Tuesday 27 August – Preston Road (Square B3 on the Tube map), Prince Regent (D9), Pudding Mill Lane (C8), Putney Bridge (E3), Queensbury (A3), Queen’s Park (B3)
No multiple Londons vying for my attention today like a badly-shuffled deck of cards. Though today’s stations are, unfortunately but not unusually, dispersed rather too widely across this Great Metropolis and I am jostled, bounced and baked on the Jubilee, District, DLR and the (aptly named) Bakerloo; swayed, rocked and kept toasted nicely at medium heat (despite the best efforts of their air-conditioning) on Overground and Metropolitan lines for almost six hours today. I spend my three and a half hours visiting the stations’ neighbourhoods – observing, evaporating, taking on water, evaporating some more.
But shadows hang over the day, not eased by The Wee Professor’s statistical dissection of history. Aye! The Inner Curmudgeon explodes. And not helped either by your over-stuffed metaphors!
I’m at Forest Hill shortly after 9.30 am. It’s cool, the sky a cap of grey but sun is forecast for later in the morning. The Metro’s headline today is terse: Putin tells West: Stay out of Syria I prepare myself for a long read of Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger. The Wee Professor has brought along Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. He is taking issue with the last chapter which applies statistics to terrorism. His beef with Silver is two-fold. First that, unlike in his other discussions, Silver hasn’t assembled as full a data-series as he could, and should, have done – his statistics are based on ‘Terror Attack Frequency by Death Toll in Nato Countries, 1979 – 2009’. And second he queries Silver’s implicit assumption that the severity of the attack can be measured by the number of immediate deaths.
On 28 June 1914, The Wee Professor informs us, members of a Yugoslavian ultranationalist & revolutionary movement, Gavrilo Princip and accomplices, committed the greatest act of terrorism the world has yet seen, an act which is four orders of 10 greater than that of 9/11. He pauses. He very rarely speaks in italics. He continues: Only two people were killed that day, the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. Thirty-seven days later the world was at war. The governments of Austro-Hungary, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom all proclaimed their own innocence. They all heaped calumny on and vilified their opponents. Around ten million combatants were killed.
He stops there. He doesn’t mention the Russian Revolution, Nazism and World War 11 though all three may not have happened if not for World War 1. Nor that Gavrilo Princip and accomplices achieved their aim within five years. Nor that both French and Germans used chemical weapons. Nor that the British used it against Bolshevik troops in 1919 and, allegedly, in 1920 against Arabs and Kurds in Mesopotamia (much of today’s Syria and Iraq).
It’s a relief to get to Preston Road (Square B3), having changed to the Jubilee and then to the Metropolitan at Finchley Road, at 10.30 am. This is a new station to me but when I get to street level I find that I’ve walked through here on the Capital Ring with Andy and Harald. That day we weren’t too impressed by Preston Road or its choice of coffee houses. I’m a little more taken with it this time. There are distant views over the Sargasso Sea of Houses of North West London to Harrow Hill with its woods and spires. Nearer to hand a fair number of the red-shingled, pebble-dashed, bay-window inter-war semis have been spruced up and recently painted.
The neighbourhood itself is trying hard to be a small town centre but in reality it’s an over-elongated and bifurcated pair of parades servicing its mixed but mainly Asian population. I spend a peaceful half-hour watching old Asian men working older Singer sewing machines and young Asian men putting the finishing touches to a new Asian supermarket.
Next stop is in Docklands, in DLR territory, Prince Regent (D9). It takes me almost an hour to get there (Metropolitan to Finchley Road, Jubilee to Canning Town, then DLR Beckton branch). Prince Regent is one of the two stations for ExCel. I visited the other station, Custom House, in early April and most of what I said there (see post, Of Dinosaurs and Diggers …) applies to it now. My notes read:
Different: Hot! (on north side of tracks) uninhabited park, allotments, new school, new ultra-minimalist shopping parade (one hair and nail parlour)
The Same: (on south side of tracks) everything; (on north side of tracks), Crossrail, housing, sorry-looking parade of shops, emptiness & everything else.
I footle up the DLR to Stratford, then one stop back south on the Canary Wharf branch to Pudding Mill Lane (C8). There’s no puddings, mills or lanes here though there is a dank stretch of water somewhere called Pudding Mill River. There are no shops, no houses, no buildings (except of the prefabricated variety) in the immediate vicinity. Pudding Mill is a vast industrial building site. To the south they are diverting the DLR line to make room for CrossRail. To the north they are dismantling most of the Olympic Park.
There are diggers, cranes, concrete mixer trucks, forklifts, loaders, cherry pickers and 4WD ‘bakkies’; plastic pipes and tubes of different dimensions, concrete blocks, railings, scaffolding boards and timber, form-work, plastic bollards and 1,000 litre plastic cubes filled with different liquids; plastic shroudings for all manner of stuff that needs shrouding; concrete and steel platforms, rusted and non-rusted reinforcing steel; sets of temporary traffic lights, grey and larger black metal cabinets for housing telephone and signalling equipment; locked tool boxes; piles of different types of sand, different types of gravel and different types of aggregate. There are many other things that I do not know the names of and, often, can’t even begin to guess what they are for. And on every scrap of land where the concrete has broken, there is buddleia. Buddleia, buddleia everywhere and not a drop to drink …
The men and women guarding the different lots of the different contractors have job titles which slip from my mind before I can note them down. Back in my school-days we used to have school trips to steel-smelting factories and the like. Do they get school parties here, I ask? They look at me as though doubting my sanity. I point to various stacks of stuff that I don’t know the name of. What’s that, I ask. They look at me even more doubtfully. I move on and gaze into the murk of a scoop of canal.
