Wednesday 21 August – Paddington (Square C3 on the Tube map), Park Royal (C2), Parsons Green (E3), Peckham Rye (E3), Penge West (F6)
I’m trying hard to follow the words of wisdom of de Tocqueville in A Three Pipe Problem, two posts ago. I’m trying to focus not on the journey but on each station in turn. But it’s hard. My mind is always leaping ahead – Parsons Green, what’s that going to be like? Will it be illuminating or clerically-challenging? At least I’ve never been to Parsons Green. But take Paddington. I’ve been to Paddington scores of times. What on earth am I going to do at Paddington that’s new and different? How, dear reader, am I going to keep you, if not educated and informed, at least entertained?
There is a gentle cough in the background. Please don’t think I mean to upbraid you, Sandy, says The Wee Professor politely, but …
My heart sinks.
It’s not only the stations you must take one by one (The Wee Professor continues). It’s the descriptions of what happens at each one you must take one by one. You must try not to shape them into stories …
Stories! interrupts The Inner Curmudgeon. Tall tales, more like. Old Salty Dog yarns! Fictions, fantasies and fabrications!
The Wee Professor waits until The IC runs out of steam then continues. Most of all, you must try not to bend those individual stories into an overarching narrative. Of course, it’s sometimes possible to do so. But you’re ignoring the advice of Mr Nate Silver in The Signal and the Noise. In this era of ‘big data’ there is so much noise hiding what’s meaningful, obscuring the signal, and it’s so easy to detect patterns in the noise. But these aren’t meaningful. They are distractions.
Harrumph! The IC harrumphs. You’ve nailed his tail there, Wee Prof. Nailed the tail on the Donkey!
I stand – or rather, sit in the 9.49 am Overground – abashed and corrected. Outside, it’s a warm sunny day. Inside, it’s cool – I’m already appreciating the Overground’s air-conditioning. The Metro headline is: Cuffed and awaiting their fate This is about the drugs mules, Melissa Ried and Michaela McCollum, in Peru. I find the ‘a’ in ‘awaiting’ curious. Why is it there? What does it insinuate? Or is it merely noise?
I turn to my book. The great American novelist Elmore Leonard has just died and, as a token of respect, I’ve picked up one of his books, Mr Majestyk, to read today. Leonard is normally slotted into the ‘crime writer’ pigeon-hole but I think he’s something more than that. I think he invented the whole genre of ‘caper story’. With Mr Majestyk you know for sure from page one that he’s going to meet with a heap of trouble and you’re pretty sure he’s going to get out of it but you don’t have a clue how he’s going to do it. No matter, you’re in for the ride.
Enough. Back to Paddington. Or rather, my approach to Paddington. I’m not going to go the fast way (change at Canada Water to the Jubilee and Baker Street for the Bakerloo line). I’m taking the slow train – the Overground to Whitechapel, changing onto the Hammersmith & City line through to Brunel’s Great Railway Terminus (Square C3 on the Tube map). Sure enough it takes an hour rather than 45 minutes.
So why, you ask, why does Mr TubeforLOLs take the slow train? Is he trying to start a new movement in travelling – Slow Journeying – something like Slow Food or Slow Gin? Is this another puff for Gauthier de Clagny and his From Paris to Nice in Eighty Days? No. It’s because I want to enter Brunel’s Great Railway Terminus itself, not via some underground warren: unlike the Bakerloo or Victoria branch of the Circle and District lines, the Hammersmith & City line is an integral part of Brunel’s Great Railway Terminus.
For several milliseconds I bask in the glow of my good idea. I take a number of boring photos of Paddington platforms. Then, wondering what to do next, I make for the nearest exit, scratching furtively at the insect bites on my leg, and step out onto the extended towpath of the Paddington Basin arm of the Grand Union Canal. Which is fine except that I’ve also stumbled into Architects’ Brochure Land, a land where the sun always shines, where two-dimensional cut-outs go positively about their business, where the narrowboats are titivated to within an inch of their lives, where Leibniz’s Best Of All Possible Worlds has turned into Zombie Reality.
Hah! snorts The Inner Curmudgeon. Now you know what The Wee Professor and I feel like! Now you know what if feels like being cardboard cut-outs!
I shy away from this dystopia. There’s a youngish guy in a seventies hairdo, pale yellow t-shirt and long navy blue shorts hoisting a spinnaker (or something nautical, don’t ask me, I know nothink nautical) on an ugly little cruiser with a tarpaulin top. It looks as though it could have been built by British Leyland on an off-day between Austin Allegros.
I saunter over. It’s called Labour Rose and the guy hoisting the spinnaker is a Labour Councillor at Harrow. Nothing ever happens in August in local authorities, he tells me. Or on Fridays. He’s called Willie, he’s the Chair of Planning and the big thing he has coming up is a Planning Committee looking at Barnet Football Club. This is no longer at Barnet, it’s squatting over the border in Harrow. Worse, it’s built a stadium and floodlighting and forgot about getting planning permission first. The locals are up-in-arms. Conflict like that doesn’t seem to worry Willie. I ask him what it’s like being a local councillor. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, he says. He laughs and returns to spinning his hoistaker.
I’m back on the tube, the Circle line towards Victoria, en route to my next station when the young lady on the intercom announces, ‘The next station is Shepherd’s Bush Market.’ Oh no, I think. I’ve got on the wrong branch of the Circle, the bit that isn’t a circle, the bit that’s a dead-end dog-leg to Hammersmith. I needn’t worry. It’s only noise, a gremlin in the system, not another part of my cerebellum crumbling.
