Monday 1 July – Leytonstone (Square B8 on the Tube map), Leytonstone High Road (B8), Limehouse (D7), Liverpool Street (C6), London Bridge (D6)
You can’t call this post THAT, bawls The Inner Curmudgeon, puffing out his chest and pointing up at the post’s title. Why not? I reply. Because, The IC answers, with all your recent witherings about snogging, it will give readers the wrong impression. Metaphorically-speaking, I eyeball him. You are, IC, underestimating the intelligence, sweet temper and all-round calibre of my readership.
He heaves round on another tack. Besides, apart from a pigeon or two, you haven’t seen any birds on this journey! And not a solitary bee!! Not! A! Single! One! I am about to waive away this objection when there is a muted cough from The Wee Professor. I freeze – metaphorically again, it’s a warm going on hot day – in my tracks. I have a horrible feeling that the pair of them have chosen this moment to gang up on me.
The IC has a point, The Wee Professor begins, though only, of course, up to a point. He waits. If he’s expecting a steamed-up Mr TubeforLOLs and an IC dispensing exclamation marks to cheer him for a half-hearted joke like that, well …
The Wee Professor blushes. I think we are all agreed that our readership expect a smattering of verisimilitude to your postings, Mr Craig, to add to their stock of factual learning. That, of course, and thoughtful insights into this great city of London – its communities, economy, social welfare and habits, and the over-arching issues facing it.
What! I splutter, appalled at the thought. You two think this blog is supposed to be about knowledge and learning?
I get the 10.19 am, changing at Canada Water on to the Jubilee line east to Stratford, then the Central line for two stops east.
The Metro’s headline bewilders: Find this man It’s about a man called Michael Cope, the ‘main’ suspect for the murder of Linzi Ashton.
I turn to the books I am reading. The first is Dave Goulson’s delightful, laugh-out-loud study of the bumblebee, A Sting in the Tale. Mr Goulson, as well as being a top-rate scientist and naturalist is a bumbler of Mr TubeforLOLs’ dimensions. In between Mr Goulson’s escapades and descriptions, I sip at the nectar of Kathleen Jamie’s haunting poetry in The Overhaul. Jamie is both a top-notch poet and travel writer. She is in top form here with poems of swifts, hawks, sheep-tupping, a young eagle, a beached boat.
That, if I may say, grunts The Inner Curmudgeon, is your flimsiest back-up for a post’s title yet!
I ignore him. The world looks better when I have books like these to read and, despite my experience with the Leytons (see last post, Four Short Straws), I’m looking forward to Leytonstone station (B8).
I arrive a little before eleven and am bowled over by the station itself – it’s a homage to Alfred Hitchcock: there are mosaics of his films on the walls of the passages leading to street-level. I admire the mosaic of one of my favourite Hitchcock films, The Birds, but forget to take its photo.
There’s someone ahead of me taking photos of the mosaics. Unlike me, he’s dedicated to his task, carefully framing every mosaic. It turns out he’s Turkish, is in London for a conference, at which he’s given a paper, and is now taking a couple of days looking around London before returning to Istanboul. He’s in Leytonstone as the first stop of Time Out’s Alfred Hitchcock trail. Well, I think, that is certainly one way to gain a different understanding of London. Why didn’t I think of doing something like that back in January? Literary London perhaps: research it, then tube it in alphabetic order – Ackroyd, Blake, Conan Doyle, Defoe, Dickens … finishing with Israel Zangwill.
My Turkish friend and I talk about the street protests against Prime Minister Erdogan that started in Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanboul and are being viciously put down by Erdogan’s police force. I think Erdogan has succumbed to the disease that afflicts all rulers after a time – monomania, megalomania, sheer bonkersdom: think Thatcher or Blair. He thinks that Erdogan is only now showing his true face, that he is now interfering in everything, telling people how many children they should have …
As though they don’t already know about the birds and the bees! snorts The Inner Curmudgeon. I raise a querying eyebrow.
I wish my Turkish friend well and go take a decco at Leystonstone. Again, I’m pleasantly surprised. It helps that the streets beside the tube station are semi-pedestrianized and that Leystonstone High Road, just around the corner, has been one-wayed with wide pavements, hanging baskets, new tree planting, up-market street lamps and furniture, and an arresting but anonymous lump of street sculpture. It helps too, of course, that the sun is out.
Next stop up – after fifty minutes of tube ramblings via the Central, Jubilee, (‘severe delays’) District and finally Overground lines – is Leytonstone High Road (B8). In the interests of increasing the stock of readers’ knowledge, I should explain that this branch of the Overground (Barking to Gospel Oak) doesn’t go in for the bourgeois concept of ‘the railway station’. There’s platforms upstairs, steps down (handrails currently being painted a bright orange at LHR), lifts (very optional) and, in the arches under the railway – yellow Oyster blippers, a map of the Tube, a local information map (optional), a bicycle rack (optional), a portakabin pretending to be a ticket office (often closed), a phalanx of ticket inspectors and police (optional, though surprisingly frequent) and a couple of day-time drinkers / pan-handlers (optional but unsurprisingly frequent).
LHR has a local map with a circle showing how far you can walk in five minutes. I’m approximately six minutes walk from Leystonstone station.
Sure enough – the station’s name gives a clue – I’m on Leytonstone High Road and can see the edge of Leytonstone Town Centre. At this stage in its career, the LHR is uncertain whether it’s still supposed to be a shopping street or the quickest way out of Leytonstone. It’s got a scraggle of the usual miserable shops. Opposite there’s a huge blasted shuttered-up block that looks like something out of Grozny circa 1999 or Aleppo 2013. But fear not on my behalf, gentle reader. It’s a massive TFC – a Turkish Food Centre where you will find prices lower than at UK supermarkets and a vastly superior selection of fresh fruit, veg and Mediterranean delicacies.
