Tuesday 7 May – Grange Hill (Square A9 on the Tube map), Great Portland Street (C4), Greenford (B1), Greenwich (E7), Green Park (D4), Gunnersbury (E2)
Regular readers will have tumbled to the fact that I’m finding this TubeforLOLs business tough going. I doubt whether the French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, would have ever got round to writing his existentialist cri-de-coeur ‘Being and Nothingness’ if he’d attempted ParisMetroforLOLs. Despite maundering about the necessity for ‘iron in the soul’, I reckon he’d have chucked the towel in by now.
I’m sitting thinking these thoughts, thinking of towel-chucking, on the 6.49 am Overground out of Forest Hill.
‘Hold it there!’ I hear you cry. ‘The 6.49 am Overground.
It’s yet another of my weezer-beezer ideas: broaden the scope of TubeforLOLs by going out very early in the morning and by experiencing what most people experience in the tube: the rush hour. Maybe this way I’ll rediscover my mojo.
Huh! grumbles The Inner Curmudgeon some time later. I told you that this was one of the stupidest ideas that even you could come up with.
I managed to bag the last seat on the Overground, I retort.
Aye, and you shivered with cold waiting on the District line train in Whitechapel and puckered up your nose at the old sooty underground stink at Mile End waiting for the Central line tube.
The Metro headline: The Reluctant Hero is about a man who brought a runaway speedboat under control though not until after two people had been killed.
I ponder on this as the train sways around the Roding Valley loop. The Roding Valley is bathed in sunshine: trees and greenery doth much improve London. Which prompts the thought: do we need so many houses, shops, huge tin distribution centres, tower blocks, office blocks, infrastructure?
We hit Grange Hill station (Square A9) at 7.50 am. It looks like my dream of less infrastructure isn’t being heeded out here in leafy Essex.
There’s nothing much to Grange Hill. There’s no school for a start. And there’s a paltry parade of shops. I go into the only coffee shop, Delicacy, for breakfast, a coffee and croissant. They don’t have croissants. I settle for a piece of old-fashioned Jewish cheesecake with currants, the sort that sticks to the roof of the mouth. It’s not bad and reminds me of cheesecakes of the past.
I walk further up the hill. Still no school, but lots of houses spaced apart with little strips of grass running down the pavements. That’s because we’re in the country.
It’s because the Council ran out of asphalt, you numbskull, thunders The Inner Curmudgeon.
The train out of Grange Hill for Woodford waits forever at Roding Valley station. The driver informs us that he’s been held while a train goes through, held while a train reverses out of the platform, held while another train goes through. Meanwhile people are queuing on the platform outside the open doors. What do they know that I don’t? I ask the person at my door why she is waiting – will it be quicker? No, she answers, but you have a better chance of getting a seat here than at the next station.
I hop out, wait for the next train and get a seat. My informant was right. Two stations later it’s sardine time on the train. I struggle off at Liverpool Street and find the platform for the Circle Metropolitan & City lines completely crammed, commuters waiting ten-deep the full length of the platform. Hieronymus Bosch would have been in his element painting this monstrous scene. Why do they put up with this daily sardine-squashing, I ask myself, while admiring their phlegmatism, resilience and courtesy.
The Inner Curmudgeon splutters. You admire …? Question their sanity, laddie!
I have absolutely no chance of boarding the first train but squeeze on the next. I’m at Great Portland Street station (C4) at 9.25 am an hour after leaving Grange Hill. Traffic prowls and snaps like alligators both ways along the Euston Road. The chains, led by Pizza Express, have wrestled their way up Great Portland Street from Oxford Circus. The day is warm now, the odour of diesel, petrol brake-dust and assorted carcinogens are banking up nicely along the pavements.
I cross to the fine-looking church on the north side of the Euston Road. I’ve never been inside and a little cool quietness would soothe the savage breast. But it’s no longer a church, it’s a venue for conferences, receptions and the ilk. They’ve got one on today. Vans proclaiming the speedy delivery of organic foodstuffs are double parked on the forecourt, pallets of expensive bottled water are being unloaded. The organiser at the door answers my questions politely but makes it obvious that my attentions are unwelcome. I take a quick snap of the pulpit outside dedicated to the Reverend William Cadman. He being dead yet speaketh reads the inscription.
Huh, growls The Inner Curmudgeon, he’s not even bloody whispering.
To get to my next stop, Greenford, involves changing at Baker Street and then Bond Street. We almost don’t make it through the underground maze that is Baker Street: The Inner Curmudgeon goes ballistic. This is absolutely ridiculous! he declaims. Is there anyone in charge of this mess! Tinpots for London!
We squeeze through a narrow noisome-smelling defile, climb across the Metropolitan line to the opposite platform, clamber up a long ramp, then plunge down a narrow crowded staircase.
The Jubilee train is packed but we’re only going one stop.
