Thursday 29 August – Queen’s Road Peckham (Square E6 on the Tube map), Queensway (C4), Ravenscourt Park (D3), Rayners Lane (B2), Redbridge (B8), Regent’s Park (C4)
It has been a minor but enduring disappointment of TubeforLOLs that the last entry on TfL’s ‘Index to stations’ is Woolwich Arsenal. This, I should hasten to add, is a purely alphabetic anti-climax, not a comment on that particular locality. Why, I wonder in this great city of ours, this city of hard-working families, hermit-like celebrities, honest politicians and humble bankers, this city where we are all in it together, do we have no Tube stations beginning with ‘X’ or ‘Y’, far less ‘Z’? Beijing has its Xiju station, Tokyo has a whole train-line beginning with ‘Y’, Berlin has its Zoo Station. Why not London? Well – stop scratching your toupee, Borisconi – I have a solution.
However, these alphabetic speculations are over-shadowed by the great excitement of the day …
It’s sunny and the day is already warming up when I hop on the 9.34 am Overground northwards out of Forest Hill, changing at Surrey Quays on to the Clapham Junction loop of the Overground.
The Metro headline is: Syria: Westminster wobbles on action I trust this is merely journalistic alliteration, though ‘Westminster takes a crash course in history from Afghanistan to Iraq and back again’ would be better.
I arrive at Queen’s Road Peckham (Square E6) at 10 am. I square my shoulders, determined not to let the infamous falafel incident at the local Tesco Express cloud my judgement of QRP’s charms. QRP sits on the regally named Queen’s Road which snarls between New Cross and Peckham. To the east there’s a scraggle of down-at-heel shops though at least Mr Tesco has repaired the vandalised ATM. Another positive note is the lack of betting shops to chum the fast-food joints. The big old roadhouse pub on the Peckham side of the railway has been demolished and its substantial plot of land is waiting its annointment of flats.
I cross over Queen’s Road and join my son, Andrew, in the flat he rents with his girl-friend Fiona. Andrew – and his film-crew – will accompany me today. He is making a cinéma vérité account of the unique and pointless TubeforLOLs experience. He gets some establishing shots on the roof terrace and then we’re off.
As Andrew films me (we’ve changed at Canada Water onto the Jubilee line) I begin to understand the power of the lens, the lure of celebrity. A middle-aged couple watch Andrew & Crew from the corners of their eyes, then the man fishes out his smartphone and takes a few surreptitious snaps of Mr TubeforLOLs in his titfer. Further down the carriage there’s the pop of flash-bulbs: a giggle of Japanese girls are openly taking photos. Luckily, I manage to duck out at Bond Street before I am besieged by autograph-hunters.
Perhaps this all goes to my head a little. I start wondering: am I the next Michael Douglas? Or George Clooney? Whatever. One of those silver foxes for sure.
More like Boris Karloff, sneers The Inner Curmudgeon. Or that guy with the bolt through his neck!
I ignore him. The famous chords from Also sprach Zarathustra thunder in the ghetto-blaster of my brain.
We get to Queensway (C4) at 11.20 am, 35 minutes after leaving Peckham. (Back to Canada Water on the Overground, Jubilee line to Bond Street, then west three stops on the Central line.) Queensway lies on the northern border of Hyde Park. It’s the station of choice if you’re visiting the Princess Diana Memorial Playground (PDMP). ‘Come on, Twinkle,’ urges a mother to her five year old daughter tricked out in a fairy dress, as they cross the road.
I see that there’s a notice at the entrance to the PDMP saying that all adults must be accompanied by a child under 12. I ask the Gate-keeper whether, as a child of under 12 at heart, I’d pass the test. See if you can borrow one, he replies genially. We chat. There’s a very long queue waiting to get in. Is it always as busy as this? I ask. In the holidays, yes, he says. He shows me his hand-counter. 1,449 people have gone in since the PDMP opened at 10 am – that’s around 1,000 people an hour. He continues: I have to limit the number of people inside but also, when it gets hot, I’ve got to try to keep the queue moving.
I pace out the queue. It’s getting on for eighty yards. But it’s a very orderly, good-humoured queue, mums and kiddlytwinkles, grandmums and grandpops and grandkiddlytwinkles, nannies and nanniekiddlytwinkles. It’s a multi-national queue, a well-heeled queue, a sunny-side-up queue and, amongst the kiddlytwinkle members, an expectant queue. It’s a queue basking in a warmy fuzzy balloon of anticipation.
I talk to the young woman at the end of the queue. She’s a nanny from Potzdam in Poland but she’s been here a number of times before, both with her nanniekiddlytwinkles and her own kiddlytwinkles. It’s always busy at times like this, she tells me. It’s the end of the holidays and everybody is out doing things in the last few days before school goes back. One of her charges chips in, It’s great, they have a big big pirate ship and loads of sand, like a beach, and there’s water you can splash in …
Andrew & Crew and I wander through Hyde Park. We watch two people struggling to extricate their Boris bikes from their stations. The woman tears a finger-nail as she yanks furiously and unsuccessfully. Two people who, at their ages, should know better slowly push their bikes back to empty stations. Oh, we had a lot of trouble with those, says one in an American accent, eyes creased and twinkling like Jimmy Stewart.
Back in the Craig household, Father-Son relations experience a sudden dip as Andrew says, I know what you can do next, once TubeforLOLs is over. You can do BorisBikesforLOLs!
It’s noon. Our next stop is Ravenscourt Park. If you were a normal person going to Ravenscourt Park from here you would walk the hundred yards up Queensway to Bayswater and get on the District line to Earl’s Court. Back in the TubeforLOLs pointless universe, we board at Queensway and take one stop on the Central before changing at Notting Hill for the District.
