The Walrus and the Curmudgeon (33/80)

Wednesday 1 May – Forest Hill (Square F6 on the Tube map)

I am sitting on a bench on the Southbound platform at Forest Hill drinking a cup of Monmouth Coffee’s fine Finca Capetillo from Guatamala and munching on an Emmental and Cucumber roll, both bought from On the Hoof situated on the Northbound platform. The sun has got a veritable topper on today. This, I think as I stretch my legs out, is the life! No travelling for me today because today I visit my home station. And, as the demiurge behind TubeforLOLs’ rules (I’m not going to get too big for my sneakers and go for full-blown Divinity), I have decreed that this – entering on one platform, exiting on the other – is the cosmological solution to how I visit my home station.

Today’s post is that rara avis of the murky parallel universe known as TubeforLOLs: a post that involves no tube journeying. Hurrah! …  

There’s a chap in a dark suit standing beside me holding a long narrow leather box which I’m guessing doesn’t contain fishing rods or window-cleaning equipment. He looks vaguely Italian. I’m hoping the box doesn’t contain – you know – a rifle, with or without a telescopic sight. No, that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Forest Hill. That’s the sort of thing that happens in Sydenham. Actually, he looks a little familiar …

I breathe a sigh of relief. It is, of course, Tony Drago – a top ten snooker player in the 1990s and a regular feature in the World Snooker Championships at the Sheffield Crucible. My mother was an avid snooker fan and gained immense pleasure from the battles between Tony and the likes of Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jimmy White. We get to talking. Tony is still a snooker professional though as age creeps up on him he finds it increasingly difficult to maintain the lengthy and single-minded concentration demanded by the sport at the highest levels.

So how come he’s visiting Forest Hill? I ask.

It’s because his cues are handmade in Forest Hill.

I can’t believe it.  We’re still making things? In Britain? Here, in Forest Hill?

Indeed, we are and, in the case of snooker cues, mighty fine ones, courtesy of John Parris – cue-maker to Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ali Carter, Judd Trump and the likes. I visit him in his small, unprepossessing workshop in a nearby backstreet and find him in earnest discussion with Michael Grainger, an extraordinarily young-looking guy who’s just turning snooker professional. (First policemen look younger, then snooker professionals …) I get a five minute informal tutorial in the intricate complexities and craft of cue-making.

The South Circular at Forest Hill: a regular finalist at the 'Mother of All Snarl-ups' Championships. No, I don't know why there's no snarl-up today.

The South Circular at Forest Hill: a regular finalist at the ‘Mother of All Snarl-ups’ Championships. No, I don’t know why there’s no snarl-up today.

Then I’m on my way to sample the delights of downtown Forest Hill before soldiering up the hill to the Horniman Museum.

Forest Hill is trying to reinvent itself, the reinvention coming courtesy of a number of small shopkeepers and businesses – mainly in the arts & crafts, fashion and coffee shops / eaterie sectors.

Back in the mid-eighties I was a founding member of the Hackney Tourism Committee. Our thesis: Hackney needed to capitalise on the burgeoning arts and creative industries scene so that it became a tourist destination. Tourism in Hackney? Wow! Was that an idea that was welcomed with open arms! I console myself with the thought that we vastly increased the sum of human laughter in Hackney. But now, twenty five years on, what’s happened? Shoreditch is desirable. Hoxton is the place to be. Dalston is happening. Hackney’s got culture. (It’s also got a Foxtons, which shows how far down the road it’s got to gentrification and sky-high property prices.)

Aga's Little Deli: when only real, non-industrial cake (or cheese, off-camera to right - you didn't think I'd show you the cheese, did you?) will do. Gluten free Orange and Almond Cake recommended. Keep your hands off the morbier!

Aga’s Little Deli: when only real, non-industrial cake (or cheese, off-camera to right – you didn’t think I’d show you the cheese, did you?) will do. Gluten free Orange and Almond Cake recommended. Keep your hands off the morbier!

Douglas, the Master-Hoarder behind Dapper: where you go to find stuff you didn't even know still existed far less that it was exactly what you were looking for. 'I'm a hoarder,' says Douglas. 'I have to have a shop. Otherwise I wouldn't have any room in my house.'

Douglas, the Master-Hoarder behind Dapper: where you go to find stuff you didn’t even know still existed far less that it was exactly what you were looking for. ‘I’m a hoarder,’ says Douglas. ‘I have to have a shop. Otherwise I wouldn’t have any room in my house.’