The Central line train is busy until Notting Hill Gate then rapidly empties. It bursts out into the open air at White City and I experience a huge physical sense of relief: it is so much better being overground. The sheer racket of the tube is not echoed and amplified by the tunnel, the artificial strip-lighting fades into the background, cool fresh air slowly replaces the hot fetid fug in the carriage.
As the train draws nearer to Greenford I have the awful feeling that I’ve been here before. As we clatter in I recognise the dismal distribution sheds and container depots and acres of woebegone houses: Andy, Harald and I walked through here on the Capital Ring.
I drag myself out at Greenford station (B1) and poke around.
I’m sure there’s many worse dormitories in London but I can’t recall any at present. Nevertheless, if you’re hankering after sticking an ugly loft room on top of that semi of your dreams then Greenford is the place. There’ll be no objections from the neighbours: they’ve already gone down the tacky loft-extension highway. And if you want to get out, then I recommend the Capital Ring going north.
I’m reading Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North on my way south and east to Greenwich. He, too, was at a low ebb. ‘My distant journey remained, I was anxious about my illness and yet this was a pilgrimage to far places, a resignation to self-abandonment and impermanence. Death might come by the roadside but that is heaven’s will. With those thoughts my spirits recovered a bit.’
The Central line train fills up by Notting Hill. The DLR out of Bank is full, but I get a seat.
Greenwich station (E7) is one of TfL’s puckishly-named stations. If you want to see the sights of Greenwich disembark at the long-winded Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich station (see previous post Of Dinosaurs …). However, if you want a view of the main road from Deptford to Greenwich then this is the station for you.
And if you’re on the look-out to buy a flat, you’re in luck. Top class, too. No expense spared. Why, they even have a specially-commissioned poem (by the Olympic poet, no less) on the hoardings.
It’s taken me fifty minutes to get here. I leave after five.
To get to my next stop, Green Park, involves changing from the DLR on to the Jubilee at Canary Wharf, well-known haunt of bankergators.
In the lower shopping mall we spot a lone wizened man in a buttoned jerkin and formless cap sketching at an easel. He’s a friend of The Inner Curmudgeon.
What are you doing here, Hiero? he asks.
The painter looks up. I’ve been consigned to this circle of hell in perpetuity, Mudgeone. He points upwards with his paint-brush. Him upstairs didn’t think my depictions of Hell were devlish enough. As usual, He was right: this is worse than anything I ever imagined. He drops his voice. The worse thing is – all those people seem to think this is normal!
As we are leaving, the painter tugs at my elbow. I say, master, you don’t have anything to eat on you, anything properly edible. Thickly-buttered bread, good fat sausage, perhaps? All I get here are tiny pieces of raw fish and shredded celery. I cut him a section of my secret travelling supply of parmesan.
God preserve you from alligators, he cries.
A Security Guard walks over and indicates to him in no uncertain terms to get back to his sketching.
I’m at Green Park station (D4) before half past twelve. There is a green park here and it’s called Green Park, so the station is aptly named. Green Park itself is part of Tourism Central. To the south there’s the detached house of Bettie Windsor and her squire, Duke Foot-in-Mouth. To the north, there’s the neighbourhood of Mayfair famed for its hedge-fund billionaires, its Russian billionaires and its millionaire prostitutes. Bertie Wooster land, otherwise known as St James, is off to the east and offers all that a gentleman could possibly desire.
Unfortunately some elements of the Great British Public haven’t yet got rid of the regrettable habit of democracy and of wishing to pursue that democracy on occasional street parades. Fortunately our fun-loving constabulary have come up with this nifty kettling device to ensure that the GBP don’t spoil Bettie’s view.
I’m in and out of Green Park in five minutes. I’ve got the bit between my teeth and via the Piccadilly and District lines get to Gunnersbury station (E2) in thirty minutes.
The station is unfortunately located underneath an undistinguished office block and alongside an unfortunately not-undistinguished multi-storey car park. But it does, at least, have three exits:
(A) Turn right at the ticket barrier then continue straight on and you come to a residential area. This is, I think, where you want to live if you want to live in Gunnersbury.
(B) Turn right and right again and you come to a road which will take you under the M4 Chiswick flyover and on to Kew. Clearly a road to favour if you want to get out of Gunnersbury quickly.
(C) Turn left and you come to a commercial street with office blocks and a small smattering of fast food joints. This, I think, is where you want to go if you want to get a bus out of Gunnersbury.
I get the District line out of Gunnersbury, changing onto the Jubilee at Westminster and then the Overground at Canada Water. It takes the best part of an hour.
I’ve been on the road, metaphorically-speaking, for eight hours today. I’ve visited six stations, passed through 131 stations and changed lines ten times. I reflect on my experience: what, if anything, have I learned today?
The Inner Curmudgeon shakes his head wearily. You never learn, do you, laddie. You never learn.