Wednesday 29 May – Holland Park (Square C3 on the Tube map), Holloway Road (B6), Homerton (B7), Honor Oak Park (F6), Hornchurch (B9), Hounslow Central (E1), Hounslow East (D1), Hounslow West (E1)
With my talent for making mistakes, I have already posted the next post – We Need To Talk About Kennington – leaving this earlier post to languish on the virtual vine. Over-riding The Inner Curmudgeon’s protestations – he wanted to ‘keep shtum’ (his words) and see if anyone actually noticed the dropped ‘H’s’ – I post it now in its original form apart from a change to the end of the title. I’ve also brought the break forward.
I’m skipping along the path that’s squeezed between the railway to Forest Hill station and the blocks of flats, MOT garage and skip-hire compound. There’s a bent silver-haired stick-like carpenter working in the basements of one of the blocks. He’s been working there for some days, buzzing around like an over-active bee. He wears wire-framed spectacles and looks like an anarchist from a hundred years ago. Spectacles, skin, clothes are all covered in a fine white dust. I ask him what’s happening to the basements.
I think maybe offices, he answers in an Italian accent. I don’ know. Is up to the boss. He opens a glass door. Clouds of fine white dust swirl in the cavern beyond. He coughs. Look at this, he says. I don’ care. I’ll be dead before this gets me. When you’re old you can do what you like, eh, it doesn’t matter. When you’re young you should look after yourself, you got years ahead. But do you?
He shakes his head and vanishes like a genie into the dust storm.
I get the 9.17 from Forest Hill. Yesterday’s rain has blown away and a weak sun filters through the clouds. ‘Abandoned’ to the Taliban is today’s headline. It’s about the British Army’s Afghani interpreters. We all know their fate when the Army withdraws but the British State, with many a weasel-word, is ditching them. They’re Afghani, after all, wrong pantone number, old chap.
There’s been the sounds of riffling as I read. It’s The Wee Professor chasing down the references in Professor Dorling’s Injustice. Then there’s a sound that gives The Inner Curmudgeon and me goose-bumps: The WP is chuckling. Now, we all know that The WP is a stick of rock with ‘pedant’ running right the way through and we all know that neither sticks of rock nor pedants laugh. But there’s a definite chortling sound.
Spit it out, bath-brush, The Inner Curmudgeon commands.
It’s about Tony Blair, The WP responds, still chuckling. Robin Cook was talking to Blair about Blair’s son’s selective school. Roy Hattersley was there and said that Harold Wilson had sent his children to a comprehensive and one became a headmaster and the other was a professor in the Open University. Blair replied, ‘I rather hope my sons do better than that!’
17 stops and two changes of line, I arrive at Holland Park (Square C3) at ten o’clock. With its up-market shopping strip – Patisserie Valerie, delicatessens, Daunt books – it reminds me of Belsize Park. It has a butcher’s, Lidgate’s, which claims to be one of the finest in London – and has evidence to support that assertion. Certainly, inside, it is immaculate and exquisite (though the pigs in their fat gleaming sausages might dispute that description). A generation ago, the owner decided that the future of British butchery wasn’t necessarily American, that it could be Continental. He focussed on provenance, quality, variety and presentation.
I ask one of the servers behind the counter how business is these days. Presumably the horsemeat scandal has boosted their trade? He shakes his head. ‘What the big supermarkets have done,’ he says, ‘is that they’ve bought up all the [good] meat.’ He looks down mournfully at the counter as though all he sees is empty slab. ‘We can’t get any, we can’t compete.’
I muse on this as I mooch around the wide, tree-lined boulevards with chi-chi mewses cobbled between and the sounds of builders sucking in their breath while putting in even more expensive kitchens and bathrooms.
That is going to be my last upmarket experience of the day. 11 stops and two changes, I’m in Holloway Road (B6), calcium carbonate to Holland Park’s stilton. This is the grimy old A1 half a mile nearer Scotland from Highbury & Islington and the road here is a university drag – London Metropolitan University to be exact, one of those universities that are derided because it takes kids from comprehensives, black and ethnic minority kids studying vocational courses that may just lever them one rung up the ladder. There are no gilded youth here, no members of the Bullingdon Club, who think the world’s their oyster because of their ability rather than their luck – the luck of birth, parents and money.