I admire the plump gleaming tomatoes, courtesy of poly-tunnels and the bumblebee – the bumble having replaced workers with vibrating wands as pollinators; they’re more efficient, give better quality tomatoes and are vastly cheaper. Then I salivate over the 57 varieties of baklava and pastry dripping with honey. But really what I want is a good cheese sandwich and, regrettably, I’ve left my camping stove behind so can’t fry up any of the tempting halloumi.
Fifty minutes later, travelling via the Overground (back to Barking), the District (‘severe delays’), Jubilee (one stop West Ham to Canning Town) and DLR, I arrive at Limehouse (D7).
Somehow I hadn’t clocked that Limehouse station is bang up against the Commercial Road at its junction with the Rotherhithe Tunnel Approach Road. Back in the seventies eighties and nineties, when I travelled up and down the CR – on foot, bus, Transit, moped, car – it won the UK Dirtiest Road of the Year Award, year in year out. Alas, New Labour did away with that award. Apparently, it wasn’t aspirational enough. Nevertheless I can confirm it’s still a stinking stonking snorting smelly dirt-encrusted ‘High Road’ though it’s now but a decayed shadow of its former grandeur.
Take a step north, however, and there are neat flat-fronted Victorian workmen’s terraces, their front doors leading onto the pavement, trim immaculate squares and old-fashioned pubs (which do not seem to offer food).
Or, if you’ve nothing better to do, turn south towards Limehouse Basin, forty years ago a thriving dock, now a motor-boat and narrowboat park. The place to go, obviously, if you’re on a narrow-boat.
If you are there as a pedestrian you will be enchanted by two ‘retail outlets’ – a vast estate agents and a glossy tooth-whitening-and-straightening outfit called UltraSmile. Now, that’s what I call aspirational!
It takes all of ten minutes (DLR to Bank, one stop east on the Central) to get to Liverpool Street station (C6). It’s almost three o’clock and I’m starving. The station itself is a fine Victorian number spoiled by a plastic mezzanine level dedicated to shopping and betting. I drift westwards through Broadgate Circus, the uber-eighties’ City development. I drift southwards past the racket of Crossrail. I peer upwards at the skyscrapers looking for kestrels but the only lurkers up there are CCTV cameras. I drift back eastwards and find an Italian sandwich bar.
I sit and have an acceptable mozzarella etc. panini, dipping into Goulson and Jamie. Quite frankly, I’m preparing to sling my hook and venture onwards. Once you’ve seen one gherkin, you’ve seen the lot. But then I remember a friend recommending The Bishopsgate Institute. I pause a moment in Bishopsgate Churchyard and spot another pigeon …
You’re scraping the barrel, sonnie, mutters The Inner Curmudgeon. You wouldn’t have got away with a comment like that before lunch.
The Bishopsgate Institute is an old-school educational institution housed in a Grade 11* building. The staff are friendly and informative: the collections are free to everyone, their summer discussions include Modern Day Protest with, amongst others, Trenton Oldfield – the guy who disrupted the Boat Race last year and whom the British State has vindictively pursued first with a prison sentence and now with threats of deportation.
But the buttercream icing on my cup-cake is the reading room. I have a field day scanning their shelves. They have a huge collection on everything London: books, pamphlets, photos, press-cuttings and maps. It stops me in my tube tracks: I could have spent many a happy hour here researching London. And I could have packed to bulging the pollen-bags on my legs with London knowledge and fed this protein-rich erudition, post by post, to you dear reader. Instead of which, I tramp from one saturated-fat-and-corn-syrup-rich local shopping parade to another, with you virtually following at my non-virtual heels.
But time waits for no codger and, after a happy half hour at the Bishopsgate, I scarper for my last station of the day, London Bridge (D6), all of ten minutes away on the Central and Northern (City branch) lines.
I avoid the mainline station itself. It’s quite the worst mainline station in London but it’s going through a make-over and I have hopes that it will improve. I’m not going to attempt the Shard – I get vertigo just looking up at it. I scurry through the Borough Market: foodie institution, parody of itself or tourist trap? It’s too Farrow & Ball for me – I give it a miss.
It’s so cheesey, moans The Inner Curmudgeon. He goes to London Bridge and heads straight for Neal’s Yard Dairy …
… Where I spend a happy twenty minutes talking halloumi made in Bermondsey and purchasing cheddar from the Isle of Mull and toothsome Lancashire.
I leave London Bridge at 5.15 pm and arrive home at Forest Hill at 5.40 pm. Here, by chance, I meet Adam from the Bubble Theatre. The Bubble are doing a schools’ project in the Albion Millennium Green and he’s looking for people to be parakeets. I’m sure I’d be the bees-knees at being a parakeet. But, alas, I’ll be on holiday. Adam and I buzz off our separate ways.
As I walk through the Albion Millennium Green I’m thinking maybe there’s more hope for the world with the birds and the bees than there is with people. But then I think: there’s some hope for the world with people like Goulson, Jamie, Trenton Oldfield, my Turkish friend and the millions like them, even though there’s also people like Prime Minister Erdogan and our own Vindictive Establishment. I’m also trying to spot the tits and woodpeckers that nest in the Green, but I see no birds, no bees of any description. Apparently there are over 130 different species of birds in London. I’ve managed only four today: herring gull, pigeon, sparrow, duck.
Squawk! squawks The Inner Curmudgeon. I hate to admit it but he’s a better parrakeet than I am.