Thursday 25 April – Emirates Greenwich Peninsula (Square D8 on the Tube map), Emirates Royal Docks (E8)
Dear Readers, I give you fair warning that this post is, as near as makes no difference, one hundred per cent pure sap, soppiness, sentimentality and self-indulgence. There is little, if any, of the intellectual sinew (gristle, some would say) of my normal posts. It is a (mainly) Curmudgeon-free zone. The chiaroscuro of light and shade, that trademark shock and awe alternating with comedy and slapstick, which dapples my other posts is absent. Gibbering and drivelling are the order of the day. How come?
Today I travel en famille with Fran, my son Andrew, my daughter Becca, her husband Harry and my wonderful, delightful, endlessly enchanting, completely adorable, bonny bonny grand-daughters Iris and Hazel. We will be travelling the Emirates Cable Car from North Greenwich across the Thames to the Excel Centre.
The only solace I can offer is that I will save you from Harry’s bad puns …
Fran, Andrew and I arrive in good time to catch the 12.15 pm Overground for Canada Water where Becca and family are already waiting for us. It is one of the joys of tight-knit families like us Craigs that we think as one. We are well-oiled machines marching in unison towards a golden tomorrow.
It is at this point the Inner Curmudgeon stirs, albeit lethargically: You can’t have machines marching towards tomorrow, he mutters. Machines have no concept of tomorrow. The Wee Professor says nothing. He is as happy as larry. He’s brought along one of his favourite books, Volume Seven of Archibalds MacAuley & McAuley’s magisterial Encyclopedia of Statistics. This volume features The History and Principles of Multiple Regression – The Galashiels School.
Thus when I confirm by text that we will start our expedition ‘here’ as in ‘at Gingerbread Cottage’, Becca inteprets this as ‘there’ as in ‘North Greenwich’ and we, as a family, meet on the southbound Overground platform at Canada Water as in ‘somewhere in the middle’.
They are standing at the other end of the platform as Fran, Andrew and I get off the train. Iris and I see each other at the same moment. ‘Sandy,’ she shouts. ‘Iris,’ I respond in a multi-decibel croak. Wearing the wonderful multi-coloured dress Cousin Suzie brought back from Niger for her, she runs along the cavernous platform arms outstretched. I lurch towards her at a surprising rate and sweep her into my arms. The massed ranks of commuters and tourists around us spontaneously applaud. Hollywood has nothing on us.
Alas, though this will turn out to be the most photographed TubeforLOLs in history, the moment goes unrecorded …
We descend to the Jubilee line platform and catch a train eastwards two stops to North Greenwich. Our time of arrival goes unrecorded by Mr TubeforLOLs. Come on! It’s only two stops after Canada Water! Why should I bother with nerdy minutiae like that? I’m in full besottment mode, besotted with Iris, besotted with Hazel, a wee dinksome sprite, a heavenly Ariel. I tickle her feet. She gives me the most beautiful smile. Even The Inner Curmudgeon curls up and purrs. This is as good as it gets, it’s as good as cheese.
Let me enumerate the differences between the two Emirates ‘stations’ and the other 360-odd stations on the Tube map.
1: Freedom Passes count as nothing on the Emirates Airline. We Old Codgers pay like everyone else.
2: The Emirates Airline is not an airline. Nor does it use trains or tubes. They use cable cars. Like the Cable Car at Llandudno though not so old nor anything like so long and without the magnificent views of the Great Orme and Snowdonia.
3: The Emirates Airline is a tourist destination, not a means of transport.
4: There is no direct underground pedestrian connection between Emirates Airline and any other station on the Tube map.
5: The Emirates stations aren’t really stations, they’re hangars.
6: Freedom Passes count as nothing on the Emirates Cable Car. We Old Codgers pay like everyone else. Have I mentioned this before?
I did quizz TfL about this. Apparently they had lengthy discussions with various Sheikhs in positions of power at the Emirates and back chez sheikh in Dubai. Apparently, the Sheikhs have difficulty in grasping the concept of ‘freedom’ when applied to anyone apart from Emiratis. Apparently, back home in Dubai, only Emiratis are free. Ex-pats and indentured labourers are a necessary evil and dissent is frowned on (as in ‘bang you up in prison and/or deport you’).
There are puffballs of clouds making their way across a blue blue sky as we make our way towards Wagamama.
This is part of our masterly plan: eat first, enjoy the Emirates Airline second. Between the three of us – Hazel, Iris and me – we manage to spread a haystack-sized amount of shredded vegetables and noodles across the floor.
At about, ooh, something like quarter past two, we make our way towards Emirates Greenwich Peninsula station (D8). Fran and I get tickets called Boarding Passes.