With its demographic, the shopping experience hereabouts inclines to fast food with a few studenty interlopers: stationery outlets, post-hippy emporiums and bookshops. As always the developers are chucking up loads of flats. Arsenal’s home, the Emirates Stadium, smooches around the corner. There’s a whisper of rain.
My next stop (a mere seven stops and two changes) is Homerton (B7), squeezed between that great Hackney double-act – Central and Wick. I get there around 11.30. Homerton is yet another learning experience. For a species of animal that prides itself on its appreciation of beauty, Homerton shows that homo sapiens has a long history in doing ugly.
Years ago there was a community arts outfit in Homerton called Chat’s Palace, in Brooksby’s Walk. I decide I’ll see if it is still there. Brooksby’s Walk is a hotch-potch of architectural styles. Its straggle of fast-food joints, betting shops, chemists and mini-markets jostle with the new incomers of eateries, coffee shops and delis. I walk the length of Brooksby’s Walk but I can’t find Chat’s Palace. The rain comes on. I walk back. I spot an old snooker hall that’s given up the ghost: perhaps this was once Chat’s Palace? I take its photo. Fifty yards nearer the station I come across Chat’s Palace. It’s got its own road sign right outside. I walked straight past it.
Your powers of observation, Craig, The Inner Curmudgeon sniffs sardonically, are up there with Homer Simpson’s.
I pay him no heed. Chat’s Palace is still there, it’s still doing stuff – classes, workshops, participatory stuff. I’m pleased.
16 stops and two changes later, I’m at Honor Oak Park (F6), only one stop away from Forest Hill. Honor Oak Park is its own little village and has a reasonable mix of shops. To the north is One Tree Hill with its many trees and a scrambly walk east to Nunhead Cemetery, west to Crystal Palace. The snarl-up of the South Circular is well to the south. The rain scurries in heavily. I think about stopping for lunch here, then decide I’ll grab a sandwich and eat on my way to my next stop – I still have some distance left to run today.
I enter a deli advertising ‘food to go’ and ask what sandwiches they do. The guy behind the counter says, ‘I’m sorry but we’ve run out of sandwiches.’ I stand amazed. They’re a deli, it’s only one o’clock. ‘We’ve got Scotch eggs and quiches.’ I retreat.
The Inner Curmudgeon goes inter-continental. They’ve got cheese, they’ve got loaves of bread, they’ve got tomatoes, cans of sardines, more chutneys than Imelda Marcos had pairs of shoes. ASK HIM TO MAKE YOU A SANDWICH, he yells.
But I’m already heading for the door.
It’s appalling, moans The IC. No sandwiches. And you’ve got no spine, Craig. Think of my blood sugar levels, he whinges.
My estimation of Honor Oak Park has fallen at least two notches. It falls some more when I’m panhandled by a guy asking for 20p. I give him a pound and he asks for £3.
No, I reply curtly and show Honor Oak Park a clean pair of heels. It won’t be seeing me again soon.
I console myself that I’m in the grand tradition of travel writing. I remind myself of 19th century Gauthier de Clagny – he of From Paris to Nice in Eighty Days – who dissed Auxerre so badly (all because his omelette was cold) that it didn’t recover until the 1960s.
It takes 55 minutes (18 stops and two changes) to get to Hornchurch (B9), the furthest east (if you believe the Tube map) I’ve yet gone.
The parade outside the station will be of interest to you if you’re a drummer (there’s a drum shop), an angler (angling shop), are getting ready to get hitched (separate bridal and formal men’s wear shops) or have sore feet (chiropody clinic). But the station is nowhere near Hornchurch centre which is a shame because I wanted to revisit Fairkytes Arts Centre.
