Monday 30 September – Stockwell (Square F5 on the Tube map), Stonebridge Park (B3), Stratford (B8), Stratford High Street (C8), Stratford International (B8)
We humans often project our inner feelings and passions onto the outside world believing what we see to be inherent in the world rather than merely shadow-plays of our own making. But, do I sense a certain weariness out there amongst you, Dear Readers, at the apparently never-ending tedium and foolishness of TubeforLOLs? Have no fear! Take heart! We are on the home stretch and the pointlessness you are experiencing is but a pale reflection –
Oh! Put at stopper in it! snarls The Inner Curmudgeon. Our apologies, Dear Readers – he continues – but Mr Craig is reading Don Quixote. The Wee Prof and I will try to cut short his waffling.
Five stations today and – unaccountably, perhaps it was an off-day in the TfL Station-Naming Directorate? – the last three are adjacent to each other. The day starts autumnal but the grey cap of cloud is light. Soon, I think, it will floculate, break up and disperse.
It’s 9.00 am at Forest Hill as I board the Overground. The headline in The Metro is: Go wombling to pick up the dole This is Osborne Junior’s latest wheeze – the jobless will need to pick up litter to get what The Metro calls ‘handouts’. Let’s take O.Jnr. at his word – that he wants to get people back to work rather than reduce the numbers being paid what used to be called Unemployment Benefit. Will picking up litter improve the chances of the long-term unemployed finding work? Hmm. And are the long-term unemployed the Giants causing the unemployment in the first place? Or is O.Jnr. merely tilting at windmills? Is O.Jnr. as deluded as poor Don Quixote – inhabiting a world filled with chav-enchanters and scrounger-deceivers?
I reach Stockwell (Square F5) – a few stops south on the Northern line from London Bridge – at 9.40 am. The cloud cap remains deep and even and there’s a cold bite to the wind. Stockwell is one of those inner-city areas where the rich (well, the upper-middle class who don’t count themselves as rich, but are) rub shoulders with the poor (tough and deprived estates ring Stockwell station). ‘Rub shoulders’ may be putting it too strongly. Like Archway (see post A Sorry Little Parade of Shops, etc.) it’s a case of parallel universes. Unlike Archway, Stockwell doesn’t pretend to be a proper centre. It’s situated on the crossroads west-east between Clapham and the Oval and south-north between Brixton and Vauxhall. There’s more than a sufficiency of shops, a couple of local supermarkets, a couple of banks and a couple of cafés. While these are a notch or two above full fast food status, it’s clear that café culture has a way to go yet before it arrives in Stockwell.
Stockwell’s main claim to fame is as the site of the shooting in 2005 of Jean Charles De Menezes. The Brazilian was mistaken for a suicide bomber by police who shot him eight times, seven times in the head and once in the shoulder. It turned out that the police were working on faulty information and poor surveillance but no-one in the British State covered themselves in glory. (‘Consider the choice that faced police officers at Stockwell last Friday – and be glad you did not have to take it,’ said London Mayor, Ken Livingstone.) The Metropolitan Police have a long history of getting things wrong, of arresting the wrong suspects and not arresting anyone if it’s inconvenient to the powers-that-be. (For instance, Daniel Morgan, see post A Hoard, a Pearl, A Result!) But it may be that they live so deeply in a world filled with the shadows of terrorists that, like the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, their world is filled with terrorists and conspiracies.
I’m walking down a side road between estate blocks. An overweight sad-looking young woman in sloppy clothes is walking my way leading an overweight sad-looking Staffie. She, I expect, is one of the despised chavs living – no doubt, on benefits – on a nearby estate. The Staffie does his business on the pavement. She tugs a plastic bag out of a pocket and clears up after him. Later, on Larkhall Lane, I’m overtaken by a fast cycling rasta with greying dread-locks. He’s stick-thin, wears blue-checked seersucker shorts and flip-flops. Though it has a reputation as one of the South London hot-spots for youth gangs turf warfare, that’s as tough and mean as Stockwell gets for me.
It takes only 40 minutes – Victoria to Oxford Circus, Bakerloo line thereafter – to reach Stonebridge Park (B3). En route the wide railway scrublands to the west of the tracks are bursting with the blue arcs of buddleia, the light-mauve of Michaelmas daisies and masses of – to me, nondescript – smaller yellow flowers. Sitting alone in the carriage I’m approached by a young woman with a sad face. She presents me a small square of printed paper rather like a temporary business card. On it are listed her difficulties – no parents, no job, a younger brother and sister she has to look after. She is asking for money for food. I refuse politely. She smiles sadly, thanks me politely. From her appearance and accent I wonder if she is Spanish. She sits at the end of the carriage, gets out at Stonebridge Park and moves into the next carriage.
The cloud cover is beginning to floculate. I’ve been to Stonebridge Park once before. That time I crossed the North Circular to the south of the station. This time I treck northwards. I’m hoping to find the River Brent. Five minutes later I find the Harrow Road. The shops here specialise in carpets, bathrooms, household appliances and the like. The parade itself is dominated by a green Irish pub, The Innisfree, but this is closed: shop-fitters are at work inside fixing shelves and refrigeration systems. The cafés here are definitely one or two notches down from Stockwell. Despite their names – Royal Chicken, Sunshine Café – this is a dismal place.
