Four Short Straws (46/80)

Monday 24 June – Latimer Road (Square C3 on the Tube map), Leicester Square (First yellow square on the third side of the Monopoly board), Lewisham (F7), Leyton (B8), Leyton Midland Road (B8)

With the exception of Leicester Square, which I know only too well, I’ve never visited any of today’s stations and, though I’ve been to Lewisham a few times, I’ve never been to Latimer Road or Leyton. So, today truly could be a voyage of discovery for Mr TubeforLOLs. On the other hand, perhaps I should have borne in mind the old adage – if you’ve no reason – good, bad or indifferent – to visit a place, then best give it a wide berth. But my regular readers know me too well by now: foolhardy to the point of bravery.

Mutton-headed more like, snipes The Inner Curmudgeon.

Go boil your heid! I retort.  

It’s a grey cold day, cold for Midsummer, as I blunder my way through the Albion Millennium Green and along the railway path. I get to Forest Hill station at 9.45 am.

The Metro announces: The Fugitive This is about the whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, fleeing the claws of the U.S.A. Government for revealing that it is spying 24/7 on 100% of its citizens. (So too, via our ‘listening station’ GCHQ, is our be-pimpled Government. Both obviously believe that if you’re going to do a job you may as well do it properly. Neither appear to believe in the old adage that the citizen is the state, the state the citizen.)

Poor Edward is learning the hard way that everybody loves a whistleblower except when he’s blowing the whistle on them. Page three carries the story of the Met Police setting undercover agents on Stephen Lawrence’s family in an attempt to smear them. The Met, of course, has a long history of ‘previous’ when it comes to what it or its government masters deem to be enemies of the state. If only they were good at solving crime.

The Inner Curmudgeon rumbles, He’s off on one, Wee Prof. It’s not our job but we better get this post to Latimer Road (C3), via Overground, Jubilee from Canada Water to Baker Street, those vile stairs and passageways at Baker Street station, changing to the Hammersmith & City line, arriving a bit after half past ten.

The Wee Professor coughs. Actually, it was 10.37 am, IC.

Since Ladbroke Grove, the previous station, the tube line runs at the level of the Westway before it diverges south heading towards the southbound Shepherd’s Bush spur of the motorway. Either side there are drab tower blocks, old LCC flats, low sixties flats.

I rattle down the stairs from the platform to Latimer Road itself.

The shopping parade to the right of Latimer Road station. I decide to venture left. It seemed a good idea at the time.

The shopping parade to the right of Latimer Road station. I decide to venture left. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time.

There’s a group of workmen digging up the road, another group digging up the pavement, a third group strimming hedges nearby and numerous other groups behind hoardings digging away with diggers and pile-drivers. Two UPS drivers in their distinctive brown vans lock horns at a T-junction and bang on their horns. I’m walking along a little post-ironic shopping parade that includes a curiosity shop with a few tailor’s dummies – upper torsos only and no match for the display outside Abstracticus in Deptford (see Fear and Loathing in Dollis Hill).

Suddenly the owner shoots out of his shop, yelling into his mobile. He’s an angular chap, not unlike John Cleese and he’s in complete Basil Fawlty meltdown. ‘Don’t you ever listen to me, girl!’ he shouts, ‘He’s got no money!’ He scrunches his angular body into more angles, windmills his arms, prances up and down the pavement, knees hitting chin. He repeats himself twice before commenting in no uncertain terms on the low intelligence of the female with whom he is conversing.

I scurry past, eyes averted, past his shop, past him, past a fancy bathroom shop next door, past a fancy lighting shop, past The Phoenix Brewery which is now office units for the likes of ‘Frontline Artist Services’ and ‘Distiller Records’, past a Sixt rent-a-car shop and a coffee shop called ‘Armadillo Café’.

It’s a weird shopping parade to be parachuted among the blocks of council housing and a weird tangle of streets. There aren’t many pedestrians. Half of them are carrying polystyrene coffee cups. The other half are locals – Moslem women mainly, a decayed Rastafarian, a gentleman of a certain age wearing shorts (he should know better) – trying to be inconspicuous. They don’t want to jumped upon by Mr Fawlty.

I turn a corner and weird turns to weirder: post-modern office blocks – head-quarters for Monsoon, TalkTalk and Sixt shoehorned between a Travis Perkins builders merchants and waste land with Westfield Shepherd’s Bush looming over the motorway.

But there’s a lovely looking coffee bar in the Monsoon building and I fancy a coffee. I go in. Inside it’s all polished concrete, cavernous spaces, spotlights gloom and security turnstiles. I walk towards the reception desk and attempt a feeble joke. The receptionist has that ‘repel all boarder’s look in her eyes. I sympathise – only Monday morning and a visitation from Mr TubeforLOLs: how bad is that! There is, of course, no chance I can sup in their coffee bar, that’s for staff and guests only. But, the receptionist assures me, the café outside is better than theirs. She’s not being disloyal; she’s giving me the old heave-ho, version 53.