The view from the Cable Car is, well, outstanding. Iris is loving every minute of it. Hazel has taken the opportunity to have a nap. The rest of us are shouting at each other: Look, there’s the Shard! Look there’s Canary Wharf!
I can see the Eiffel Tower! I say.
Oh, sorry, it’s the Crystal Palace Radio Mast.
I can see a car park, yells Iris.
Oh, what have they done to the Barrier Park? Fran says. They’ve let it go completely.
The cable car sways a little in the wind, then we begin the descent to Emirates Royal Docks (D8) arriving at, oh, a few minutes after we left the other station.
It’s hot this afternoon. We walk along the north side of the Royal Docks and buy ice creams.
Despite myself, despite the best efforts of The Inner Curmudgeon, I start singing (to the tune of David Bowie’s Heroes) ‘We can be tourists, just for one day …’ Becca moves off to one side, stops, pretends an interest in a non-functioning crane. I’m walking off into a Hollywood sunset. ‘I wish I could swim, like dolphins, like dolphins can swim …’
Why is it that grandparents so love their grandchildren? I don’t really buy the neo-Darwinian line that it’s somehow programmed in our genes. Sure, Iris and Hazel’s sharing of a quarter of my genes might cause me to plunge in after one of them, should she fall in the dock, in a vain attempt to save her life. At a pinch.
And how does neo-Darwinism explain this deep emotion called grandfatherly love? Isn’t the explanation simpler? Iris and Hazel give me, one hundred per cent and unconditional, their love and it is such a glorious experience to be loved that I love in return. I feel like a hero, just for one day.
I think of my late friend, Ken. When he became a grandfather he was bursting with delight. When he came to London he bored Fran and me sideways with photographs of his grandson, Linden. At that time, Fran and I understood his emotions as but through a glass darkly. Now, Ken was no sop. He was a hard-headed scientist, atheist and socialist. He took no prisoners. Yet he was completely doolally over his grandchildren. But that doolalliness couldn’t have been genetic: Ken and his wife Fliss had no children of their own, their two sons were adopted.
The Inner Curmudgeon wakes up. You’re doolally, Craig, he snorts. You can’t base a whole theory on one wee example.
But, I say, it’s suggestive. It’s a pointer.
We walk up to the ExCel exhibition centre and then, under the insidious influence of Fran and Harry (with Andrew towing the line), we walk on even further. We’re going to be walking miles! This wasn’t in the script! We walk onto the bridge across the Royal Docks and watch the planes taking off from London City Airport while we eat the last chocolate bunny from Easter.
I remember my momentary ambition, back in Cyprus station (see post Of Dinosaurs and Diggers …), of flying out of City Airport in a turboprop. Then, I gird my loins. There’s many a mile to walk before sunset.
We stroll along the south side of the Docks. There’s not much of what you would call excitement, but then who needs excitement? The day is perfect as it is.
Breaking another TubeforLOLs rule, we board the cable car at Emirates Royal Docks and return to Emirates Greenwich Peninsula. As we are about to board, a man – not exactly a suit but he’s clutching files under his arm – nips smartly into the cable car in front of us. He is the one and only person we’ve seen on these trips who may be using the Emirates Cable Car as a mode of transport.
Everyone else is here for the tourist experience. We’ve all stepped out of the diurnal round of office and meeting, memo and email, tinpot Machiavells and hopeless hormones: the every day world of work. We’ve escaped to the Nirvana of holiday – just for one day.
In the cable car on the way back we repeat, more or less, the same conversation and point at the same things as when we came over. Iris spots a different car park. Hazel settles down for another nap. Fran finds another piece of public landscape that’s gone to seed. Andrew and Harry take another few hundred photos. The wind is up a bit and the cable car sways noticeably from side to side. Becca worries about how safe it is. It’s only held on by a finger-nail, she says.
Don’t worry, I say, deftly assuming the paternal role. The staff clip the cable cars’ finger-nails on the weekend. They’ve had days to grow back.
And then, too soon, we’re back on the Greenwich Peninsula. Too soon, no matter how slowly we drift, we’ve walked past the O2 and plunged into the depths of North Greenwich station.
We part company with Becca and family at Canada Water – they get the Clapham Junction spur of the Overground, we wait for one to Crystal Palace or West Croydon. Bye bye, Sandy, pipes Iris as the tube doors close.
At New Cross Gate Andrew spots a small encampment of travellers, probably New Age, who’ve taken over a brick and rubble-strewn compound guarded by palisade fencing. Normal life carries on.
We arrive back at Forest Hill at – oh I don’t know when. Normal service will be resumed on the next post. Meanwhile: I wish I could swim, Like dolphins, like dolphins can swim. We can be tourists, if just for one day.