Sugar Mountain: strangely popular with children. Now with added Criterion and Marine Ices ice creams.

Sugar Mountain: strangely popular with children. Now with added Criterion and Marine Ices ice creams.

Stag & Bow - Purveyors of Craft, History & Haberdashery. The Inner Curmudgeon snorts. 'Call this a shop? Most times when I look in, all there is is half-a-dozen women sitting around drinking tea and knitting.' He shakes his head. 'Once it was half-a-dozen fellas drinking tea and knitting.'

Stag & Bow – Purveyors of Craft, History & Haberdashery. The Inner Curmudgeon snorts. ‘Call this a shop? Most times when I look in, all there is is half-a-dozen women sitting around drinking tea and knitting.’ He shakes his head. ‘Once it was half-a-dozen fellas drinking tea and knitting.’

Best of Both Boutique: immaculate window-dressing. Come on chaps, let's unleash our inner Grayson Perrys and do the TubeforLOLs.

Best of Both Boutique: immaculate window-dressing. Come on chaps, let’s unleash our inner Grayson Perrys and do the TubeforLOLs.

Bruno Roubicek (standing, far left), driving force of the Friends of the Albion Millennium Green, at the Opening Ceremony of the Leaf Festival. Never seen an Insect Hotel? Never made a clay snail? Fancy a nest fit for a human? The Leaf Festival featured installations, performance, art, poetry, theatre, acts of enclosure: totally crackpot, totally wonderful.

Bruno Roubicek (standing, far left), driving force of the Friends of the Albion Millennium Green, at the Opening Ceremony of the Leaf Festival. Never seen an Insect Hotel? Never made a clay snail? Fancy a nest fit for a human? The Leaf Festival featured installations, performance art, poetry, theatre, acts of enclosure: totally crackpot, totally wonderful.

And there’s more, much more. There’s a rare-breeds butcher (The Butchery – the meat is from rare breeds, not the butchers themselves), a French baker (down the road in Kirkdale), a remarkably fine coffee shop (St David’s) and a candlestick maker. Actually, I lie about the last, but we do have a snooker cue maker. We have a whole street of artist’s studios, though we try to keep quiet about them. And a brand new swimming pool …

Will history repeat itself? Will Forest Hill become South London’s answer to Hackney? Well, why not? It’s on the Overground and is less than 15 minutes from London Bridge. The developments there, including the Shard and the massive redevelopment of Guy’s Hospital, will generate thousands of jobs. Not all of the people filling those jobs will want to live in faraway boring places like Bexley or Bromley or Beckenham.

And, of course, we do also have the Horniman Museum – the museum that put the ‘Eck in eclectic.

Horniman Museum with totem pole.

Horniman Museum with totem pole.

I step into the Horniman for a quick shuftie at its most famous exhibit.

The Horniman Walrus.

The Horniman Walrus.

The Horniman Walrus is huge, he’s the number one celebrity in Forest Hill, he has almost one million followers on Twitter. It’s the first time I’ve been here this year, so I’m surprised when he cocks his tusks and says, ‘Hello, Mudgie. Long time no see, China.’

Mudgie? It takes some time for the penny to drop. Mudgie – short for Curmudgeon.

The Inner Curmudgeon clears his throat. ‘How’s it going, Wally?’

The HW flicks his whiskers. There’s a young black father and his son standing by us. The father can’t believe what’s going down, he’s an adult after all. His son is loving it.

‘It’s bad, Mudgie,’ says the HW. He’s got a deep deep bass voice that makes Leonard Cohen sound like one of the Chipmunks. ‘They’ve got a new exhibition here.’ His voice drops a few more octaves. He’s whispering now. It’s a whisper that was loud about four thousand miles ago when it originated in East Greenland. ‘They’ve got alligators in the new exhibition.’

We gasp. Alligators. Horror.

The Wee Professor comes to the rescue. ‘American or Chinese alligators?’ he asks.

Mudgie sighs.

‘I’ll check it out,’ says the WP. ‘Chinese alligators are much smaller. Not so vicious. Not recorded as man-eaters.’

Mudgie looks doubtful. ‘It’s too late.’ He looks left and right, then hunkers down. ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ he says. ‘Top secret. Cross your hearts.’ He stares at us.

We all, father and son included, cross our hearts.

