Friday 10 May – Hackney Central (Square B7 on the Tube map), Hackney Wick (B7), Haggerston (C7), Hainault (A9), Hammersmith (D3)
The Inner Curmudgeon is throwing his toys out of the pram. Not again, he yells. We can’t go out on a TubeforLOLs day without a proper breakfast first. We did that Tuesday. It was an unmitigated disaster. (See last post, Being and Nothingness.)
I sip my single cup of coffee. The Wee Professor says nothing. He’s checked the Tube map and the stations we’re visiting today. He’s scanned his capacious hard disk, retrieved the appropriate comforting memories and packed W.E.V. Quine’s masterpiece in preparation for the day. No, not Van’s philosophical tour-de-force, Word and Object, with its indeterminancy of translation thesis, but his epic Cheese and the Fundamentals of Pleasure where the Quine-Craig indispensability of cheese thesis was first developed.
It’s a grey blustery day. We’re back to early spring, late March for a guess. I’m at Forest Hill for ten o’clock and take the Overground north to Canonbury.
The Metro’s headline is: I learnt of my son’s death on school web page
I’m reading Roland Muldoon’s rambunctious Taking on the Empire about CAST (Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre) – a left-wing theatrical minnow – taking over Frank Matcham’s matchless variety theatre, the Hackney Empire, turning it into London’s epicentre of New Variety and the ensuing and unending hostilities with Hackney Council and the arts funding bureaucracy. Until, inevitably, success turned out to be a poisoned chalice and CAST were ousted.
I change at Canonbury for the Overground branch towards Stratford. I arrive at Hackney Central station (B7) at 10.50 am. It’s trying to rain.
I decide I’ll blag my way into the auditorium of the Empire. The Inner Curmudgeon hoots. You’ve got about as much chance of doing that, Craig, as a lemming has of avoiding the cliff.
One of the truly grating things about The IC is that he’s so often right. The Empire is shut to stray old codgers. The BBC are in there setting up. The BBC are important. Old codgers are not.
I walk on and note that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been at their wrapping game with the Town Hall. I have to say it looks better wrapped.
In the mid-eighties I helped to set up the Hackney Museum. Originally, it and the library, were housed opposite the Town Hall in the old Methodist Central Hall. Now the Library and Museum share new premises. The last time I was there, some ten years ago, I was pleased with the museum, it had come on such a long way. Today I’m hoping it hasn’t got middle age sag.
Inside there are ranks of buggies. Mums and toddlers are tootling around. The IC is appalled. Toddlers in a museum, he cries. Whatever are they thinking of? Next, they’ll be letting Jeremy Clarkson in.
The museum bowls me over. By the end I’m like a proud happy parent. It’s got a great visiting exhibition by Core Arts, a 1,000 year old Saxon log boat, excellent photos by Martin Usborne of 85 ½ year old and long-time resident Joseph Markovich and lots more. I’m most taken by ‘The Hackney Hoard’. This traces the story of a Jewish refugee, Martin Sulzbacher, who with his family fled Nazi Germany and stayed in Hackney before, as an enemy alien, being sent to the Isle of Man. His family placed their savings, 160 ‘Double-Eagle’ $20 dollar pieces, in two jars and hid them in the garden. Later the house was bombed and the jars’ secret resting places lost. Mr Sulzbacher meanwhile was suffering tribulations that would have made Job blench. After the war, the family were reunited and, in 1952, the first jar was found. The second jar wasn’t found until 2007. This story, the jar, one of the Double Eagles and other materials (donated by Mr Sulzbacher’s son) are now displayed. I find it deeply gratifying that justice – even if long delayed – at least sometimes wins the day.
My next stop is Hackney Wick station (B7). It’s two stops away from Hackney Central on the Stratford branch of the Overground. I get there at quarter to twelve, five minutes after leaving Hackney Central. Five minutes later I’m at the Hackney Pearl, a wonderful café in a surprising location.
Hackney Wick is an extraordinary post-industrial landscape: warehouses, depots, bomb-plots, workshops, artist-outcrops, social housing cut off to the north and east by The Lea River and the Hackney Marshes (where the Olympic site is busily being ‘upcycled’), cut off to the west by the A12 dual carriageway. It’s scruffy and dodgy but the artists are already there, so the developers will soon be snuffling around.
I settle back to a fine coffee and, a few minutes later, gnocchi with broad beans, peas and wineham grange cheese. The gnocchi is home made and melting, the broad beans and peas have some contrasting crunch, the wineham grange provides a cheesey bite.
Wineham grange, The Wee Professor informs, somewhat muffled by gnocchi, is a vegetarian parmesan-type cheese. Needless to say, the Inner Curmudgeon finds something to grouse about. Long delayed and there’s not enough of it, he declaims.