For in its back garden lies a surprise, dear readers, an interesting touristy nugget that you can barter in conversation over dinner tables or pub bars. Something that should be in every tourist guide to London but is often missed: an English Heritage Listed Mound. Yes, mound, as in raised area of earth covered with grass. Listed, preserved for eternity. I have scaled its heights (about five feet) my very self. From memory, it is a rather suggestively-shaped mound.
The story goes that, back in Victorian times, two gentlemen lived harmoniously in two stately piles (one of which is now Fairkytes) next to each other. Alas, the harmony was short-lived. One gentleman got his underwear in a twist over the other gentleman’s sons looking over the hedge at his daughters. He built a remarkably fine brick wall (I think it may be Listed, too) to forestall the viewings. Escalation, mound-style, followed as the second gentleman constructed his hummocky knoll (the aforementioned mound), enabling his sons to continue to indulge their maiden-viewing habit.
Right. That’s enough of TubeforLOLs stooping to the tourist-trade. I’ve got three more stations to cover and they are all way over west, almost as far west as I’ve ever been.
One and three-quarter hours later (40 stops and one change from District to Piccadilly line), I arrive – a quivering, exhausted wreck – at Hounslow Central (E1). I check the local map in the station ticket-hall and my heart pitter-patters with excitement: Hounslow has two shopping centres. I tackle the first of these, the Treaty Centre, from Hounslow Central.
The usual dispiriting shopping mall mix (Debenhams, Wilkinson, etc.) is enlivened by the presence of Hounslow’s Central Library and the Paul Robeson Theatre. ‘Enlivened’ may be putting it too strongly. There’s a torpor in the mall, as there is in all these malls. Gaggles of girls and clusters of boys graze at windows and on Korn-syrup Konfections. Mall torpor has squashedoodled library and theatrical enlivenment. It’s a sad comedown for Paul Robeson, the lifelong black activist and singer. I hum (quietly) one of his most famous songs: ‘I get weary and sick of trying, I’m tired of living, and scared of dying, But Ol’ Man River he just keeps rolling along …’ I still get a thrill out of Kern & Hammerstein’s song as Robeson find triumph – or, at least, hope – in adversity. Like the Mississippi, Paul Robeson never stopped trying and always fought injustice – a fight that continues to this day, will continue far into the future until injustice is vanquished!
The Inner Curmudgeon sighs. It’s cringe-making, Wee Prof. But I suppose we’ve got to let him have his head now and then.
I check out the other shopping centre, the Blenheim Centre, from Hounslow East (D1) and am disappointed. It’s a huge Asda the size of a third-world country but with many times the GDP.
But I like the main shopping street which runs east west near the two stations. Despite the rain, it’s a bustling cacophony of Hindi and Polish. One young Indian father pushes his toddler daughter round and round in her buggy, faster and faster, chasing a pigeon. The daughter is half-out of the buggy trying to grab the pigeon, squealing with girlish delight. The father is hooting with fatherly delight. The mother looks on from the side, shaking her head and smiling with motherly delight. The Inner Curmudgeon trumpets in curmudgeonly delight.
The shopping parade from Hounslow East also deserves a mention. It has all the usual suspects but is basically a street of chicken shops and barbers.
My last stop is Hounslow West (E1). This is a sizeable shopping centre and stretches most of the way up the road towards Hatton Cross. The rain doesn’t help but for ugliness (the street hosts a variety of uglinesses) it rivals Holloway Road, Homerton and the ugly church in Hounslow Centre. And every sixty seconds another plane thunders overhead. I bemoan my bad luck. Ten days ago I tried to take a photo of a jet over the houses in Waye Avenue but failed: the flight pattern had taken the jumbos elsewhere.
But I know from here that those planes will be swooping over those houses. I get philosophical. One has to learn to take one’s lumps on TubeforLOLs.
It takes me an hour twenty before I arrive at Forest Hill. It’s been one of those days where I’ve spent most of the time on the tube and much of the rest of the time looking at ugliness. But like Ol’ Man River, I just keep rolling, I just keep rolling along …