Wednesday 4 September – Rotherhithe (Square D7 on the Tube map), Royal Albert (D9), Royal Oak (C3), Royal Victoria (D8), Ruislip (A1)
‘Ah-ha!’ I hear my readers – from Catford, South London via Manila in the Philippines to Sackville, New Brunswick – say over their morning breakfast, their toast poised ‘twixt plate and mouth. ‘All becomes clear. Mr TubeforLOLs is modelling himself on Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. Hmm, The Wee Professor must be Fogg’s manservant, Passepartout. But The Inner Curmudgeon? Could he be Fix the detective who mistakenly takes Fogg for a bank-robber?’
Then those Verne-fans amongst you will remember that the Maestro initially published Eighty Days in serial form with the final episode hitting the streets on 21 December 1872, the same date that Fogg was due to return to London. And that many people reading the fictional serial thought that the journey was actually taking place …
And then, toast still mid-transit, the thought creeps up behind you cudgel in hand: perhaps Mr TubeforLOLs is doing the reverse of Phileas Fogg? Perhaps he is not really tubing around London but only sitting in front of his computer picking photos off the internet and spinning yarns? Perhaps all of this TubeforLOLs, all of it not the obvious fictional three-quarters, is stuff and nonsense …
It’s hot today. There’s a petro-chemical smog already settling over London as I take the Overground north. I’m a little late today – I bumbled to the station earlier only to find I’d forgotten my wallet. It’s 10.15 am before I board a train. The Metro headline is Wily Wonga and the profit factory This is about the ‘payday lender’ Wonga that lends out at 5,883% and is making a mint. Wonga claim that the real rate is under 4,000% and that they turn away two-thirds of applicants. That’s alright then.
I arrive at Rotherhithe station (D7) at 10.35 am. I am immediately attracted by the steps down to the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Despite being designed by Brunel himself this must be the worst tunnel in Britain. It has its very own semi-perpetual two-way fumed-up snarl-up. And, as a monstrous joke, it’s also open to foolhardy cyclists and suicidal pedestrians.
Fear not, gentle readers! I tarry not at the gaping maw of the Tunnel. I have a date with an old friend, Jonathan Petherbridge – Creative Director of the London Bubble – known as Peth.
Observing only that there’s a new Nisa convenience store opposite Rotherhithe station (thereby doubling the shopping opportunities by the station) and that Rotherhithe is a hanging-basket-free zone, I hither to the Bubble Theatre building which, somewhat tardily, has joined the modern era with fitted-out rehearsal rooms, self-opening doors, lifts, toilets that wouldn’t give your aunt the heebeejeebees. They may even have a dishwasher in there somewhere.
We repair to a local café, the Watch House, and amidst the dappled sunlight on the graveyard that serves as its alfresco space, we talk about this and that. We had a Board Meeting last night, Peth says. It was quite interesting, he continues – looking worried. We talked about art.
I tell him not to worry. Since The Bubble are no longer ‘Core’ funded by the Arts Council, talking about art at Board Meetings is permissible.
Peth is a follower of this blog. He enjoys, he says, reading about my pointless TubeforLOLsing. He wants more of the under-the-ground misery, the noise clamour heat fug jolting arm-pit stink of the tube; less of the brief interludes in the sun above ground. I suggest that he accompanies me on a trip. He suddenly remembers he’s got to get back to work. By Jove! He’s gone! In all the years I’ve known Peth, I’ve never seen him put on a turn of speed like that. Perhaps it’s those new toilets.
Back at Rotherhithe station I take photos of some of the numbers that TfL place on stairs, rails, cupboards, boxes …
I ask the two Station Attendants, who are looking at me warily, what the numbers on the doors mean. Is TfL doing a massive door-counting inventory? It’s what’s behind the doors [that the numbers refer to], one replies. So what’s behind that door? I ask, pointing at one. The SAs look at each other sideways, on edge. We can’t tell you, says the other SA. For security reasons. Ah, you’ve been signed to the Official Secrets Act, eh? I reply brightly. Well, no, for Security. Oh, go on, I say. You can tell me. Behind which door do you keep the cheese? There’s frost in their eyes now. I guess I’ve overstayed my welcome.
The Inner Curmudgeon drips sarcasm. They can’t tell you for security reasons! What about the Freedom of Information Act! Tell the little Jobsworths that you’ll throw the Freedom of Information Act at them!
What’s this, I say. You’re doing politics? That is what I do!
He pulls himself up to his full height, pushes back his shoulders. I am aiming, he says, to become a fully rounded character. I refuse to be confined any longer to being a cut-out cartoon.
My heart sinks. It’s that awful book he’s reading, The 17 Habits of Highly Successful Curmudgeons.
I turn to The Wee Professor for solace. He’s munching happily on a packet of Manchego and Quince Jam crisps. But what’s that he’s reading? It’s a novel! He’s reading a novel, not a statistics handbook. OK, it’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu in the original French, but it’s still a novel.
My mind reels. I can’t remember anything of the half-hour tube journey to Royal Albert (D9). I stagger out at 12.10 pm. Royal Albert is dominated by a London Borough of Newham building, called something like ‘Building 1001’. Since Newham are a semi-demi-socialist council, that’s probably a homage to George Orwell’s Room 101 in 1984. Still, it’s got a good view over the dock to City Airport – and an extraordinary bronze group-sculpture of polo players on a patch of grass next to it.
The sculpture is called 2012 London Polo. The artist is Huang Jian. It is a gift from the Chinese authorities to London. Sir Robin Wales, the Grand High Cheese-Parer of Newham, has snapped it up on behalf of the nation and plonked it down here. It’s a companion piece to Jian’s Emperor Ming of Tang and His Concubine Yang Yuhuan Playing Polo which the artist knocked up for the Beijing Olympics. It symbolizes – and I quote – ‘friendship and cultural exchange’. Ah-ha, I think, We live, as the Chinese say, in interesting times.
Now I wonder if I could get Prince Charles interested in having a game of polo with the Duchess of Cornwall? Or Harry with the Duchess of Cambridge? Televized, of course. Head-to-head it would knock the X Factor into a cocked hat. The Queen and Prince Philip? Careful, warns The IC.
I enter Building 1001. There’s an atrium in here where you could lose a brace of jumbo jets. Receptionists and security guards are alarmingly bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed even though the temperature is hitting the high 40 degrees centigrade. Council office workers stride purposefully towards a canteen out of Corbusier. Over to one side there’s a platoon of paratroopers practising heat exhaustion torture (sorry, treatment) on a couple of guys in long beards. When I approach them, the Paras say, We’re only practising our friendship and cultural exchange routines on those less bigoted than we are.
Ah-ha, I think, We live, as the Chinese say, in interesting times. Or have I said that already? It’s the heat. It’s getting to me.
I’ll pass over Royal Oak (C3) where I arrive one hour later at 1.35 pm (DLR to West Ham, then 17 stops on the Hammersmith & City line). It is situated a little beyond the end of the platforms at Paddington. To the south are the mainline railway lines into Paddington. To the north are Crossrail and the Westway on stilts. There’s nothing remotely royal here.
I munch on an average hummous and salad baguette in the poetically-named Westbourne Green Open Space (which the WGOS’s notice board claims ‘dates from about [sic] 1974’). There may very well be an oak or two in between the bulldogs and care-in-the-community geezers in checked pantaloons and sticks attempting the ‘exercise trail’, but there’s no mention of oaks on the WGOS’s board. Meanwhile, under the unlovely Westway and on the equally unlovely Harrow Road, Westminster Council have gone hanging baskets mad. There’s no town centre here. This is Scrottsville Central. Perhaps this is Westminster Council’s ‘hanging basket as regeneration’ ploy? Most Councils try the art route to regeneration but that’s expensive. Besides, the Tories at Westminster Council aren’t going to win votes here …
The Inner Curmudgeon interrupts. Excuse me. That’s a rant. I’m the ranter here. Step back! Know your place! He puffs out his chest. One of the problems with you humans, he barks, is that you’re always copying each other – words, gestures, aspirations, big wristwatches, you name it. You’re followers of fashion. You can’t not keep up with the Joneses. As for Westminster Council, they’re only pulling the ‘My Hanging Basket Is Bigger Than Your Hanging Basket’ line! Right! That’s told them! Now, Craig, get on with your business.
It takes fifty minutes to get back to Royal Victoria (D8). Northwards there’s the same mix of social housing as found at Custom House and Prince Regent (see posts, Of Dinosaurs and Diggers, and The Ancient Mariner). Southwards there’s the architect-brochure-land known as Emirates Royal Docks (see post, Wish You Were Here).
My last stop today is Ruislip (A1) 55 minutes away (DLR to Canning Town, Jubilee to Finchley Road, Uxbridge branch of the Metropolitan). I get there at 4.30 pm. Ruislip is one of the job lot of town centres beamed down on North West London some time before World War 11. They came with the Sargasso Sea of Housing and the Metropolitan line. Like old soldiers these town centres never die, they just fade away.
Or, in Ruislip’s case, they wilt away – but then everyone’s drooping in this heat. It’s too hot even for a snarl-up.
Truth to tell, Ruislip’s glory days were over almost four centuries ago. In the early 1600s, Ruislip was one of those places where London people came for dirty weekends. Jacobean drama – Dekker, Webster, Middleton – all mention ‘Wryeslippes’. Famously, Ben Jonson’s Dr Subtle in The Alchemist ploys stratagems at Doll Common to get her away from London: ‘We will run our course, To Wryeslipt northwards … My fine flittermouse, My bird of the night.’ The nearest Ruislip gets to that kind of headiness these days is the Funky Planet store which offers personalised Hen & Stag T-shirts from £10 each. Oh how the flighty have fallen!
It takes almost an hour and a half (Metropolitan to Finchley Road, Jubilee to Canada Water, etcetera) to get back to Forest Hill. It’s 6.45 pm. Despite the Overground’s air-con I feel like an overcooked chicken rissole …
‘Ah! It’s alright, dear!’ – I hear my readers, from all quarters of the globe – say, patting their lips with their table-napkins and laying breakfast to rest. ‘Mr TubeforLOLs is indeed doing a Jules Verne in reverse. While Phileas Fogg is unperturbable, Mr T flaps and faddles. While Fogg is a hero, why, Mr T can’t even rise to being an anti-hero. While Verne celebrates the modern era, Mr T – well, it’s difficult to know precisely what he’s celebrating. While Fogg spares no expense, Mr T busks round the Tube for free. But the key, my dear, is that while Fogg looks at nothing as he hurtles around the world – he’s intent only on achieving his journey in the stipulated eighty days – Mr T spends his time endlessly wittering on about matters inconsequential. So not all of his stuff is, well, stuff and nonsense!’
‘How many posts has Mr TubeforLOLs published, dearest?’
‘Hmm! I think this must be number fifty nine.’
‘Oh good! Only another twenty one to go! I hope he finishes in good time for Christmas.’