A quarter past eleven and I’m on the tube – Hammersmith and City to Baker Street, Bakerloo to Piccadilly Circus (the Jubilee suffering severe delays), then the Piccadilly line one stop east – bound for Leicester Square (D5), arriving at 11.55 am.

A representative view of Leicester Square station.

A representative view of Leicester Square station.

If it wasn’t on the Monopoly board, would there be any reason for even tourists to visit Leicester Square? It has had a makeover as part of the Olympics binge but it’s as sullen and so-this-is-it-ish? as ever. The gum-chewers have been expansive in the spreading of their gum-excreta on the paving. The pizza bars, burger bars, ticket bars are as one-eyed and tatty as ever. And they still haven’t finished restoring the Bard’s statue and fountain. There’s a couple canoodling under a tree, she straddling him, warming her hands in the midriff pocket of his hoodie. At least, I think that’s what she’s doing: warming her hands.

At noon, the clinky-clanky chimes over by what used to be the Swiss Centre, where the pavement artists ply their trade, ring out: What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?

Representative view of Leicester Square. Chap in blue top on left has just stood on some gum.

Representative view of Leicester Square. Chap in blue top on left has just stood on some gum.

I wander around trying to find some inspiration. I catch sight of the canoodlers. He’s indulging in a little Saatchi/Chavee behaviour. I know it looks worse than it is. Nope. It’s time to blow.

Five minutes later I’m sitting beside a city gent on the Central line. He’s in his patent leather black with grey stripes winkel-pickers and shiny blue suit and is telling his mate how he got off a drunk-drive charge. He’d noticed how the policeman looked away when he gave his first urine sample, so for his second he tipped a little water into the sample. His companion, with a face and voice as grizzled as Ray Winstone’s, laughs and they talk about £100,000 cars.

A change to the DLR at Bank and I’m at Lewisham (F7) at 1.00 pm. Lewisham station does without a parade of shops. It has a bus station in front where buses come from all over South London to chew the cud. Then they sally forth in convoys causing bus-jams equalled only in Oxford Street.

Bus Jam Heaven and Shrinking Violet Tower Blocks.

Bus Jam Heaven and Shrinking Violet Tower Blocks.

Lewisham centre is beyond the bus station, the jam, a roundabout from hell, so I won’t inform you about the street-market where you can buy, say, 17 limes for a pound. And I’ll forget to mention the little Italian deli where you can sometimes glimpse underemployed narrowboat captains scavenging for Sardinian pecorino.

Instead, turning left and sticking to the pavement, I advise lunching at Maggie’s. Despite the outdoor seating and continental airs (cappucino, wine) this is a throwback to the working man’s café of the 1980s. Unless you have more than half-an-hour’s dedicated food-shovelling time, follow the advice of the waiter and go for a small portion. This will strengthen your sinews sufficiently to enable you to view what must be the most courageous creative adventurous extraordinary awful abysmal architectural confection de nos jours.

It grabs you by the throat and it's not even an art gallery. The Wotsit Leisure Centre.

It grabs you by the throat and it’s not even an art gallery. The Wotsit Leisure Centre.

I understand that locally this is known as Elmer but this must surely do an injustice to the original Elmer, whoever he was.

Alas, there is no more time for you, dear reader, to view and no more words from me to describe the Quaggy or Ravensbourne Rivers which quag and culvert and bourne theirs ways south and eastwards.

Instead, for me, it’s onwards and northwards (DLR to Stratford, one hop north on the Central) to Leyton (B8).

Probably the best view in Leyton: the way out.

Probably the best view in Leyton: the way out.

I’m trying hard to put in a good word for Leyton but I can’t. I listen back to my commentary on my iPhone: ‘I’ve drawn the short straw today and Leyton is the shortest of the straws. I’ve just walked through a cloud of dust and smoke. It’s grimy here, it’s noisy, it’s congested. There’s nothing worthwhile, well, talking about. It’s not a place to visit. There’s an old guy, a care in the community guy, actually not all that old, tattered trousers, feet splayed out, looking very much a complete reject. It’s dispiriting  … Everything is here, there’s barbers, an [Islamic] bookshop, fastfood joints, chemists. I suppose if you live here you get used to it. People get used to everything … There’s a fruit-and-veg shop with its wares displayed facing the road across a narrow strip of pavement. I’d advise anyone buying their fruit and veg to wash them thoroughly. And I really don’t think, even though they’re wrapped in clingfilm, that you should dice with the watermelon slices.’

Twice I check my glasses in case they’re dirty. But no. It’s particulate heaven out there. I try the other way from the station and find it’s heading for the town centre proper. It’s better, but when my notes read ‘Retail park anchored by TK-Max and Asda is the dubious highlight’ you can tell it’s not that much better.

Illegible and incomprehensible sign on pavement by Leyton station. It reads:

Illegible and incomprehensible sign on pavement by Leyton station. It reads:

To get to my next station, I have to loop back through Stratford, West Ham and Barking (Central, Jubilee, District lines) before getting the Overground.