I stray into Brent River Park. It is empty, unloved, sad. And it’s not the place to view the scummy, littered River Brent at its best – but then it wasn’t at its best at Brent Cross either (see post, Edgelands, etc). The traffic noise from the North Circular is unremitting. The black derelict office-blocks across the North Circ. loom as threatening as Ogres. The luminous green trim trail seems half-finished; the grass – mainly dandelions and silver weed – unmown. And there’s the clunkiest cod-comic strip notice (photographs of happy teenagers with speech-bubbles coming from their mouths) extolling the virtues of re-using plastic bottles and the benefits of wind-turbines.
Time for my final three stations of the day. I get there the reading-friendly, though not necessarily the quickest, way – Overground from Willesden direct to Stratford (B8). It takes an hour. I arrive at 12.30 pm. The skies are clearing.
Westfield Shopping Centres are like buses – you wait ages for one, then two turn up. It’s less than a fortnight since I ventured to Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush (see post, A Polished Fingernail etc). I find Westfield, Stratford much busier than its sister and less upmarket. Perhaps that’s because I’m confronted by a Food Court with KFC prominent, perhaps it’s the tacky touches like the bunting and plastic primary-coloured kiddies’ playground in the outside bit called The Street. But as I wander around I see that all the big brands are here – the likes of Nike, Armani, TagHeuer, M&S, John Lewis, Primark, B&Q, Wickes, Topp Tiles, Royal Chicken, Sunshine Café … OK, maybe not Topp Tiles. But you never know.
There’s just too much of Westfield – so many floors, so many huge extra megastores hanging off the main shopping emporium. I bump into Ralph Fiennes who is busy exploring it. Unfortunately, he’s lost a husky. I point him on his way to Dogz‘R’Uz.
Then, to prove that I’m not a total dog-in-the-manger, I visit M&S and buy some socks and underpants.
Seventy minutes after arrival in Stratford I take the DLR 65 seconds south to Stratford High Street (C8). How has this fared now that its noisy neighbour has elbowed its way in? The short answer is, surprisingly well. It’s still a mess, but then the High Street always was a mess. Plus, Newham Council are tearing up the street like their compatriots in other London councils, only Newham being Newham, they are doing it with both Olympic ambition and abandon.
But Stratford has retained its down-home seediness; there’s a sufficiency of pubs to accommodate a first-rate pub-crawl without the boring walking in-between bits; there’s a plethora of striking buildings of different vintages and architectural styles (though you wouldn’t want to be struck by most of them); and a vintage Victoriana park in Stratford Park (to sleep off that pub-crawl) a little past the snicket of Whalebone Lane (no corsets sighted).
Walking back towards Westfield there’s the original Stratford Shopping Centre which greets you with a Macdonalds rather than a KFC and is packed to the titfers – though I suspect many are using it as a raft-run to Westfield. This is tack-and-tatty heaven. Gerry and the Pacemakers are playing Merry Across The Fersey (Hold on! CMUS – Consonantal Mix-Up Syndrome – going down here.) And there’s a stall selling yer traditional East End seafood – cockles and muscles, alive-alive-oh!
An hour later I’m travelling the 65 seconds north and then another astounding 125 seconds past Stratford to Stratford International (B8).
Let me tell you the bad news first, let me divulge TfL’s dirty little secret: no Eurostars – not a single flying integer – stop at Stratford International. It’s a pleasant enough station – you can get to Faversham or Dover or back by high-speed South Eastern trains to St Pancras – and it’s a stunningly empty station, but, except in name, this is not an International station. Supposedly, it was going to act as the London stop for regional Eurostar trains bypassing St Pancras and heading northwards towards Yorkshire. Supposedly, pigs can fly.
I move on hastily to examine the Niagara – or should that be the viagra? – of tower-blocks to the north, gleaming in the sun, a whole brand-new, spanking-new postcode – E20 (see post, The Ancient Mariner for a local view of E20) – in the making. Thousands of flats, dollops of parks, playgrounds and greenery, marching northwards across the Hackney Marshes towards Leyton, unloved Leyton (see post, Four Short Straws). Will this rival Haussmann’s nineteenth-century boulevardisation of Paris which remade Paris and still stands today? Or will it rank with the town-planning escapades of the Eastern Bloc, of – say – the late Nicolae Ceausescu’s Bucharest?
Only time will tell. Time and the quality of building, fittings and fixtures of these flats. Time, quality of etc. and the spin the marketeers can put on this being a ‘high-end’, ‘up-scale’ place to live. Time, quality of etc., spin of marketeers etc. and getting some international railway services into Stratford International (I’m quoting Ken Livingstone here).
But E20 has already been remarkably successful about one thing. Though it cannot compare with the trillions of pounds that was transferred from public finances (ultimately, your taxes and mine) occasioned by the gambling and criminality of the banks in 2008, it is still a mighty fine funnel for transferring money to the private sector. Well done, O.Jnr. Oh, and of course K.L. and T.B. and G.B. …
Can it, Craig! Let’s get home! The Inner Curmudgeon shouts. I comply. I sit in the driverless front seat of the DLR train out of Stratford International. I have a high old time pretending to drive it. Choo-choo! I go, Whee! Whee! Well, you try and have fun making electric train noises.
I change to the Jubilee, then the Overground and I’m back at Forest Hill a little before four o’clock.