that train,
Upon that face his courage still.
Upon that face so braw and brave
I trust no maladventure.
But there’s nae man living ‘neath the moon and stars
Can tell where lurks disaster.
I walk up Kingsland Road towards Stoke Newington. I’m looking for Centerprise Bookshop. It’s been there, as has the Rio Cinema opposite, getting on for forty years. In the 1980s I was Hackney’s Arts Officer for both organisations. Both received substantial funding from Hackney, both were controversial. Both, I believed, were doing good work.
I can’t find Centerprise. I go into the Rio and chat with the workers there. It’s still showing films, still a little scruffy. Back in the eighties it was the only cinema in Hackney. Now it’s up against the Hackney Picturehouse, five screens and modern facilities. They tell me that Centerprise has been closed down by Hackney Council, some dispute about rent.
I surprise myself: I’m philosophical about it all.
The Rio’s still there / Showing films, thirty years on, / Head above water.
Centerprise has gone, / Bookshop, café, everything – / Some Council bother.
Hey, man! You just cain’t / Hexpect tings to stay the same / Cos they’re tings you like.
You gotta realise / Councils is councils, they give – / An’ they take away.
Like the Government / They got short h’attention span, / Twist, turn with the wind.
Cool it, man. Enjoy. / Sun’s out, market’s real busy, / Same warm Dalston vibe.
I leave Dalston Kingsland a little before three o’clock. I take the Overground to Stratford, change on to the Central line to Debden (A8). I get there at quarter to four. It’s two stops away from Epping at the far north-east of the Central line.
I like Debden. It’s quiet, empty, ordinary. People are polite. Cars stop for pedestrians.
Debden’s wide, empty – / A resort out of season, / Country all around.
Wearing red and gold, / Guy in a jockey outfit / Smokes outside Ladbroke’s.
Two shops opposite / each other go head to head / On storage boxes.
Shops and cafés, / Four p.m. Saturday / Already shut up.
And that, that is it. / The Broadway curving, the shops / Waiting for the day’s end.
Pleasant, friendly, warm. / There’s nothing to dislike – but, / There’s always a but.
I leave Debden at around half-past four. Central Line to Stratford, Jubilee line to Canada Water, Overground to Forest Hill. I walk back through the Albion Millennium Green. It’s warm. It must be all of ten degrees Centigrade – that counts for warm.
In less than a day / Green shoots, buds everywhere – / The season has changed!
I narrowly miss some canine freshly-laid as I plunge through the undergrowth. I decide to give poetry a rest.