There’s a young woman and man opposite me on the Jubilee train. ‘I know my legs are big,’ she says, sucking at a straw stuck into an empty plastic beaker of Nero’s frappucino. ‘But do they, like, look like someone else’s legs in these?’ He looks straight ahead, trying to compose an answer. I would like to read love as well as pain (the difficulty of pitching the right answer) in his eyes, but perhaps that’s just me, hoping for the best. She steers the conversation into less loaded territory with a remark about women’s fashion generally. I get off at West Ham.

I’m disorientated when I get to Leyton Midland Road (B8) though in a different way from the last station. There’s a Christian bookshop, tyre place, minicab, MOT garage, a filling station, wholesale Homeware shop, a (closed) cycle shop, a Power and Hand Tool shop, ‘Platinum (which proclaims that it purveys ‘antiques and collectibles’ – well, there’s one word there that’s not a lie), a Polish delicatessan, Mauritian Delights (closed) …

Metal bashing near Leyton Midland Road.

Metal bashing near Leyton Midland Road.

In between this straggle of shops, there are clumps of pebble-dashed houses, decaying back-lots with boards announcing redevelopment. All is not lost: a quarter of a mile down the road there’s a local youth club with a lush cricket ground and sports facilities and decent looking houses beyond.

I turn back and walk past the station. The shops straggle on but they’re less bedraggled. There’s a brand-new Russian supermarket. I go in. Its shelves are full and neatly arranged, everything is clean and pristine. As long as you don’t look up (they haven’t finished installing the false ceiling), it’s immaculate. I ask Sasha, who works there, what are the best Russian specialities. He shows me aisles of dumplings filled with various meats, chill-counters groaning with hundreds of different sausages, slabs of pork fat from the Ukraine (‘Hmm … Very good.’ Sasha smacks his lips.) Eventually I settle on a bottle of Russian beer and ‘shredded squids’ which, apparently, are good to chew on with the beer.

I leave at 4.45 pm and get back to Forest Hill (Overground to Barking, District to West Ham, Jubilee to Canada Water, Overground south) at 5.50 pm. I walk back through the Albion Millennium Green. Cameron is mowing the undergrowth, a refreshing can awaiting him on a bench. Later, watching the tennis on TV, I try the beer and squids. The beer is good, the squids disgusting. An acquired taste. Like Latimer Road, Leicester Square and the two Leytons. Perhaps.

8 thoughts on “Four Short Straws (46/80)

  1. Steve Haywood

    Hey, Craig, watch it! These comments are not going unnoticed. Pecorino cheese! Is this some.sort of code?

    1. sandycraig2013 Post author

      Ah, do not read too much into my ramblings. As for pecorino, Fran is presently assembling that culinary delight known as a warm salad of beetroot, broad beans and pecorino cheese. And, as I think we both know, Sardinian pecorino is mightily esteemed throughout the civilised world.

  2. Peth

    Elmer the Elephant, the childrens book from which our new Hamman takes its monika, has withstood the test of several generations thus far. While I’m not sure whether the new baths will emulate this feat, it’s good to know that Lewisham council are hedging their Stirling Prize bets by also refurbishing the Playtower in Ladywell. This is a significant local landmark, with a castellated red brick tower which also housed baths but will now be used as a community centre.

    1. sandycraig2013 Post author

      Elmer the Elephant, what! And here I was thinking that it was something to do with Elmer Gantry. As in the anti-hero of the novel by Sinclair Lewis of a college athlete (thus the connection with a leisure centre) who tries out being a lawyer, hits the bottle, abandons the legal profession, tries lots of other things, becomes a minister and – one way or the other – is party to the downfall, injury and death of many around him. But he marries well, gets a large congregation and lives happily ever after. But Elmer the Elephant I haven’t come across. I’ll check him out. Is he any good with alligators?
      Good news that the Playtower in Ladywell is being refurbished.

  3. Peth

    The full title is actually Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. You must purchase a copy and read to grandchildren forthwith. To quote from the oracle that is Wikipedia – Elmer is an elephant who has a colourful body, with yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, green, black and white arranged as a patchwork. He has a cheerful and optimistic personality, and he loves practical jokes.
    The stories are suitable for early exploration of the themes and issues relating to the concept of diversity, as Elmer discovers that when he tries to change his appearance in order to ‘blend in’ with the other elephants, they no longer recognise him, or accept him as one of their own. This makes Elmer sad, and he experiences how it feels to be treated like an outcast, after being ostracised by his old friends. It’s only when it begins to rain, and the grey paint that Elmer has covered himself with starts to disappear, that Elmer’s ‘true colours’ are revealed, much to the surprise and delight of his friends, who preferred his multicoloured and fun loving persona. Following their happy reunion, the elephants reassure Elmer that they love him because of his differences, and not in spite of them, and they celebrate by painting themselves in multi-coloured paint, in recognition of Elmer’s unique appearance and personality.

    When you see the illustration you will clearly see that Lewisham planning department have instructed the architect to subliminally underline this heartening and important message through their design.

    1. sandycraig2013 Post author

      I will head for Sydenham Bookshop forthwith and get / order a copy. And if, subliminally or not, Lewisham planners instructed the architect accordingly then it gives a new, and delightfully creative, spin to Political Correctness.


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