Of Runcible Spoons and Beach Boys Tunes (25/80)

Friday 12 April  – Ealing Broadway (Square C1 on the Tube map), Ealing Common (D2), Earl’s Court (D3), East Acton (C2)

I leave Forest Hill with Nick at around five past eleven. Nick is going back home to Manchester for a little rest and recuperation after yesterday’s fear and loathing on the TubesforLOLs line. I chum him on the Overground and then the Jubilee line. He’ll get the Victoria at Green Park for Euston, I’ll be leaving at Westminster for the District line.

Thankfully, Nick isn’t suffering from his existential problems with quantum mechanics today. You’re off to Ealing, he says blithely. You’ll have to write it up in limericks.

I don’t know where he got that from. As far as I know Edward Lear never wrote any limericks about Ealing. Ruislip, yes. And Finchley, of course. And Aosta, as in –

There was an Old Man of Aosta

Who never drank coffee at Costa.

I’d much prefer cheese

On a plate on my knees,

Said that verminous Old Man of Aosta.  

Ahh! Poor Edward Lear and his runcible spoon. A lifelong sufferer from grand mal epilepsy and a wonderful illustrator of birds including parrots.

There are announcements at Canada Water: The Bakerloo line is closed due to … The Central line is closed due to … The Piccadilly line is closed between Turnham Green and Ealing Broadway and there are severe delays on other parts of the line. There is no service on the Waterloo & City line. Bank and Monument stations are closed due to an incident … There are minor delays on the Victoria line …

There are more dire announcements at Westminster. I get the District line to Earl’s Court and wait barely a minute before an Ealing branch train sallies in.

I’m about five minutes away from Ealing when the heavens open up. The deluge, in bureaucrat-blether, ‘continues to be an on-going situation’ when the tube arrives at Ealing Broadway station (Square A3) at around twenty past twelve.

They have this nifty customer-friendly topographical arrangement at Ealing Broadway station: a lovely canopy over the Central line platforms, an open-to-the-heavens arrangement for District line trains. I’m in a back carriage on a District line train. I get soaked.

Soaked in Ealing.

Soaked in Ealing.

And then it happens. How can I describe it? Perhaps it’s a little like the petit mal that some epileptics suffer though I’m not epileptic and, I hasten to add, there’s no pain, no dizziness, no involuntary seizures. But, metaphorically-speaking, I can feel myself falling, I have a vision and certainty of what is about to happen, a few seconds of clarity. I make it out of the rain and then …

There was a soaked blogger in Ealing,

Unprotected by roof or by ceiling,

No peace could he find

In any part of his mind

Nor dryness in any part of his being.

Aargh! I’ve got limerickitis! There’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing that Heisenberg or Schrodinger or his cat or any pussycat with or without an owl can do about it.

I go upstairs and look miserably at the rain. I daren’t think the name of the place I happen to be looking out over. I quiver at the thought that there are two stations whose first name is the name of the place I can’t think about.

I think about people who talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ as though this was something dire. At this present moment in time, I’d be happy to see a whole circus parade of elephants in a room of your choosing. Throw in the guy who sticks his head in a lion’s mouth for all I care.

The rain slackens. The place whose name I daren’t think of has an indoor shopping mall but I’ve been there before. I stomp off in the opposite direction. I stumble across a welcome cycle station. Welcome because, like cheese, it takes my mind off other things. (You know what.)

Ahh Bicycles! Not as many as at Canonbury but blessed bicycles nevertheless. And there's Brompton folding bikes for hire as well.

Ahh Bicycles! Not as many as at Canonbury but blessed bicycles nevertheless. And there’s Brompton folding bikes for hire as well.

Behind it there’s what looks like a fine park snorkelling underneath an extremely large puddle. It’s called Haven Park and it’s really rather appealing …  Aargh! No!

The heavens open again. I’m an umbrella, get me out of here, I think. I make it to a nearby café. I order soup, carefully arrange my coat so that it puddles on the floor and plan my escape from – from the place that cannot be named.

I’m in luck. Behind me in the café are two old rock buffs with voices made characterful by years of hard living. Unfortunately, years of heavy rock concerts have dunted the proficiency of their ears and their voices have been permanently been turned up to eleven on the great amplifier of boredom.

Today they are boring for California about The Beach Boys’ four CD set of Smiley Smile, the ordering of the tracks, the comparative merits of the nineteen out-takes of Vegetable. (Coincidentally, one of my all-time favourite songs, and probably my number one happy song. It’s the one where the final ‘vegetable’ rhymes with ‘table’ as in – I’m gonna be round my vegetables / I’m gonna chow down my vegetables / I love you most of all / My favourite vege-table. The one where the backing singers go: Chomp chomp chomp chomp.) But there’s a limit to how much even I want to know about the Beach Boys.