An old man shambles towards the bridge over the canal. I don’t recognise him until he fixes me with his glittering eye and holds me with his skinny hand: it’s The Ancient Mariner. He is hurt and angry with what is happening here. ‘Look all arand you,’ he says. ‘They’ve fiddled wiv everything. Changed all the waterways, the Ole Backwater here. Used to be you could walk along there dahn to Bow. Look over there at the Stadium. That used to be Knobs Hill. There were factories on it, not ten years old, workin’ factories. Scrapped. Then they flattened the Hill. And the Olympic Village? They fiddled the specification, did withaat the kitchens. Then what happens? They ‘ave to put the kitchens back, not the private firm that built them withaat the kitchens, course not. New’am Caancil. New’am Caancil is picking up the £40 million bill to put the kitchens back. They ‘ave to knock two flats into one. And over here it’s goin’ to be luxury flats. And over there it’s going to be a village for 40,000 stoodents! And it’s all goin’ to be called E20. Not New’am Caancil, not Tower ‘Amlets Caancil. It’s goin’ to be somefink private …’
He shakes his head. His agony abates and his hand drops. I hobble off gratefully, evaporating as I go.
It takes over 50 minutes – one hop north to Stratford, change to Jubilee to Westminster, then to the District line heading for Wimbledon – to get to Putney Bridge (E3). This is Putney-over-the-Water, the outpost of Putney in Fulham, not Putney proper. But, perhaps because it has the better southern aspect overlooking the Thames, perhaps because the main road runs on the western side of the enclave, it’s not blighted by an inferiority complex even though it is cramped, over-shadowed by office and apartment blocks, and crammed with buses.
The shopping parade, which wanders like a sporadic memory around the block to the main road, hosts a second-hand bookshop, what I take to be a rather gloomy-looking pub until I remember to take my sun-glasses off, a newsagent with Spanish, Italian, German and other daily newspapers, a florist, a small selection of eateries and a wider selection of nooks, crannies, walkways and dead-end passageways. The station itself looks like a station marooned on a 1950s British Railways branch line to the seaside. All in all, station and surroundings hover between picturesque and Dickensian.
Like British Railways trains on 1950s branch lines, the District line is agonisingly slow arriving, agonisingly slow in moving, in between lurches, northwards. Having grown a beard, I change at Westminster on to the Jubilee and eventually make it to Queensbury (A3) at 3.45 pm. What can I say about Queensbury? Not a lot except that it’s got a huge London Underground sign in the middle of the roundabout outside the station which is surely Queensbury’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs Elysée.
Like Preston Road earlier, Queensbury is a mainly Asian area but with a more distinctive centre (though it’s still more of a couple of shopping parades rather than a town centre). The wild Sargasso Sea of housing washes around this island. A giant Morrisons crouches on the other side of the tracks. Again like Preston Road, it’s quiet, peaceful. I find a small convenience store and stand cooling myself by the freezers.
Five minutes later I ooze onto a southbound Jubilee and change at Baker Street for a northbound Bakerloo. I’m at Queen’s Park (B3) at 4.50 pm. It’s hot. Stinky, too, from the traffic. Kilburn rages to the east, Kilburn Park simmers to the south (see post, Adventures in Yonderland) and Brondesbury (see Edgelands, I See the Future Brother …) has pretensions to upwardly-mobility to the north. I’ve visited Queen’s Park a few times before but I’ve never been to the park after which it is named.
I remedy this omission and find a typical Victorian park with bandstand, ‘quiet garden’ (no bees allowed), playground, avenues of trees and fine stretches of green-sward spattered with pink slabs of sunning Londoners. The park is surrounded by solidly bourgeois Victorian terraces. I avail myself of a honey and cinnamon ice cream at the park café and head for the deepest shade. Apart from The Ancient Mariner, I think, what a wonderfully-boring, peaceful day.
I leave Queen’s Park at 5.35 pm. I pick up an Evening Standard on my way back home – Overground to Euston, Victoria line to Highbury & Islington, Overground south towards Crystal Palace. My heart sinks. Obama and Cameron have decided to go to war against Assad in Syria. Can’t our dear leaders learn to stop monkeying around? Who are they to take the moral high ground? Obama with his drone warfare killing civilians in Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula. Cameron who, with his chum Sarkozy, has replaced Gaddafi with a mess in Libya.
I’m back at Forest Hill at quarter to seven. I feel a little like the third wedding guest at the end of the The Ancient Mariner:
He turns like one that hath been stunned, And is of sense forlorn: A sadder and a wiser man, He’ll rise the morrow morn.