We arrive at Ravenscourt Park (D3) at 12.25 pm. We eschew the park itself, which lies a little to the north, and walk south, past the wrong end of Hammersmith High Street. We note the eateries hailing from countries across the globe and the weird disjointed cycle-lane that had Einstein scratching his head before he went off to do simpler things (like work out the general theory of relativity). We sigh and shake our heads at the ugly modern concrete monstrosity that is the front end of Hammersmith Town Hall and which hides the original elegant art-deco HTH viewable only from the snorting dual-carriageway A4. We take the subway under the A4 and a hundred yards later we’re at the Thames.
There’s a small courteous traffic jam – more of a traffic coulis really (one Ocado delivery van, two 4WDs) – in the private cul-de-sac to the river. Two brothers in matching cycle helmets weave in and out. Peace twinkles in this prosperous enclave.
It’s one o’clock when we get back to Ravenscourt Park. We take one station backwards to Hammersmith where we scramble on a Piccadilly line westwards to Rayners Lane crossing the never-ending Sargasso Sea of North West London Housing, the trees tufting above the red-shingled clink-clank of between-the-wars housing. By Jove, we were busy building houses then.
We arrive at Rayners Lane (B2). Ahh Rayners Lane! I could write a paean to Rayners Lane with its pavements wider than the promenade at Blackpool, with its wide horizons and avenue of trees, its courteous inhabitants, its cars doing three-point-turns in its quiet high street, its cheap but immaculate Indian restaurants, its Bridal-wear Emporia, Establishments of Wedding Co-ordinators and bouffant Hair Parlours ‘Specialising in Wedding Coiffeur’ …
But, most of all, I wish to extol the virtues of its wonderful art deco cinema. This is now the Place of Worship and European Centre for the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism – where the two opposing forces of the all-good Ahura Mazda and evil Angra Mainyu wage ceaseless, eternal war. Here, Borisconi, is the solution to the missing ‘X, Y & Z’ of Tube nomenclature. Show your leadership qualities, O Pomaded One, and rename ‘Rayners Lane’ ‘Zoroastrians’ Lane’!
Hah! The Inner Curmudgeon snorts gleefully. Giving succour to the enemy now, are we Craig!
Andrew and I leave Zoroastrians Lane, after a leisurely lunch, at 2.45 pm. We get a Metropolitan train through to Liverpool Street, then the Central line to Redbridge on the Roding Valley loop. It’s hot, stuffy and sweaty. The train rackets very loudly after Wanstead. We are both beginning to wilt. There is not an inkling of twinkling to be found anywhere in the carriage, not even an avuncular unkling of twunkling. Neither of us has been to Redbridge tube station before and I’ve no idea where the station is.
When we surface we are met by a constant thunder and roar of traffic noise. Redbridge (B8) is on the Roundabout-from-Hell where the A12 dual carriageway meets the North Circular at the point where it is laughingly called the South Woodford To Barking Relief Road. There’s a black monolith in the island under the flyover. As for Redbridge station, it has a drop-off point, a filling station and a newsagents/coffee shop. And there’s the traffic. My notes read: What a horrible dump. CONSTANT ROAR OF TRAFFIC.
The Inner Curmudgeon is in high dudgeon. It’s setting my tinnitus off something rotten, he booms.
I’m aghast. It’s not your tinnitus, it’s mine, I shout back.
We trudge wearily through the heat and smog and come across a miserable little parade of shops opposite a Beafeater. We pass a triangular wooden portakabin of a church and a deserted children’s playground (no pirate ship, no sand, not a drop of water in sight), and turn into a desolate stretch of jungled edgeland that calls itself Roding Valley Park.
It’s obvious no-one has gone this way for some time. And then we come across El Dorado. Well, a temporary, very temporary respite. For here are bushes and bushes of blackberries, ripe for the plucking. For a few days only there is a reason for going to Redbridge tube.
Recharged with Vitamin C, Andrew and I make our way towards the last station of the day. It takes us 35 minutes via the Central line to Oxford Circus and the Bakerloo one stop north to get to Regent’s Park (C4). We arrive at 5 pm. Andrew can’t believe how tiring it is, travelling all day in the tube. I tell him that this looks likely to be one of the few days when the time I spend above ground will be longer than the time spent on the Tube. (And so it turns out: 4 hours 55 minutes visiting; 4 hours 35 minutes travelling.)
I’d forgotten how floral, lush and pleasant Regent’s Park is. It’s a real pleasure garden. We walk around and stop for an Organic Pear and Elderflower Sorbet at The Cow & Coffee Bean. Excellent, but we should have mortgaged Gingerbread Cottage and gone for a double-scoop each. We pop into The Honest Sausage and have an Organic Pork and Elderflower Dairy Ice Cream. Delicious. What more could anyone want?
I leave Andrew to battle his way to a friend’s house in Brixton while I make my hot weary way homewards. I’m busy transpiring – OK, sweating – with the other packed commuters on the Jubilee when I spot a familiar figure makings his way through the carriage. It’s Mo, the elder son of the Somali family I met atop the wheelie luggage at Edgware Road (see post, Redemption Song). He’s selling those little Pifco fans to the flushed commuters. He’s doing a roaring trade. We exchange a few words, he gives me a free whirl from the fan stuck in the front of his baseball cap. Then he’s onto the next carriage. I transfer to the Overground, no seats again, and arrive at Forest Hill at seven o’clock. – standing all the way on Bakerloo, Jubilee and Overground – arriving at Forest Hill at seven o’clock.