Ahh! They’re dismembering the live performances they have seen of The Stones playing Midnight Rambler … They’re going all the way back to 1971 … Outside, the rain comes on heavier. I think maybe there’s an advantage to being outside in that rain. I feel a quick scarper to the station coming upon me.

But then, disaster strikes:

There once was a cafe in Ealing

That served no tea but Darjeeling.

No coffee at all

Ever graced its hall

And for soup – vegetable peeling!

I have no choice, I leave. It comes on bad at the station again:

There once was a rainstorm in Ealing

That broached the station’s poached ceiling

No, that was Queen’s Park

Or the Cutty Sark –

Too much TubeforLOLs, my mind’s reeling!

Poached ceiling? What on earth is that about?

Two minutes later at about quarter to two I’m in Ealing Common (D2). It’s still raining but without the excessive vim and vigour of the past half-hour. If we were living in Biblical times it would be about now that Noah would be hoisting his doves aloft to look for dry land.

There’s a ‘Quote for the day’ in the ticket-hall: The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected. Thank you very much, I think. How very apposite, how very reveal…

Ahh! There’s a lovely-looking fish shop opposite the tube. Fish shops aren’t quite up to the mark compared to cheese or bicycles but they do take my mind off certain things …

Mo's Fisheries opposite Ealing Common station.

Mo’s Fisheries opposite Ealing Common station.

It is absolutely beautiful with the original sliding sash window between the two doors and comes complete with marble slab and drainage channel behind. It’s closed but the Jewish owner comes hastening up when he sees me. I find out that it’s 175 years, listed and owned by London Tranport. That the retail side of fishmongering is difficult these days and that the bulk of his business is wholesaling frozen fish.

We talk on. He’s been in the business 44 years and he’s not looking forward to retirement. He quizzes me about how I manage to survive. I mention TubeforLOLs. I dwell on the pleasures of being a grandfather, of my two beautiful grand-daughters Iris and Hazel. He still looks worried. I ask if he has children.

Three, he says, two boys and a girl. The eldest is getting married this summer.

Ahh, I say, maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe it won’t be long before you’re a grandfather.

He perks up a little though his perking isn’t as fizzy as Bertie Wooster’s at the racecourse when he’s handed a sure-fire winner. Never mind. I wasn’t totally convinced before Iris came along. Then I was bowled over. Is one of the roots of the love of grandfathers for their grand-daughters (and grandsons) genetic in origin? Perhaps. Or is it the blessed relief of handing the little darlings back at the end of the day?

Laziness, states The Inner Curmudgeon with his usual fraudulent authority, is one of the prime motivators of human behaviour. Though since the word ‘laziness’ has a bad name these days we call it ‘relaxation’ or ‘recharging the batteries’ or ‘unwinding’. We call it ‘convenience’. As in ‘Convenience Stores’.

A little down from Mo’s Fishery is another interesting-looking shop: Ealing Strings – Violin and Bow Makers Dealers and Restorers. I’m particularly taken with its heraldic shield: a brace of bows crossed. I imagine Pushkin in one of his 23 duels challenging his adversary to a face-off with violin bows. If he’d only gone for violin bows in that last duel … If only he’d gone to sea in a Sieve …

Ealing Strings - Violin and Bow Makers Dealers and Restorers.

Ealing Strings – Violin and Bow Makers Dealers and Restorers.

I go in. It’s as delightful inside as outside and surprisingly busy. There’s a sign on the desk saying ‘No Debit or Credit Cards’. There’s a taxi-rank of cellos in their cases to one side. There’s someone buying new strings for her bow for £6.93 (that’s with the ten per cent reduction for cash). A professional cellist is discussing her ‘second cello’ which has been damaged perhaps while she was performing in Moscow. The shop-keeper who clearly knows his onions (or the string equivalent of them) is talking her through the cost of repairs (several thousand), the fact that the original ‘patch’ wasn’t upto snuff (too long a story to relate here), the value of the cello after repairs (considerably more than several thousand), how if she doesn’t like it the shop will buy the cello back off her for the full price.

I could stay in here for hours but without warning I have another ‘funny turn’:

There’s a string restorer in Ealing

Who mends cellos and viols most appealing.

As for the bass

He leaves not a trace

Of buzz, vibration or squealing.

Five minutes later I’m on the District line bound for Earl’s Court. I’m glad to get away from the Ealings. I bet you are, too. No more limericks.

Twenty minutes later, I reach Earl’s Court (D3). It’s about quarter to three. I phone a friend who lives nearby but I’m diverted to her voicemail. I leave a message.

The Doctor has landed! Tardis with Earl's Court station behind.

The Doctor has landed! Tardis with Earl’s Court station behind.