I change at Gloucester Road for the Piccadilly and get to Park Royal (C2) at 12.15 pm. It’s taken 35 minutes. The station, a new one to me, is parked on a curve off the steaming A40 dual-carriageway. I take a forbidding subway under it north towards Park Royal industrial estate.
I’m into edgelands – a huge gaunt closed-down broken-windowed factory, stretches of dank ugly woodland sectioned-off with fencing topped with rusting barbed wire and this moss-streaked concrete footpath over the Central line heading towards Hangar Lane. Strangely there’s a steady trickle of executive types dressed in business-wear. A few minutes later I understand why: the landscape changes to regulation business-park trim and Diageo, complete with mandatory atrium, stands – offices akimbo – ahead.
I turn back. I won’t bother you with descriptions of the off-beat, slightly upmarket shopping parade at Park Royal except to say that, if you’re a fan of Boden couture and don’t fancy hitting the malls, there’s a shop of theirs here.
It’s hot in the Piccadilly tube. There’s a District line train at Barons Court and I shuffle quickly across the platform. The Piccadilly tube snorts off. The District line train stays mute and motionless. A little while later another Piccadilly tube snuffles in. I hop back onto it. I change at Earl’s Court and get a District line to Wimbledon for Parsons Green (E3) arriving at 1.25 pm. It’s taken forty minutes.
What can I say about Parsons Green? Well, the station itself has as many bikes parked outside it as Canonbury had. Local shopping includes the Co-op, Waitrose and Budgens plus bistros and champagne bars – no prizes for guesing the local demographic. Put it on your itinerary if you are re-modelling your house and have £100,000+ to spare – flooring, carpentry, kitchen work-tops, loft extensions, bathrooms, art prints for your wall, you name it, you can get them all here. At a price.
I retreat to a local café, the Manhattan Café, and have an excellent home-made vegetarian quiche with lentil and butternut squash salad. Recommended. Except, beware the cuckoo clock. I was mid-bite when two o’clock came around. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! It pinged in a loud high-pitched annoyingly-chirpy whistle. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo! There were three of us in the café at the time. We all stopped eating, knives and forks poised mid-air, mouths agape. It finally stopped after 14 Cuckoos! Ah, of course, a Swiss Cuckoo Clock on a 24 hour day.
I’m off, two stops north on the District line, change to the Overground to Clapham Junction, then the Overground towards Highbury & Islington via Canada Water. Ahh! The Overground! Smooth, quiet, cool – delightfully cool! Meantime Mr Majestyk is in a pile of trouble: he’s gotten on the wrong side of gangster and hitman, Frank Renda. Renda is the kind of guy you don’t even want to be on the right side of. Still Majestick has definitely got the girl … I’m sorry, very non PC of me … is definitely in a relationship of equals with the female lead, Nancy Chavez.
I recommend everyone visits Peckham at least once in their lives. If you want vibrancy, life lived in the raw, a quick view of how the other half lives and shops, this is the place for you. Peckham Rye (E6) takes you straight to the heart of Peckham. On each side of Rye Lane (Peckham’s High Street) and in the Indoor Market and the Aylsham Centre you’ll see things for sale that even The Lakeland Catalogue doesn’t know exist. The next day you’ll wonder if you were only dreaming. But no, it was all true. Harrods boasts that you can buy anything and everything there. If Peckham got round to boasting, it could justifiably claim the same. The difference, of course, is that Harrods and Peckham are alternate universes. You can buy everything at both. Just different everythings at wildly different prices. Plus: normal definitions of shopping do not apply in Peckham.
I take the Overground north one stop to Surrey Quays and then change onto the West Croydon branch southwards. I’m at Penge West (F6) at 4.15 pm. There’s a friendly local policeman fingering the collars of multiple fare dodgers at the exit to the station. I ask him the way to Crystal Palace Park.
Ten minutes later, after a couple of wrong turns – one into the least salubrious location in Penges West and East, I’m in the Park and communing with nature.
The sun is shining, Mr Majestyk is getting the better of Renda, but I’m worried. The water level of the lake is right down. It would be easy enough for a full-throated Leviathan to make its way from its island into the park itself. Pausing only to dab my insect bites, I move hastily on. I am hailed by a group of four young teenagers. Hey, Mister, are the dinosaurs near here? Are they real dinosaurs?
Well, I say, they’re up that way. As for whether they are real, you’ll have to see for yourself. But, I continue lowering my voice, be careful!
But are they real?
Put it this way, I reply. You remember the Bible? The Old Testament?
One of the guys nods his head warily.
Well, the Bible talks about a sea-monster, the Leviathan, in the Book of Job. That was written about three thousand years ago. Most people think Levaithan was a whale but scholars beg to differ. Leviathan wasn’t a whale but the ancient alligator enemy of the Egyptian Sun God. So, if it was alive then, why not now?
One of the girls intervenes. Yeah, like, sure. But are there any modern animals around? I mean, like, pigs.
I direct them towards the City Farm and turn round and head home. I mean, Leviathan threatens and the young people are interested only in pigs? I blame the politicians. I leave Penge West at 5.20 pm. I’m on the last chapter of Mr Majestyk. That’s one of the great things about Elmore Leonard – you can read a whole novel in a day of TubesforLOLing. That’s a mighty relief from all those stuffy tomes I’ve been reading.
I get back to Forest Hill five minutes later. I won’t give away the ending to Mr Majestyk. But watch out for Leviathan.