‘They’ve had an escapee. Two. They were last seen legging it down the South Circular towards Dulwich.’ He sighs. ‘I do miss the Carpenter, though. Something dreadful. Well, I miss the oysters most.’

‘Me too, Wally,’ sighs The Inner Curmudgeon. He holds his pocket-handkerchief before his streaming eyes. ‘I weep for you, I weep for me, I deeply sympathize.’

11 thoughts on “The Walrus and the Curmudgeon (33/80)

  1. Peth

    I see your game, you’re trying to create a spike in Forest Hill property prices. To maintain a level playing field I think Catford should petition for a TuberforLOLs visitation.

    Reply
  2. sandycraig2013 Post author

    The Inner Curmudgeon is furious with me for not telling him about the Horniman Walrus’s trip to the seaside. He’s threatening curmudgeonly action if we don’t visit Margate, complete with a hamper of oysters, over the summer.
    Peth, the topography of South London makes level or even playing fields rare. But perhaps I should consider breaking all the rules and when I get to Lewisham DLR, rather than returning by underground to Forest Hill, taking the bus to Catford and then onwards. It is likely to be just as quick. But I need a petition with more than one signature on it to break the rules so heinously.

    Reply
  3. Chantel Wedderburn

    I absolutely Love this piece on Forest Hill and believe you did us local independent business’s justice Sandy, thank you…
    I didn’t realise you had such an eloquent sense of humour..lol

    Reply
  4. becca

    hey! i was about to write about the walrus going away. we went to horniman today and saw it being packed up “why’s it got that on its back?” said iris “it needs its travel duvet to keep it safe” say i. also the bees are dead again 😦

    Reply
  5. Harry

    Ok time for some fun Horiman facts.

    The Horniman Walrus is too big! The shock. The Taxidermist who stuffed the walrus knew nothing of walrii and thought they should be stuffed as one would stuff a cat or dog. They shouldn’t. Walrii should have rolls of fat, lots of rolls of fat, they should not be inflated like a balloon like the HW. Poor Walrus, over 100 years of extreme bloatedness.

    There is an exhibiton of dog breeds near the walrus where the breeds are described through the medium of a stuffed dogs head. This apparently upsets small children so the staff lie to them and say the rest of the dog is still attached to the head and is behind the wall and out of sight.

    Reply
  6. sandycraig2013 Post author

    Thank you, Chantel. I believe local businesses need all the help they can get – and also that all the businesses I featured – and a number more – are doing great things.
    Thank you, Becca. Thank you also, Iris, the wisdom of ages there. Can’t work out about the bees. I’m doing my best for the bees. I eat their honey. Or shouldn’t one do that?
    Thank you too, Harry. Not being much of a taxidermist myself, I cannot comment on your comments re extreme bloatedness. However, The Inner Curmudgeon (in a rather snarly mood it has to be said), says that oysters never gave rise to bloatedness in the same (or reverse) way that bloaters never gave rise to osyterness. As for stuffed dogs head, I surmise that your trip to Korea has played an inchoate, if not subconscious, part in your theory of stuffing here. May I recommend the Stag & Bow’s Big Knitting for Men workshop this Saturday (18th May)? I hope that may relieve any existential angst you may be feeling.

    Reply
  7. sandycraig2013 Post author

    Tremendous link from the Horniman Museum showing the stage-by-stage process of getting the Horniman Walrus ready for his holidays in Margate. It will be particularly appreciated by oysters of all denominations.

    Reply
  8. pauline

    My favorite post so far on your blog Sandy, or maybe I’m just being bias as I love FH so much. Thank you for the pic and comment, hope you enjoyed the macaroon bar yesterday. On the subject of The Horniman Walrus I’m just so glad he will be returning home in September. Toodle pip Alisa has just arrived so I’m off to make tree tags for The Edible High Rd which starts on Saturday 18th.

    Reply
  9. Maurice

    Walrus and oysters aside (The time has come, the walrus said …) every one has overlooked the real breakthrough on this post – Mudgie. Is he softening? Is this a serious lapse towards humanness and reasonableness? Or just an old walrus encounter that he’s just reliving? Whatever the reason, he’s almost warm (Mudgie, that is. I agree with Harry, the walrus is a bit too made up). Mudgie, though, a character for the ages. I should know, I’ve got my own. I think I’ll call him Smudgie.
    Maurice

    Reply

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