As I’m leaving I stumble across Mr Bagel’s industrial bagel-making plant. After a moment’s hesitation I ask a smoker at a side door whether they sell bagels. He refers me to reception where I repeat my question. Mr Bagel shakes his head dolefully. I press him. Another head shake accompanied by a lugubrious downturning of the corners of his mouth. No, we do not sell our bagels here. He takes the top off a large circular bin that looks a little like a laundry basket. But can we give you a bagel? He gives me two packets of bagels. I realise that I’m in the presence of an ironist of the stature of Mr TubeforLOLs.
Who said there was no such thing as a free bagel?
I’m on the Overground (back to Canonbury, change for the Surrey Quays branch) and at Haggerston station (C7) in a surprisingly quick ten minutes. It’s still not quite one o’clock. It’s the first time I’ve got off at the station though I know the area pretty well. No, cross out ‘know’ and insert ‘knew thirty years ago.’
The relentless flatification of London is taking its toll though the old Council estates are putting up stout resistance. I walk south poking around the alleys and the arches under the railway. One of them has been gutted and is being fitted out with … with what? I go in.
Ah dear! I think. Five years ago this would have been a perfectly acceptable monkey-wrench garage full of grease and fumes, signifying nothing. Now – horrors – it’s being turned into a fitness gym! I talk to a pleasant, optimistic Antipodean called Stretch. (They’re all bloody optimistic, complains The I.C. Makes me sick.) He and two mates have flown the Bearded Wonder’s nest (aka Virgin Active) to set up on their own. The gym, called Momentum, will be open before this visit is posted.
Time to leave Haggerston, time for the unknown: for Hainault on the Roding Valley loop of the Central line. Time to go underground.
Lady luck is with me and I’m at Hainault station (A9) in forty minutes. Even the weather has improved: it’s a pleasant early-April afternoon with a shy sun flitting between clouds.
I look right and left along the road outside the station. There’s a small shopping parade and a petrol station to the right. There’s nothing but houses to the left. I walk right passed the shopping parade which is notable only in having a Motor Spares shop and a Hobby shop.
I wonder if I’m missing something. There was nothing at all at Fairlop (the station before Hainault) and precious little at Grange Hill (the next station). Surely there must be more than this? I stop one of the few pedestrians. No, she says, this is it.
I’m back at Hainault station at twenty past two. Later I change on to the Hammersmith & City line at Mile End and sail the rooftops of Ladbroke Grove and Shepherds Bush. 31 stations and fifty pages of Roland Muldoon later, I’m at Hammersmith station (D3). It’s not quite a quarter to four.
Hammersmith is bustling. I decide to walk to the Hammersmith Bridge. Forty years ago I stayed in a flat off Brook Green near here writing the Great British Novel. This involved mooching around Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith and environs. Sometimes I’d walk down to the river, to Hammersmith Bridge. I’d admire the notice telling troops to break their step and I’d bounce up and down with the bridge as the traffic passed over.
Alas! So much of the past has simply vanished in this modern world. There is no notice. Unless you’re in deep vibration-detection mode you won’t notice a single quiver or throb, far less a bounce, on the bridge. I decide I’ll have a walk along the river. I’ll take the Thames Path westwards.
That’s right, sonnie, yodels The Inner Curmudgeon. Blow a few cobwebs from what remains of the grey matter.
I walk through a plush, comforting, bourgeois world, a world that knows no disasters or police corruption, a world where graceful Asian women walk chihuahas in matching coats (the dogs that is, not the women), a world where the alligators on the south bank of the Thames make hearty but considerate snacks of architects and their Brompton bikes, a world where there are already large clusters of drinkers outside the riverside pubs, a world that seems to me almost unreal even before I come across a TV crew filming.
Half an hour later I’m in The Blue Anchor having a pint (if you can’t beat them, join them). I mention my disappointment about not finding the notice about breaking step on the bridge to a fellow imbiber. He tells me that the bridge has recently been repaired: they’ve put padstones under it so that it doesn’t wobble. I find out that the TV crew are regulars, they’re filming an episode of New Tricks, a fictional TV series about righting past injustices.
Later I go on Twitter to admire my tweets (someone has to). I find that the government has caved in and there will be a proper judge-led enquiry into the brutal murder twenty five years ago of Daniel Morgan, a south London private detective, just as Morgan was about to go public with his investigation of high-level corruption at the Met Police (regular readers will recognise a theme here: them again, corruption again). It’s doubtful whether the enquiry will actually find out who killed Daniel Morgan but it’s a mammoth step forward and a triumph for his brother, Alistair, and family. I talk to my fellow imbiber (and his wife, just arrived) about the Daniel Morgan case. They’ve never heard of Daniel Morgan, they are askance but skeptical about police corruption. Then they remember that, of course, wasn’t the whole News of the World rumpus about police corruption? Besides, hasn’t his brother been wonderful! I think, by the end, I’ve convinced them that justice, long delayed, has been done – even if only in part. And yes, justice doesn’t always just happen or fall into your lap – it has to be fought for.
I think back to New Tricks, which I’d never heard of before. I think: truth is definitely stranger than fiction.
I get back to Forest Hill, having taken the Piccadilly to Green Park and the Jubilee to Canada Water, a little after six o’clock.