The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful Curmudgeons (58/80)

Monday 2 September  – Richmond (Square E2 on the Tube map), Rickmansworth (A1), Roding Valley (A8)

Mixing business with pleasure is one of the greatest of human discoveries: without it business wouldn’t have kept going. It’s taken me far too long to apply this principle to the tedious pointlessness of TubeforLOLs’ business: today I visit friends as well as tube travel. The only fly in the ointment is – who else? – The Inner Curmudgeon. He’s on a new kick. He’s taken to reading self-help manuals …  

It’s a blue sky day, sunny, sure to turn hot. Fran is accompanying Mr T today as we board the 9.48 Overground from Forest Hill. She will provide botanical knowledge.

The Metro headline reads: If at first you don’t get C… try, try again This is the latest Mr Gove-rnment wheeze. Pupils will be forced to study English and maths until they pass those GCSEs. It’s what could be called the ‘stick’ approach. So much for the power of the ‘nudge’ approach to politics. Whatever happened to the Government’s endorsement of that piece of fashionable thinking?

The Inner Curmudgeon takes his nose out of his book for a quick rant. You expect subtlety from Mr Gove, Craig? Besides, all that nudge-stuff is only smoke-screen-stuff.

What’s this? I think. It’s supposed to me who bashes the Tories! Isn’t it?

I’m reading Seamus Heaney’s New Selected Poems. The Inner Curmudgeon is reading The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Curmudgeons by Stephen R Tetchy. The Jubilee rattles and screeches from Canada Water to Westminster. The District line shakes, rattles and rolls as it makes its way towards the end of the line. Fran botanicises. The most common plant at trackside – viewable from a rattling tube-train – is buddleia. It’s everywhere. But the garden-escapee – the pinnate-leaved, red-fruited Tree of Heaven – is also making a good show, as is the self-seeding sycamore, the rowan trees with their ripe red berries, bracken and broom. The District line train hurtles – if a District line train can ever be thought of as hurtling – into Richmond (Square E2) at 10.55 am.

Richmond tube and rail station is a fine double-decker of a station (with a handy M&S at platform level), many platforms to help Richmond-folk escape the longeurs of leisured riverside living and fine filigree ironwork about its trusses.

More than can be said for you, Sandy. No filigree, fine or otherwise, around the ironwork of your truss. Haargh! Haargh! The Inner Curmudgeon laughs mightily at his own joke.

I ascend the broad stairs to the station’s upper-deck. Our friends, Gabby and Avi, are waiting for us. I dodge behind a pillar, then sneak out to one side and start taking photos of them on my iPhone. Avi catches sight of me but doesn’t recognise me in my colour-coded titfer and Ray-Bans. He looks startled, then perplexed, then annoyed. Fortunately Fran hoves into view and the Craig under the Mr TubeforLOLs’ carapace is recognised.

We do a quick mini-tour of Richmond (quite the best kind of tour of Richmond in my opinion) – a scoot by the Green and a nose-poke in the Theatre.

The impish Mr TubeforLOLs hamming it up in Richmond Theatre. Haargh! snorts The Inner Curmudgeon, Mr T couldn't act to save his bacon. Haargh! Haargh!

The impish Mr TubeforLOLs hamming it up in Richmond Theatre. Haargh! snorts The Inner Curmudgeon, Mr T couldn’t act to save his bacon. Haargh! Haargh!

We then repair for coffee and croissants at a rather good coffee shop where I buy a loaf of their molehill-shaped ‘Protein Bread’ for later. Unfortunately I forget to take the shop’s name but (if you’re interested) it’s on the opposite side of the road from the station on the left.

Hmph! The Inner Curmudgeon growls. If growls could twinkle it would be that kind of growl. You should call yourself Mr Bumble-alonga-LOLs! He’s in worryingly good humour.

The adults in the party talk about this and that but, all too soon, the business of TubeforLOLs raises its ugly head and Fran and Mr T must be off. We agree that we will meet up again before Christmas.

