Tuesday 14 May – Hampstead (Square B5 on the Tube map), Hampstead Heath (B5), Hanger Lane (C2), Harlesden (B3), Harringay Green Lanes (A7)
The cultured readers among my followers – and, I hasten to add, I consider all my readers pearls – will recognise the title as a quote from Keats’ heart-stopping sonnet, On first looking into Chapman’s Homer. You will have already called to mind the final sestet and be wondering: has Mr TubeforLOLs, that ‘watcher of the skies’, found ‘a new planet swimming into his ken’? Or is he, never the wilting violet, comparing himself to ‘stout Cortez when with eagle eyes’? Or – but this would surely be the very height of foolishness – comparing his vacant gawking on the Hampstead Heath bathing pools to Cortez staring at the Pacific? By this time readers will be, metaphorically-speaking, looking ‘at each other with a wild surmise – Silent, …’
But the most discerning readers will be saying, ‘What in thunder is the Old Codger up to now?’ They may even be querying the whole pointless TubeforLOLs project. In an excess of existentialism (or weariness) they may be questioning why they are bothering to follow post after post of TubeforLOLs.
There must be an explanation for all this, I hear them cry. Ah yes, there is, there is. Or, at least, there’s someone we can blame …
I’m at Forest Hill station at 10.45 am. The skies are grey with only an occasional and fleeting sun. There’s a taste of rain in the air.
Hang him, demands Tia’s father shouts The Metro’s headline of the day. (But no, we can’t blame Tia’s murderer for TubeforLOLs.)
It takes over an hour (Overground to Canada Water, Jubilee to London Bridge, then Northern line) to get to Hampstead station (Square B5).
Ahh! Hampstead! If Hampstead did not exist, we would have to invent it. Neither left nor right in the sociopolitical commentariat could live comfortably without it. Which, of course, is what one does in Hampstead: live comfortably. Hungarian patisseries, splendid pubs, darling little bistros tucked in corners, bookshops (antiquarian to Waterstones), the Everyman cinema, pavement coffee shops, fashion shops with arty names (Zadig & Voltaire, I mean, come off it!), the Heath itself but one more coffee up the road.
The Inner Curmudgeon is in his element. Listen to them, he grumbles as we pass yet another purveyor of Coffea arabica. They think they’re intellectuals. Huh! Poseurs! There’s not a single philosophical discussion …
Not a mention of Merleau-Ponty or phenomenology, The Wee Professor interrupts with a hint of sadness.
The IC snorts. This is the equivalent of shouldering The WP aside. He continues his philippic, All these revealing discussions, all this Sunday supplement psychology! People here burnish their complexes as only people with time and money and hand-made brogues can burnish!
The WP coughs, Philippic – a tirade, originating with Demosthenes and his attacks on Philip II of Macedon.
Something else catches The WP’s attention. Aagh! Look at that! Look at that McDonalds! Have you ever seen anything so disgraceful? Have you ever seen a McDonalds that’s so discreet, so … so tasteful?
The WP is ruminating on a different matter entirely. Hampstead, he states, undermines the basis of Platonism. In its existence it defies Plato. He stops there.
This has both The Inner Curmudgeon and Yours Truly stumped. We wait. Nothing. Eventually, I cough, Yes … And …?
The Wee Professor gives one of his pedagogical nods. Hampstead is its very own platonic ideal. We view it not as from Plato’s famous cave. It is Platonic Ideal made flesh so-to-speak, an Ideal lodged here in the mundane diurnality of material reality. Therefore, it defies Plato.
He’s lost us.
The sky is spitting with rain. I scurry back to the tube. Our next stop is but a healthy ten minute tramp away but, as per the rules of the TubeforLOLs game, I catch the Northern line to Euston, change on to the Victoria to Highbury & Islington and then change again on to the Overground to Hampstead Heath station (B5) – a total of 11 stops and half-an-hour’s tube riding. Not a Plato nor an alligator in sight.
The first flat I rented is around the corner in Hampstead Hill Gardens. That was forty or so years ago during the summer of 1972. Not once while living there nor in all the time since have I visited Keats (no apostrophe) House. This is my mission today.
But first I must return to stout Cortez and you lot wildly surmising.
Way back in early 1967 I was a medical student at Edinburgh University and not much enjoying life. On one of those few bright February days I was sitting in a sheltered octagonal summer house in Princes Street Gardens. I was reading poetry, the poetry of John Keats. Over the previous few weeks I had been slowly resolving to quit my medical studies but it was reading Keats that catalysed me to action. In Keats I became tangled in beauty’s web and discovered the faery power of poetry. Within days I had applied to change from Medicine to Philosophy and English Literature.
It’s possible, perhaps likely, that without Keats I would have stayed the course, gone on to become a doctor and done something useful with my life. Instead, here I am suffering the pointlessness of TubeforLOLs and here you are sharing my tribulations – albeit only the palest reflection of them. So, we know where to point the finger: John Keats!
Apart from Keats House (which I do visit) and the fact that the Heath has sidled nearer, there’s no real difference between this stop and my last. This is like the proverbial stick of rock: it has Hampstead written through it.
Serendipitously, I meet up with my friends Fi and Andrew and we go for a rather good lunch at Carluccio’s on Rosslyn Hill.
