Saturday 27 April – Epping (Square A8 on the Tube map), Euston (C5), Euston Square (C5), Fairlop (A9)
OK, there are extenuating circumstances. First, I’m feeling lousy this morning: insomnia hit and I woke coughing at 4.00 am. That has a knock-on impact on my knackered vestibular system. Worse, there’s nothing new for Mr TubeforLOLs today – I’ve already been to all the stations in today’s alphabetic cohort. The thought of visiting them again thrills me about as much as shaking hands with a cabinet minister. Who in their right mind wants to visit Epping twice?
To put it in a squirrel-proof nut-shell: I really really don’t want to go on another TubeforLOLs today. What I’d like to do today is to go back to bed and be fed with warm lime-and-honey infusions accompanied by the occasional shaving of parmesan.
Marathon runners call it ‘hitting the wall’ except they hit the wall about miles 23 miles into their 26 mile stint. I’m hitting the TubeforLOLs wall at around mile eight. What to do? Quarter past eleven and I’m lurching towards Forest Hill station. I narrowly avoid a stationary tree. In case I can’t bear to communicate the full tedium of today, here is the journey log from arrival at Forest Hill at 11.30 am to return at 6.00 pm (six and a half hours):
Forest Hill to Epping: 1 hr 10 mins
Epping to Euston: 1 hr 5 mins
Euston to Euston Square: 0 hr 10 mins (!!)
Euston Square to Fairlop: 0 hr 50 mins
Fairlop to Forest Hill: 1 hr 0 mins
Total time on tubes 4 hrs 15 minutes
In other words, I’ve spent two-thirds of the time on the tube, going to places I really don’t want to go to. How mad is that? When I don’t want to go anywhere.
And my summaries of the visits?
Metro: No Metro – Saturday today!
Reading: Basho’s Journey – The Literary Prose of Matsuo Basho Translated by David Landis Barnhill.
Among Muslims by Kathleen Jamie.
Epping (Square A8 on the Tube map): Again?! Is this London? An Essex Amersham. Orange tans / yellow cars. I.C. Wobble at Bank?
Euston (C5): National rail terminal. Childhood mystique of rail travel! Blaise Cendrars and the Trans-Siberian Railroad! No mystique today. Diwania Behl-poori Restaurant still there! Dhal! Choice?! Dhal!
Euston Square (C5): Grime of the Euston Road. Souzou exhibition at the Wellcome Foundation !!! But why call it Outsider Art from Japan?
Fairlop (A9): PFI rant. What the [redacted]? It’s the other end of Barkingside High Street! Great, done it, back home, boyo!
[Code: ? = oh no, bad. ! = good. The more !s the better. I.C. = The Inner Curmudgeon PFI = Private Finance Initiative.]
Tweets Two. Exciting, perceptive, earth-shattering. [To find out more, you’ll have to follow me on Twitter @tflols.]
Hmm, I think, what more need I record? I can’t even think of a title. I have no inspiration. And a nap is calling …
No, you don’t, laddie, yells The Inner Curmudgeon . You have a duty to your readership. And forget about inspiration: art is ninety nine percent perspiration.
Alright, alright, I moan …
I get on the Overground at 11.35 am. It’s heaving. What’s everyone doing on the Tube? It’s a Saturday, they should be shopping locally. At Stratford, people pile out and head for that Circle of Hell known as Westfield and I get a seat.
I note the clouds tumbling grey and white, the sun breaking through, wisteria – faintly blue – climbing the side wall of a house at Snaresbrook. We cross the M11 then there’s four or five blocks of flats neatly parcelled up in green netting. The hawthorn is out along the line past Buckhurst Hill.
It’s a quarter to one when I exit Epping station (A8). This isn’t London – there’s a green plaque on the station wall stating that we’re on the Essex Way. I climb the long hill to the Town Centre. I’m in suburbia and stout manse country here. I could be in any reasonably-prosperous, well-presented, terminally-boring small town in the South East.
It’s one of those places where the car reigns supreme, where you can’t move on the pavements for planters, where courtesy runs deep, where the local District Council had an architectural fit sometime in the nineties, where the word ‘challenging’ has yet to enter the local vocabulary. Where women sport orange tans, pink lipsticks and sun-tan wrinkles and men sport brick-red complexions and have forgotten how to button up their shirts. Where there’s a woman trying to sell copies of The Big Issue and a bedraggled hippie chalking a picture on the pavement of an unfeasibly happy-looking Loch Ness Monster. Neither are doing much by way of trade: there’s a definite though invisible exclusion zone around both.
A boy racer in a bilious yellow Lotus Elite farting up a side street stamps on his brakes and waves me across. The Inner Curmudgeon goes ballistic. What are you doing? he shouts at the oblivious smiling ersatz hooligan. You’re supposed to be a Jeremy, you’re supposed to put the frighteners up old codgers! You’re never going to wear jeans when you’re in your fifties and grow a paunch and nose hairs like a real Jeremy.
I’m back in the tube at 1.25 pm. The Central line takes forever chuntering back to civilization. I think: ‘How many more times am I going to do this trip today? How many more hours on the blessed tube today? Couldn’t I just pay someone to take my place?’ As Lou Reed so memorably said after a few hours on the New York subway, ‘I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years.’
I get off at Bank. The spiral staircase twisting downward from the Central line platform makes my balance go wonky. I steady myself on the hand-rail, take some time out in the corridor below.
The Northern line tube is heaving. Where do all these people come from? Where on earth are they going to? The tube driver moans over the intercom about not being able to close the doors: every time he tries to close the doors someone else tries to squeeze on.
I get to Euston station. Back in the day when I was but a slip of a boy, the railways were an entrancement, stations gateways to heaven. I remember the excitement when, at the beginning of Half-Term holidays, my brother Jim and I boarded the train at Edinburgh’s Caledonian Station, half crowns tucked in our pockets for lunch in the restaurant car.
Years later, I remained entranced with the railways. I read Blaise Cendrars’ great stream-of-consciousness poem, The Trans-Siberian Railway, (‘The Kremlin was like an immense Tartar cake / Iced with gold …’) and was captured again. And now we have Eurostar and the TGV! I was sure the entrancement would be forever.
All that’s gone today. Today Euston station (C5) is even more airless, booming, heaving and frenetic than usual. There’s no enchantment today.
I make straight for the Diwani Bhelpoori Restaurant. Hallelujah! It’s still there! I have their all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for £6.95. I stuff myself with rice, rotis, bhajis, aubergine curry, beetroot-flavoured chick peas, paneer and dahl, dhal and more dhal. Who needs choice when there’s dhal? Well, dhal and cheese. Choice is a mirage, dhal is reality.
I’ve already decided that I’m going to be cursory with Euston Square station (C5). After all, it’s only a few steps from Euston.
And there’s only so much one can say about the grime of the impenetrable Euston Road and the dirty wind gusting around the tower blocks of Capital Radio and University College Hospital
I decide I’ll have a peek at the Wellcome Collection’s new exhibition, Outsider Art from Japan. I’ll do a ten-minute recce. If the Japanese artists are like their British Sensation cousins then ten minute will be enough. But this is not Art = Shock + Money. This is Souzou: ‘creation’ and ‘imagination’.
I enjoy the exhibition from the very first exhibit: Toshiko Yamanishi’s wonderful kaleidoscopic Mother. Other artworks remind me of 1960s concrete poems, some of David Shrigley’s cartoons. Satoshi Morita’s Untitled textile is extraordinary, beguiling, a modern take on the Mappa Mundi. I almost laugh out loud at Komei Bekki’s display cabinet of miniature Angels of the North and other curiosities. Almost. Art galleries are the new cathedrals, one doesn’t laugh out loud in these heavenly spaces.
I would stay here at the exhibition, but I know must head back to Fairlop on the Hainult loop of the Central line. The Trans Epping Express calls, I can hear its lonesome whistle.
The driver on the District line train comes on the intercom and has a moan about passengers needing to stay behind the yellow line. If you don’t, he says, I have to come into the stations really slowly, I have to go along the platforms really slowly. I sympathise. I know what he’s talking about.
I change at Mile End for the Central line. It seems to take forever before we get to Fairlop station (A9), one stop after Barkingside. The tracks run between playing fields and country. There are Constable clouds in the sky, it’s a pleasant Spring afternoon.
I’ve been to Fairlop station once, years ago. To the left, the houses run out after fifty yards. To the right, past a leisure centre, there’s a roundabout about five minutes walk away. There’s a huge building site across the road.
It’s the King Solomon High School, Redbridge. I could be wrong, but I guess this is being financed under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). To paraphrase Winston Churchill: ‘PFI is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, cocooned in a delirium of jargon; but perhaps there is a key.’
PFI was first foist upon an unsuspecting world by the Tories but it was pursued most vigorously by George ‘Linoleum’ Brown. The keys to PFI are as follows. First, the financing can be put ‘off-balance sheet’, so the Government can pretend it’s not borrowing money. Second, local authorities are poor at managing risk; best leave that to the private sector. So how does the private sector manage the risk? Simple. It loads the cost of every conceivable risk and then some more on to the contract. ‘Eye-watering’ could be a description of the prices that the private sector charge in PFI contracts. ‘Running rings around’ could be a description of what they do to the Treasury and the Government. That’s still happening under Osborne Junior. Not that he minds. It’s all money to the private sector and construction is a big backer of the Conservative Party: so what if our children and our children’s children will be paying for PFI unto the fourth generation.
He’s steaming, The Inner Curmudgeon says, his voice full of admiration. Steaming!
I’m near the roundabout when I stop dead in my tracks. What the fluff? I say. I know where I am. I’ve been here before, only a few weeks ago. Who, having seen the building below once, will not recognise it ever after?
It’s Dalek Headquarters and the street on the other side of the roundabout is Barkingside High Street with its Smokers Paradise, Italian ice-cream parlour, kosher butchers and bakers. (See post, Smokers Paradise, Two Altercations …)
This is a light-bulb moment in what passes for the frontal cortex of Mr TubeforLOLs. First, the trip has been satisfyingly bookended by two pieces of stonkingly weird municipal architecture. Second: Get me out of here, I’ve been here before!
I turn round on a sixpence, lurch back to the station, fall into a waiting Central line tube and am back at Forest Hill at quarter to six. I make it home and retire to bed.