Floral display at Turnham Green. Buddleia (centre) topped with Tree of Heaven against a background of rowan and broom. (I think. Mr TfLOLs.)

Floral display at Turnham Green: yellow petunias, blue lobelia, pink/red pelargonium, white lobelia and, dominating the display, Bacopa cordata, probably ‘Blutopia Blue’ from South Africa.

Our next station is Rickmansworth. The Inner Curmudgeon interrupts. Now, listen up all you lot at the back. Yes, you! Pay attention! This is a 20 station journey with four changes! A saunter on the District line east to Turnham Green where Mr & Mrs T cross over to the westward bound platform for an Ealing train two stops to Ealing Common. Change to a Piccadilly line train towards Rayners Lane. (Watch Mrs & Mrs T scuttle when they realise this isn’t another District line tube. Great fun!) Then more track-crossing this time for an eastbound Metropolitan train from Uxbridge. (Mrs T, urged on by Mr T, taking a turn through the barriers to peek at the Zoroastrian Centre. It’s all part of his daft nonsense to change the station name to Zoroastrians Lane.) Onwards to Harrow-on-the-Hill and more humping up and over tracks and a long wait for an Amersham train.

Now then, you lot! You think you’ve had a raw deal reading that last paragraph? I was hauled along it by Mr T, took us one hour 35 minutes. So, count yourself lucky!

Rather a fine photo of me in all my Curmudgeondom, though I do say so myself.

Rather a fine photo of me in all my Curmudgeondom, though I do say so myself.

I wrench this post back from The IC as we eventually reach Rickmansworth (A1). It’s 1.25 pm.

We walk along the High Street. This is narrow and inclining to the quaintish persuasion. The shops – which come in two sizes: tiny and tinier – snuggle against each other. Hobbits would enjoy it in ‘Ricky’, as the locals call it. We pass a ducky little church and stride out south along the Grand Union Canal towpath passing a super-sized Tesco (parked on the far side of the canal). We are lunching with our friends, Steve and Moira, on their narrowboat, Justice.

The immaculate Justice on the Grand Union near Rickmansworth. What do you mean? says The IC. Immaculate? They haven't mowed their side lawn! Canal-lubbers!

The immaculate Justice on the Grand Union near Rickmansworth. What do you mean? says The IC. Immaculate? They haven’t mowed their side lawn! Canal-lubbers!

The sun angles over the trees shading the limpid waters of the canal. Swans with cygnets in tow come to portholes scrounging for food while Steve cooks in the tiny galley. Moorhens lurk in the distance waiting their turn. Five years ago, Steve says, the moorhens would never have come to feed. Now they do.


Hurry it up, Captain Hayward. Time for lunch. We haven't got all day! Haargh! Haargh! Good on you, Mrs Swan, The Inner Curmudgeon encourages. Swans, you know, the Original Curmudgeons.

Hurry it up, Captain Haywood. Time for lunch. We haven’t got all day!                                                               

Visitors to Ricky and narrowboat captains with dogs stray up the towpath. Everyone stops for a chat. No excuse is necessary. After one lengthy interruption Steve says, If we talk to everybody we’ll never have lunch. That or we’ll have to invite them all to lunch.

That, I think, is one of the great differences with TubeforLOLs. There, I have to wangle my way into a conversation with a joke or a compliment or an open-ended but sideways question. I have to snatch words from people before they rush off somewhere else. It’s a different pace of living in TubeforLOLs land. There Mr TubeforLOLs is pushing at the limits of social conventions. Another difference, of course, is that it is much more enjoyable sitting on a narrow-boat with a glass of wine in hand than it is TubeforLOLsing through some woebegotten wasteland of London.

The lunch menu? Well, since you ask: We eat Squid and Bean soup (with the Protein Bread which turns out to be very good indeed), Spring Greens (dressed in a simple oil and lemon dressing), a Green Risotto with Peas and Broad Beans (with green salad) and Blackberries (from the bushes on the side of the canal that doesn’t have a towpath) with Yoghurt and a shaking of sugar. To use a technical culinary term, it’s all absolutely scrumbumptissimus.

But, all too soon, business calls and, though it is but half past five, Fran and I are heading Rickywards. We promise to meet up with Steve and Moira this side of Christmas.

Though it’s air-conditioned the Metropolitan train out of Rickmansworth is hot. Mid-journey it decides it’s not going through to Aldgate East so we jump onto a Jubilee line train at Finchley Road. This is hot, stuffy and packed. Partly to keep myself awake, partly to take my attention off the drudgery of the tube – and, oh why not admit it?, partly to wind him up – I ask The Inner Curmudgeon, So what are some of the habits of successful curmudgeons, then?

He looks at me horrified. I can’t tell you that, he barks. If everyone knew what the seven successful habits were, then everyone would be following them, and then no-one would be successful any more. We’d all just be middling.

The Wee Professor – who is eating a packet of pecorino, spring onions and hand-dried oregano crisps – nods sagely. Quite correct, Mudgie, he says. The great philosopher and logician, W.V.O. Quine, called it the ‘The Multiple Unfulfilling Prophecy-Paradigm Exemption Theory’. Or MUPPET, for short. He was quite a wag was Quine. The WP gives a chuckle. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard The Wee Professor chuckle before. It’s like dry leaves rustling at the end of the universe. He continues: It’s as shown in, well, in the fact that everything reverts to the Mean, and in the Herd Instinct.

Fran is trying hard to read the Evening Standard that she picked up when we boarded the train. But her eyelids keep drooping …

We take the Jubilee all the way to Stratford and change on to a packed Central line to Woodford. It’s boiling in the train but outside the shadows are lengthening. It’s still warm as we wait at Woodford for the Roding Valley Loop tube. All told it takes an hour and three quarters to get to Roding Valley station (A8).

Now, dear readers, if ever you venture to Roding Valley I recommend that you do not cross the bridge over to the platform which will take you back to Woodford. No, please don’t. View Roding from this side of the tracks. Yes, it’s deepest suburbia but there’s a more than acceptable small parade of shops, a Parish Council hall and a public house named The Monkhams that appears to have been designed by a New Town Planning Committee. Should you wish you may walk further along towards the rugby club.

But do not – I repeat, do not – exit the station using the other platform, particularly not during the hours of gloaming when sprites and hobgoblins, spriggans and elves are about. For you will pass quite the spookiest shopping parade in London, England and the Universe, a parade boasting shuttered legal and accountancy outfits, a hair parlour and a gun shop peddling Berettas and Brownings. This is where the East End comes to do business: know what I mean?


Station Parade at Roding Valley - note the obscured first floor windows above May of London. (Taken with hidden camera in my hat-band, for your safety and security.)

Station Parade at Roding Valley – note the obscured first floor windows above May of London. 

We leave Roding Valley at 7.55 pm. Fifty minutes later – Central line to Stratford, Jubilee to Canada Water, you know the rest – we’re back at Forest Hill.

Somewhere around Canary Wharf, I judge The Inner Curmudgeon to be in a sufficiently mellow mood and ask him to give me the merest taster of what The Seven Habits … is about. What, I suggest in my most winsome and wheedling tone, is the first habit of ‘Highly Successful Curmudgeons’? He gives a grunt and then reveals, The first and most important habit is that you must be true to your Inner Curmudgeon.

It takes a few seconds then the thought hits me like a very large hammer. Does this mean that The Inner Curmudgeon has to be true to his Inner Curmudgeon? Let’s call that The IC-2. In which case has The IC-2 got to be true to his Inner Curmudgeon, The IC-3? And so on. And endless series of Inner Curmudgeons, like homunculi, populating the universe until there’s nobody left but Inner Curmudgeons.

I should have let sleeping dogs lie.

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