Earl’s Court is pretty much as it’s always been – a busy, chaotic mess of shops, eateries and bazaars either side of the Earl’s Court Road, the main through road south from the A4 to the Embankment and South London. Unlikely though it sounds, that main road may have been Earl’s Court’s salvation from the irrestible upmarket trend seen in the likes of Regent’s Park Road and Belgravia. It’s a thoroughfare. It’s never going to be a quasi-gated ‘community’. There are streets and streets of rather grand and expensive terraces here, but Earl’s Court has always attracted immigrants from the other parts of the U.K. and abroad. I like its bustle and seedy cosmopolitanism.

I wander into a few backstreets of cottagey mews houses, minimarkets and small random shops. Within seconds you’re off the Earl’s Court Road and all the hullabaloo that goes on there. Within a few more seconds I’ve stumbled onto the Cromwell Road and its snarling traffic. I retreat. I walk along Wallgrave Road.

Mewsland, Earl's Court. Wallgrave Road (I think).

Mewsland, Earl’s Court. Wallgrave Road (I think).

Later, when I’m talking with Fran, I find out that this is where her Uncle Gordon and Auntie Ricky had a flat in the sixties. Fran thought it the height of sophistication. Of daring, even – Gordon and Ricky had a bath in the kitchen! Fifty years on, Kevin McCloud with his hot tub in a field in Gloucestershire is only just catching up with Gordon and Ricky.

I take the Edgware Road branch of the District Line from Earl’s Court to Notting Hill Gate and change on to the Central Line to East Acton. They are still announcing severe delays on the Central Line but one tootles into the platform within a minute. I’m at East Acton station (C2) within twenty minutes of leaving Earl’s Court. But where is East Acton? I’ve never been to East Acton station, never passed it on the road. I’ve no idea where it is.

There’s a clue as the train rattles into the station: an enormous high-walled crenellated structure about the size of a medium-sized town. It exudes the warmth of Siberia on one of those days when vodka seems like a good idea – actually, when it’s probably the only idea.

I descend the stairs to street-level. I prepare for the worst. Instead, I’m charmed. I’ve still absolutely no idea where I am. I look to my right and spot a church in the distance. I look to my left and spot a patch of green in the distance. I elect for the latter.

East Acton. It goes on like this for street after street after street.

East Acton. It goes on like this for street after street after street.

OK. So this isn’t exactly party-land, you’re not in Soho here. There’s one corner shop, one small hair salon and one little café open for breakfast and lunch only. That’s it. The housing is all of a piece. Learner drivers kangaroo-hop along the side streets. Everything is nicely kept, everything is well looked-after, everyone is polite. Perhaps it’s a little too manicured – the single black plastic bag under a tree (see photo above) which the Council has forgotten to pick up is the sole jarring note to my visit. What’s not to like? It’s a relief not having the usual nondescript shopping parade, patched-about Victorian terraces, scraps of litter and surly locals.

I walk down to the patch of green and realisation strikes the moment before I get there: it’s Wormwood Scrubs and the crenellated Siberia, the eponymous prison, is just round the corner.

Crows squawk and wheel above its towers. Meanwhile, a young boy and lass are having a canoodle on a bench in front of its walls. Well, they’re in an early stage of canoodling. I pass by. They’re canoodling in Polish. Behind them, on the vast stretches of the grass and scrubland someone is trying to get a kite flying.

Wormwood Scrubs with canoodlers on bench.

Wormwood Scrubs with canoodlers on bench.

I spend the next half hour walking round the prison in search of the front entrance. Who knows, someone might fancy a visit?

I give up after one and a half sides of the prison but I least I get views of the Linford Christie Stadium and the Queen Charlotte Hospital. I return. The canoodlers are gone.

I walk past East Acton station towards the church and reach a four lane road which, to my left, meets an even larger road at a huge inter-section. I know exactly where I am. The larger road is the A40. Many times I’ve waited at these traffic lights; those few times when I’ve managed to cross without being stopped I’ve always felt a glow of spurious achievement. Now I feel another glow, but this time of real achievement: that’s another section of London patched into my mental map of the metropolis.

It’s four o’clock when I get back to East Acton station. It takes twenty stations and well over an hour (Central line to Bond Street, change to Jubilee to Canada Water, change to Overground) to get back to Forest Hill.

I’m feeling sufficiently bucked up to issue a call to you, gentle readers, for limericks. Limericks on Ealing or, indeed, any tube station you like from the December 2012 Tube map. Or anything, really. Please send them in as comments and, who knows, I may even award prizes. A word of warning: remember this is a PG blog – no egregious swearing or porn, please. On this site, a little smut goes a long way. Chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp.

2 thoughts on “Of Runcible Spoons and Beach Boys Tunes (25/80)

  1. Peth

    My parents taught dancing in Ealing
    That’s Latin and Ballroom, not Reeling.
    While I changed the discs
    They practised their whisks
    And Quickstepped the floor with great feeling.


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