Monday 23 September – South Kenton (Square B3 on the Tube map), South Quay (E7), South Ruislip (B1), South Tottenham (A7), Southwark (E5), South Wimbledon (F4)
The proverb has it that travel broadens the mind – even if only by taking us out of our day-to-day surroundings, and away from our daily routines and our habits of thought. Thus, all journeys are, whether intended or not, voyages of exploration – sometimes outer voyages, sometimes inner, sometimes both. Yes, all journeys – even those widely-decried boozed-up cavortings of sex-crazed youngsters on Mediterranean islands. Yes, even the seemingly snoozed-up swayings of tube-crazed Mr TubeforLOLs. Even he has his moments …
Oh! Stop chuntering, Craig! The Inner Curmudgeon snaps. Dear Readers, the hot news of the day is that TubeforLOLs – The Movie is available and it’s here, now!
Hey! You lot! Make sure you click the ‘continue reading’ below when you’ve finished feasting your eyes.
It’s a mild, grey day, a hint of mist in the hollows, a breeze ruffling the trees. I head out of Forest Hill at 9.15 am bound for the far north-western reaches of the Bakerloo line. The Metro headline is: A cry from the slaughterhouse It is about the tweets and text messages from victims of the terrorist attack in the Westfield shopping mall in Kenya. My mind slips back to my recent visit to Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush. How similar is it to its Nairobi cousin? My mind slips again, keeps slipping. It cannot grip the bland consumerist artificiality of the mall with the obsessed ‘the revolution will be televised’ martyrdom of the terrorists.
I am reading The London Review of Books only to come up against their review of the latest by Thomas Pynchon, the great American novelist, uber-conspiracy theorist and the paranoid’s paranoid. Bleeding Edge is his take on 9/11. I look up as the Bakerloo chunters through North Wembley to see a bouquet of flowers tied to the palings on the platform opposite. It’s all too much for me.
I was about to gird my loins anyway: I’ve been to South Kenton (square B3 on the Tube map) before so I know what I’m up against. What with everything the crashing and screeching of loins-girding fills the carriage.
The Inner Curmudgeon gnashes his teeth. Oh, be quiet, Craig! You’re over-dramatising, as usual.
I arrive at 10.25 am. Turning left, westwards, brings you into Northwick Park with the ghastliness of Northwick Park Hospital beyond (see post, A Three Pipe Problem). Turning right, eastwards, brings you out onto back yards and a huge roadhouse pub, The Windermere, which looks as though it should have been beamed down somewhere leafy in Kent and has been in a sulk ever since it found itself in the Great Sargasso Sea of North West London Housing. A step further on, its shoulder to The Windermere and its back to the railway line, is a small parade of shops. Turning to the right and going up hill will bring you to the oasis of Preston Park.
It’s quiet here. A woman clomps past on heels – time passes – a pigeon flaps – time passes – a train thunders past – then a car – then more time passes – then another train. There’s a bus-stop here and, I’m sure, if I wait long enough a bus will pass. But, though there’s a solace in sticking around in a place where nothing much happens, I’ve a lot of tubing today. Next up is an eastwards haul to the southern fringe of Canary Wharf. That takes another hour, much of it on the Bakerloo to Oxford Circus.
Bakerloo trains are small, slug-like trains dating from the 1970’s and distinguished by having only vestigial arm-rests. My train noses along. It takes ages, as usual, in negotiating its way through the train shed at Queen’s Park. Going underground its wheels screech on the tracks, jolting and jostling, while the waft from the open window at the end of the carriage increases to an energetic breeze. All in all it gives a spurious impression of speed. I find myself sitting opposite two dials fixed under the opposite banquette and protected by sturdy bars. The dials’ needles fluctuate depending on the pressure in the train’s brakes. I think the Bakerloo is the only line with these dials though I’ve no idea why there are two dials and why they are placed here, in the middle of the carriage. Shouldn’t they be in the driver’s cab where he can keep a check on them?
I change to the Central line at Oxford Circus, then the DLR at Bank. If the Bakerloo is a slug, the DLR is a beetle, a tinny one perhaps, but definitely a beetle. It beetles busily, a trifle pompously, at times hyper-actively. In the sharp right-angled bend coming into South Quay (E7) it adds to its existing talents by emulating one of those incomprehensible pieces of modern classical music – a blizzard of dissonance – mixed with the sound track of the Monaco Grand Prix.
You can tell it’s a slow news day on TubeforLOLs, mutters The Inner Curmudgeon.
We arrive at 11.40 am. South Quay is two hundred metres away from Heron Quays, three hundred metres from Canary Wharf. Time is money in Canary-Wharf-land, those few extra minutes are better spent in financial jiggery-pokery. The area bigs up its shopping parade, calling it ‘South Quay Plaza’, but it’s only a Tesco Express, a double-sized Pret and a couple of estate agents.
Nearby is an office block with the name-plate: University of Sunderland, London Campus. It’s so anomalous, I can’t resist going in (by the front entrance, not the students’ entrance round the back). I bound up the steps and through the plate-glass doors to the reception desk. There are two receptionists guarding the switchboard. Why, I ask, is there a University of Sunderland in London? There is no – that is, as far as I know – no University of London in Sunderland. Do the students there come here to study?