I get to Hanger Lane station (C2) at ten to five. Now where on earth did the last four hours go? Well, an hour was passed on the tube: Overground to Highbury & Islington, Victoria line to Oxford Circus and then the Central line.
I’ve been to Hanger Lane station once before – coincidentally, with Andrew. It was the starting point for our walk along the River Brent towards the Thames. We took the south west exit from the station. It was a fine warm early Summer’s day, the walk was good and the streets of Hanger Lane south of the A40 were pleasant if unremarkable, though double-glazing was the order of the day if you wanted to keep the background grind of traffic noise out of the house. If I remember right, there was a reasonable parade of shops on that side – though, at that time, I wasn’t an expert on London’s shopping parades.
I elect to go the other way. I take 43 photos of traffic in various flavours of jam. I take 29 photos of dismal shuttered office blocks. The rain is beating down steadily so that may explain some of the jam and dismal. No matter, I am on a mission. Hanger Lane gets its name not because it was the site of hanging in the olden days but because the eighteenth century writer Oliver Goldsmith (he of She Stoops to Conquer and The Vicar of Wakefield) once compared the shape of Hanger Hill to a clothes-hanger. (Coincidentally, Goldsmith also studied medicine for a brief period at Edinburgh University.) I can’t see it myself – the clothes-hanger, I mean – but the office blocks do get in the way. I trudge back up the hill to the station.
My next station is Harlesden station(B3) which I get to by six o’clock: Central line to Notting Hill Gate, Circle line to Paddington, then the Bakerloo line.
At the risk of being excessively autobiographical, I’ve been to Harlesden station approximately 52 times in the past, 50 of them during the summer of 1972. At that time I was employed as a supply teacher for Brent Education Authority and took the train from Hampstead Heath, via Willesden Junction, to Harlesden where I turned left out of the station and hopped on a bus up the road.
On my first day teaching, a Monday, I was sent over to the Lower School Annexe where I would find out from the Lower School Headmaster which classes I had to take. I turned up at his study to find him and the Lower School Deputy Headmaster doing the Vesuvius-Stromboli double act, arguing about the spelling of ‘annexe’. As The Wee Professor will tell you it can be spelt either ‘annex’ or ‘annexe’, you takes your pick. As I could have told either of the human volcanos in front of me, since I had newly passed the Lower School Annexe’s sign-board, their particular annexe was spelt with an ‘e’.
I spent all but the last two weeks of the summer term at that school. Supply teachers in those days were like gold dust. The regular teachers took it in turns to pull a sickie. I taught everything except for English literature – the one subject I had some knowledge of. I taught French (though no-one told me how to work the Language Laboratory apparatus: howls of laughter from the kids). I taught History (and stunned a class with the theory that all history is the history of class warfare). I taught Mathematics (‘Bell Curves’ and the perniciousness of IQ systems, which systematically rated black people and women lower than white men, in terms of ‘intelligence’.) I taught Physical Education (except I wasn’t insured so we all lay about the athletics track – luckily it was sunny – and talked about nothing in particular). I taught Sex Education (when the boys gave me hell, I told them they were protesting too much, what were they hiding, were they perchance gay? Not that there was anything wrong in being gay. At the end of school all the girls were waiting for me at the school gate.)
Although the evidence-base (as we say nowadays) is admittedly flimsy, I feel pretty certain that we do education better now than we did forty years ago. (Mind you, we didn’t have League Tables in those days; schools and teachers didn’t game the system and tick the boxes.) But if you don’t want to blame Keats for TubeforLOLs, you could choose Brent Education Authority and the Vesuvius and Stromboli of that school. Who knows, with a better introductory experience, I could have lived a blameless life as a school teacher and you would have been spared.
My notes of today’s visit read: Turned right. Industrial landscape. Steady rain. Smell reminds me of coal gas, can’t think how that could be. Cold rain. Rush hour. Working area. Grimey. McVitie’s biscuit factory. Hula-Hoops container outside factory. Goodness Gracious: do McVitie’s make H-H these days? Culinary advice from Mr TfLOLs to Mr McV: Stick to Hobnobs, Mr McV. And Jaffa Cakes.
I arrive at my last – and my single new – station of the day, Harringay Green Lanes (A7), at seven o’clock. The rain has upped its tempo from steady to heavy. The sky is leaden. Turn left out of the station and you’ve got a ‘Shopping Park’ with Sainsburys, Next, Costa, Argos, etc. Don’t turn left, turn right. If you turn right you’re on a splinter of road which surely started life – and went through school – in Turkey. It’s a long, long road with Mediterranean Food Stores, Turkish bakeries and cake shops, Turkish cafes, restaurants and fast-food joints, Turkish hot nut shops, Turkish tailoring repair shops. There are women in café windows slapping out the dough to make pides just as they do in Turkey. The smell that wafts across the road is Mediterranean sans sun-tan lotion.
Despite the bad weather, despite the Finsbury Park-rivalling snarl-up, I like Harringay Green Lanes. It may not be the Platonic ideal of a Turkish shopping street, but it beats Hangar Lane and Harlesden into a cocked clothes-hanger and gives Hampstead a run for its complexes.
Mind you, I wouldn’t want to live there. I’d spend far too much time and money in those cafes and bakeries.
I get back to Forest Hill, tired and weary and lugging rather a lot of Turkish vegetables and food-stuffs, at half-past eight. It’s still raining.
Today, much have I travell’d in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen.