Tuesday 6 August – Morden (Square F4 on the Tube map), MORNINGTON CRESCENT!!! (B5), Mudchute (E7), Neasden (B3), Newbury Park (B9), New Cross (E7)
Today’s the big day – the assault on Mornington Crescent. In preparation I have commandeered my son’s Hawaian shirt, enlisted my daughter as Official Photographer and single-handedly held at bay the bankruptcy of HMV by buying up their stocks of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and Humphrey Lyttelton (Humph) CDs. The Wee Professor, as Chief Intelligence Officer, has been researching ISIHAC’s ‘game’ Mornington Crescent.
Coincidentally the post this morning brings a postcard from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales. The card shows the lido at Rhyl. Mrs Trellis writes: Why are you bothering with all those silly tube stations? Come to the seaside instead.
The Inner Curmudgeon is throwing skillets and saucepans at the kitchen wall. It’s totally ridiculous, he growls. Mornington Crescent! You’ll be lucky if 5% of your readers have heard of ISIHAC and Mornington Crescent.
Unfortunately, before Mornington Crescent, there’s the minor inconvenience of Morden – not somewhere out of the darker recesses of The Lord of the Rings but an unassuming suburb at the southern end of the Northern line.
Becca and I are at Forest Hill for the 9.50 am Overground. It’s sunny, the skies are blue. We transfer to the Jubilee at Canada Water and the Northern line at London Bridge. As we sway south on the Northern line, the WP informs me that ISIHAC has been broadcast on BBC radio since April 1972 and that it describes itself as ‘the antidote to panel games’. He cannot, he says, be certain whether this is meaningful since there does not appear to be a listed medical condition caused by panel games. The games are linguistic, musical and nonsensical. Mornington Crescent is a nonsensical game where the contestants list underground stations, roads and neighbourhoods in London until one says ‘Mornington Crescent’ whereupon the game usually ends. Mornington Crescent, The Wee Professor intones, purports to follow a complicated set of rules often made more complex by additional variant rules. However, he observes, a meta-analysis of a sample of 216 games (1977 to 1995) shows a correlation coefficient of 0.07 (p = 0.031) for the hypothesis ‘There are no rules’ indicating a 95.0% chance that this is statistical significant. He pauses for breath.
Hah! I say. In other words there are no rules! I ponder some. That’s like a metaphor for life, I say. We think there are loads of rules but probably there aren’t any.
The Wee Professor looks at me warily. He is uneasy around words like ‘metaphor’ or ‘life’.
There’s a moan that fills the carriage. It’s The Inner Curmudgeon. Put a sock in it, Wee Prof. It’s only a bloody game. All you’re doing is encouraging him, he says, meaning me.
I have decided that I will approach Mornington Crescent following Galashiels rules. The first of these states that I must not take a book or written material of any sort with me. Instead I must listen to ISIHAC with occasional bursts from Humph’s cornet.
We arrive at Morden (Square F4) at 10.50 am. I did consultancy work for Merton Council (housed in the big ugly building to one side of Morden) in the nineties but it’s been ten years since I was here. Morden is much as I remember – a small town centre with a good range of chains and local shops and a big Sainsburys, its red-bricked back turned to the town centre – but with more charity, coffee and betting shops.
It’s sunny and warm. We wander into Morden Hall Park and watch wordlessly in wonder at the Wandle.
I decide a cup of tea is in order. We go into the courtyard of the National Trust’s Visitor Centre but the café is closed. It depends on the weather, two old ladies inform me. They only open it if it’s sunny, they say. They think it’s ridiculous. I look up at the sky. I think it’s ridiculous. Plus, it’s sunny. I wonder whether I’m trapped in some game from ISIHAC.
On our way back to the tube, I spot an East European shop. Its sign says: Daiya’Shop with the ‘s’ acting both as the ‘s’ after the apostrophe in ‘Daiva’s’ and the ‘S’ as in ‘Shop’. I enter and ask the person behind the counter if she’s Daiva. She is and she hails from Lithuania. I praise her on her appropriate use of the apostrophe. Better than many English people can manage, I say. She looks baffled at my compliment but recovers quickly, offering us generous tasting slices of salami and smoked ham.
They’re excellent. We end up buying some of both, plus three Tupla Maxis. These look like slimline Mars bars but, according to Becca who bought one in Finland years ago, they don’t taste like Mars bars.
Back at Mordor station all the trains go via Bank – they don’t go direct to Mornington Crescent. That’s OK. Under Galashiels rules we have to approach Mornington Crescent from the north.
You’re making these silly rules up as you go along, growls The Inner Curmudgeon as we get off at Camden Town. I ignore him. My mind is on weightier, more important matters. We take a southbound Charing Cross train at Camden Town. We arrive at Mornington Crescent (B5) at 12.34.37 pm.
Becca orders a photo-shoot on the platform. 173 photos later we take the lift to ticket-hall level where even more photos are snappy-snappled.
I’m about to step onto the pavement at Mornington Crescent when I remember: under Galashiels rules I cannot exit the station. If I do, the game ends. If the game ends, TubeforLOLs ends.
Do it, Craig! Do it! shouts The Inner Curmudgeon. Then we’ll be shot of this miserable, pointless, lunatic escapade.
I step back quickly and beep my way in through the turnstiles. There’s a plaque to Willie Rushton on the back wall. I walk upto the Station Attendant – whom I’ll call Steve. Steve takes a step back. I’d noticed before that the seats beside me on the tubes have emptied, that people seem to prefer to stand at the far end of the carriage. Becca’s theory is that people think that I’m a straggler from Care in the Community, I’m out on day-release, and that she’s my minder. She says, It’s your hooting, snorting and laughing with your headphones on that’s upsetting them. Well. Upsetting them the most.
In a gesture of conciliation I lower my ‘cans’ and ask Steve if they get many pilgrims to the station. He answers cautiously, We get a lot of gentlemen of, how shall I put it, a certain age. Most just come in and pose here – he indicates a spot in front of the Willie Rushton plaque – then they’re off. Many don’t even go down to the platforms. I explain to him about TubeforLOLs. That’s an old Tube map you have there, he says, spotting the top of my map in my breast-pocket. Aha! I counter, No, this is my Bible. This is The Map I must follow, the December 2012 Map. Steve backs away. Clearly, he’s thinking: This codger is on day-release. Becca steers me towards the lift.
Our next stop is Mudchute (E7) way down in the Isle of Dogs on the DLR. It takes us 45 minutes (Charing Cross branch of Northern line to Euston, then Bank branch to Bank, then DLR towards Lewisham). We arrive at 1.40 pm. The station is the usual minimilist DLR affair: three Oyster readers, a map and that’s your lot.
We meet Fran (my wife), Harry (Becca’s husband) and my delightful grandchildren, Iris and Hazel and have a picnic and eat two Tuplas. They (the Tuplas, that is) taste more like Milky Ways with a long finish of nutty bits than Mars bars.
Half of London is enjoying Mudchute Farm – picnicing, feeding the animals, strolling around, riding on ponies, milking the goats. But, though it would be good to stay, TubeforLOLs calls. Becca gathers Hazel into the sling – she will accompany us for the next two stations.
It takes an hour to get to Neasden (B3) – DLR to Canary Wart, Luverly-Juberly line the rest of the way. We arrive at a little after quarter past four. Neasden was one of those stations I wasn’t sure whether I’d visited or not.
It’s clear as soon as we arrive that I hadn’t. I would have remembered Neasden. Anyone visiting Neasden would remember Neasden. It’s, well, it’s … well, how can I put this kindly? Like Harlesden? (See post, Upon a peak in Darien.)
No, I think it’s best to fall back on Wittgensteins’ aphoristic conclusion to the Tractatus: ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ Besides it’s a place where people live and work. It’s not a place that people visit, or at least not much. Seeing us scrutinizing the local map in the station, the Station Attendant hands us a small typed note. This gives directions to IKEA and the Neasden Temple. That, with Wittgenstein, about sums Neasden up.
We take the Jubilee line all the way to Stratford. The Inner Curmudgeon gets increasingly crotchety. You know, Becca says, I’ve got an Inner Curmudgeon. I think I got him from yours.
This is what ex-colonials call a ‘curve-ball’. Long suffering readers will remember my summary of Neo-Darwinism – that basically we humans are but giant robots controlled by our genes. The bleak thought hits me: forget genes, perhaps we’re at the mercy of our Inner Curmudgeons, perhaps it’s the ICs that are controlling us, ensuring their own survival from generation to generation?
I look queryingly at Hazel: is she but a vehicle for a future Inner Curmudgeon?
She doesn’t look as though she’s possessed by an Inner Curmudgeon. She’s having a ball. She’s clambering around her seat, looking out at her reflection, eating her Maisy’s First Toys book, laughing, walking up and down the carriage (hands hooked into Becca’s fingers), eating The Metro. The headline Owners of killer dogs could face life in jail goes down particularly well.
We change onto the Central line and arrive at Newbury Park (B9) at six o’clock. We fall into discussion with a Station Attendant about their floral display which includes a scarecrow called, well, let’s call him ‘Paul’.
What’s happened to Paul? I ask, pointing at the scarecrow. Paul? he replies, What d’you mean, ‘what’s happened to Paul?’ It’s amazing how quickly the tension can rise when Mr TubeforLOLs is around. I’m Paul, the Station Attendant continues. Apparently, his colleagues have called the scarecrow after him because they think it looks like him. I can’t be one hundred percent certain but I don’t think Paul is too enamoured of this. We beat a hasty retreat.
Outside the station, the three-lane dual carriageway, the A12, is in full snarl-up mode. We walk to the local centre about a third of mile to the west. It’s part the usual suspects, part huge decorated sheds housing B&Q, Toys’R’Us, JD Sports and the ilk. But in the back streets it’s quiet, peaceful. People, mainly Asians, are sitting out in the local War Memorial Park or outside their houses or on stretches of hard landscaping at the backs of flats. Sitting out, chatting, resting, snoozing … I quite like it … It’s at this point I wake up: Becca is slapping my face. She’s a midwife is Becca, she’s got a diploma in slapping.
Forty minutes later, at 7.20 pm we arrive at Canada Water – Central line to Stratford, Jubilee from there. The first train is for New Cross and I decide I’ll bag it. Becca settles for heading home to Peckham. She’s exhausted, it’s all that slapping. Hazel is as bright as the proverbial clothes-fastener.
At 7.25 pm I arrive at New Cross (E7). It’s a quarter of a mile east of New Cross Gate – though why New Cross has two tube stations has always been a minor mystery to me. I walk east towards the Albany Empire in Deptford. I knew this well in the seventies and eighties. One of its leading lights – indeed, a leading light of British alternative theatre – was Jenny Harris. I saw her last summer when she was speaking at a London Bubble conference. Afterwards, she asked me to contact her, she wanted to talk about photographer Chris Schwarz’s archive. (See post Thought for the Day …) Sadly, Jenny passed away late last year. Back in New Cross, my thoughts take on an autumnal cast.
But there’s too much going on, and the weather is too balmy, for such thoughts to last. I walk back to the station, past the big newish Health Centre with its own allotments. Around the back, NO OUTSIDERS is painted on a derelict Victorian house. Across the road, there’s a Victorian school which now houses a Community Education Centre. It’s called the Mornington Centre. The day has come full circle. If I’d got out at Mornington Crescent I’d never have got here, to Mornington Centre.
And then it hits me. I realise what I’m feeling: a sense of accomplishment. I’ve reached Mornington Crescent and I’m glowing with achievement. I’m standing on New Cross Road – the gritty, grimy A2 – while opposite the sun is lighting up the Amersham Arms and I’m basking in a glorious sensation of fulfilment.
I shake my head trying to dislodge this warm fuzziness. To achieve fulfilment from this preposterous, absurd, boring TubeforLOLs journeying? That’s ridiculous. I shake my head again, vigorously, but I can’t shift the feeling.
8.20 pm and I’m on the train (Overground north to Surrey Quays, change to West Croydon / Crystal Palace branch of Overground) at 8.20 pm. I’m home by 9.00 pm. Gracious me, I haven’t felt this good since … since …