Well, I can’t criticise the receptionists, they haven’t been briefed. But they can’t come up with much of a rationale for a London campus for Sunderland University. Students do come here from Sunderland, they say, for workshops and visits. But they don’t study here. This is basically separate, they say. I suggest that perhaps it’s a presence for the University in London, here in the heart of Canary Wharf? They agree, wary, on their guard.
I understand now why the University of Sunderland wish to have a presence here, in London, in the heart of Leviathan. They wish to sup with alligators. While austerity rages on our North-Eastern shores, bounty is the order of the day here at South Quay.
I arrive back at the far north-west, near the end of the Central line at South Ruislip (B1) another hour or so later. South Ruislip has three separate little parades of so-so shops – one to the right of the station, one to the left and one round the corner. Unless you’re after plumbing supplies or carpets, or wish to spend the night in the Ramada hotel, I’d leave well alone. The biggest excitement here is a large Sainsbury’s tucked into the far left corner. Back at the station, I take the Central line back into town.
Central line trains seem more urgent than their Bakerloo counterparts and the Tube map shows their stations to be much further apart. But if you believe the Tube map has anything to do with geography, well, you’ll believe anything. At Oxford Circus I transfer to the Victoria line going north. Now Victoria trains do travel fast and I’m soon at Blackhorse Road where I’ve just missed the Overground.
It’s been a grey day so far, slowly warming, but there’s weak sunlight filtering through the cloud layer onto the waters of the Lee Valley reservoirs and hazy sun over The Shard and South London. I arrive at South Tottenham (A7) at 3.10 pm. The station sits above, and to one side, of the Tottenham High Road. Seven Sisters station, which I visited last Wednesday is three minutes walk away to the north. I head south, up Stamford Hill towards Stoke Newington. This is the orthodox Jewish centre of London. It’s a long main road with housing and the twin rockets of St Ignatius on one side and neighbourhood shops, all too familiar, strung out on the other side, one parade repeating the offerings of the last, each getting ever-so-slightly more adventurous.
Half-an-hour later I’m travelling back east over the Lee Valley to Blackhorse Road, changing to the Victoria then Jubilee lines and fetching up at Southwark (E5) in only 35 minutes.
Southwark station is set a little to the south and east of Waterloo on the corner of The Cut and Blackfriars Road. I emerge into full sunshine. I’ve half a mind to call it a day here. This is the place to hang out if you’re interested in Turkish, Greek, Italian or Mediterranean food, if your natural haunt is the bistro or the gastro-pub, if your fancy turns to matters thespian at either the Young or the Old Vic.
But again, duty calls and I rush on to South Wimbledon (F4) – one stop east on the Jubilee, 13 south on the Northern. I arrive at 5.10 pm. This is a crossroads station. While two snarls of traffic fight their way south to Morden or north to Wimbledon proper, a further two battle east to Balham and west to the A3 and the setting sun.
The neighbourhood has more than a sufficiency of neighbourhood shops leavened, if that is the appropriate expression, by too great a sufficiency of solicitors, accountants and financial consultants and a topping of bathroom, carpet, lighting and computer repair/ web meistering outlets.
But bang in the middle of the major parade is the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co (Retail) Ltd. I stare in wonder through its broad plate-glass windows. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of sewing machines – contemporary, modern, 1970s, classic and treadle. It’s a mausoleum to the long-forgotten names of sewing machines – Frister & Rossman and Harris’s as well as the Singers, Berninas, Alnas, Janones, Brothers, Elnas, Alfrans, etc. Beyond the window-display there is everything you need for sewing – fabrics, yarns, threads, cloths, trimmings, scissors, pinking shears, tassels, needles, pendants, tailor’s dummies.
I am standing at the window, fixated by a a gleaming black Frister & Rossman inlaid with ornate silverwork and secured on a fluted wooden base. A young, well-dressed woman rushes up, shakes her head when she realises the shop is shut. I came for thread, she explains, I am in the business. We look together at the machines on display. I think I will buy that one, she says. She points at an old-model Harris’s which is much much cheaper than the F & R. I will put it in my window. It will help custom.
I urge her to go for the Frister & Rossman. That, I say from the depths of my ignorance, is the business. That is true quality. It will show all your customers that you are the very best. Believe me, that will be your best investment.
She shakes her head. It is too expensive, she says, and flies away.
But this is my Wimbledon epiphany. I am full of joy, the joy I get when glimpsing into the world of others, of understanding the ungraspable plenitude within each of those worlds, each world stacked and packed with both things and ideas. My joy is the joy of curiosity, of discovery, a joy mixed with an equal part of awe. And, while my mind is suffused – and lifted – with those plenitudes – whether sewing machines in Wimbledon, coffee in Cockfosters, cellos in Ealing, patisseries in Eastcote or cheese in London Bridge, with the lush vegetation on railway embankments, with the mutualistic relationships between bees, the flowers that they pollinate, and the bacteria that live within the roots of those legumes that are at the heart of a species-rich meadow – then, by extension, my mind turns from its own shadows. There! There is discovery – first of the outer, then, tumbling at its heels, the inner.
Of course, you must understand, I don’t actually want to learn how to sew – perish the thought – but I do want to know that its bounty is there and that it is more than sufficient bounty for some.
I head out of South Wimbledon around 5.45 pm and an hour later I’m at Forest Hill. The evening is warm and sunny. I learn later that there is a distant connection between Frister & Rossman, manufacturers of sewing machines supreme, and Andrew Loog Oldham, first manager of The Rolling Stones. Even I couldn’t make that up no matter how hard I tried.