Thursday 3 October – Sudbury Hill (Square B2 on the Tube map), Sudbury Town (B2), Surrey Quays (E7), Swiss Cottage (B4), Sydenham (F6)
Perhaps the single redeeming feature of TubeforLOLs – assume for the present, Dear Readers, even if only for the sake of argument, that there is a redeeming feature – is that it opens the door to chance: chance happenings, chance encounters. The narrow patterns of life are jostled by the random. The universe shuffles the dice and a new – even if only slightly different – pattern emerges. New meanings arise, new stories need to be constructed. And thus it is today …
The forecast is for a little rain, this morning, then heavier stuff this afternoon. Knowing as I now do that weather forecasters are prey to the ‘wet bias’, i.e. they over-predict rain, this phases me not. The day is suitably autumnal as I stride through the Albion Millennium Green – conkers lie sleek and shiny on the ground, squirrels frisk about. And then I notice them, three of them, in the middle of the grass near where the tennis pavilion used to stand, near Maria’s pebble labyrinth: mushrooms with creamy-white dots on their bright red tops.
I’m on the Overground at 10.00 am. Earn, learn or lose your benefits is the headline in the Metro about the latest promulgation from the Conservative Party Conference. Welcome back, oh Nasty Party!
I text Fran asking her to check the mushrooms. Will go & look, sounds like fly agaric! she texts back. Hmm! Fly agarics – posionous and, perhaps in very small quantities, magical? Another text comes through as I am descending at Canada Water towards the Jubilee line: Hah! Came with the fairies?? What on earth does that mean? I would fret but I’m reading James Meek’s storming novel about a Czechoslovakian platoon marooned in the frozen wastes of Siberia after the First World War, The People’s Act of Love. Socialists, shamans, a millenarium sect of castrates, cossacks, red devils abound – a kind of proto-SiboforLOLs perhaps?
The Piccadilly line train squeaks and creaks as it eases it way into Acton Town. Later it picks up a little speed. We pass ranks of cabling racks, a long three-part red-brick and asbestos roofed train shed, massed pyracantha bushes red with berries. I miss the glimpse of the fairy wedding cake that is the Hindu Temple at Alperton (see post, The Exotic, The Mundane and etc.) …
Excuse me, yells The Inner Curmudgeon. Give the full title – The Exotic, The Mundane and The Inner Curmudgeon. Hmmph! He goes off grumbling.
Have I told you that I’ve found out what the third of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful Curmudgeons is? It’s: SHOUT FIRST! SHOUT LOUDEST! THINK LATER!
There’s a dreary expanse of sports fields after Sudbury Town with a line of seagulls, all facing in the same direction, standing on the cross-bar of a goal. You have to hand it to seagulls – humans put up spikes on the upper surfaces of everything that doesn’t move to prevent birds settling down and causing mess. Yet still they find places!
I arrive at Sudbury Hill (Square B2) at 11.15 am. I haven’t had a text back from Fran elucidating the comment on fairies. I step out onto the platform and it starts to rain, single drops at first but soon becoming steady.
I’ve been through Sudbury Hill before – it lies on the Capital Ring in the western shadow of Harrow Hill. That time it was hot and sunny, my friends and I were hungry, but we could find no good reason to stop. This time it’s raining. I pause only to note that it has six Polish shops (including a hairdresser and an accountant), a number of halal butchers, Indian restaurants and takeaways, two ironmongers, a David Lloyd club and an Irish pub. There’s also a mainline suburban station, Sudbury Hill Harrow, at the other end of the shopping stretch, giving non-TubeforLOLs people two methods of escape. I trudge back through the rain and get the Piccadilly train one stop back to Sudbury Town (B2). The seagulls have all deserted their goaltop perch. The goalie’s area is peppered with guano.
The first question you ask yourself on arrival at Sudbury Town – actually the second after: Why am I here? – is: What have they done with the town? This is a very fine station but where have they stuck Sudbury Town? The station is marooned at the end of a cul-de-sac, the great Sargasso Sea of Housing lapping on all sides, with a splodge of wet greenery in the distance. The only excitement is the procession of red double-deckers which hurtle towards the station, do a hand-brake turn in the forecourt, pause by the recycling bins and then cough off towards the splodge. The ‘Friends of Barham Library’ are opening a Volunteer Library and Second Hand Book Shop at the station itself, but I don’t want to throw them existential googlies like, ‘Where’s the Town?’ when they’re still stocking their shelves.
I set off for the splodge, the rain slackening to a drizzle. I tack portwards before the splodge and spy a TescoExpress with beyond another suburban train station, Sudbury & Harrow Road. Ah, the good old, bad old Harrow Road: is it everywhere in north-west London?
Sudbury Town – I will fall in with local custom and call it that, though it is applying the word ‘town’ very loosely – heaves up behind. It’s the usual assortment of shops, though many more than are strictly necessary, enlivened by a Lebanese restaurant (they’ve gone heavy on the garlic today), and the sort of car bashing and second-hand car sales outfits normally found in railway arches but here stuck in sheds and shop-fronts. The lessons from Sudbury Town, however, are of escalations in pizzas and standing buses: The Pizza Farm House is advertising an 18 inch pizza for £9.99, with a 27 inch number coming in for a waist-expanding, penny pinching £15.99. I pass seven Number 18 buses standing by the Tesco Express. I guess they are summoning up the strength to venture southwards out of the Sargasso Sea and back to civilization – or, at least, Euston Station.
That’s quite enough of north-west London for one day. I get the Piccadilly, Jubilee and Overground lines back to Surrey Quays (E7) in inner south London. I arrive at one o’clock to a downpour and a half.
Surrey Quays is one of those places which has a long parade of shops one side of a main road – here snappily-named Lower Road – a sporadic off-and-on set of shops the other side and a third set of shops around a corner. There are roadwords past a fourth corner resulting in Surrey Quays residents enjoying a new improved snarl-up along Lower Road.
Trade the second-hand car lots at Sudbury Town for a motorbike shop, the Lebanese restaurants for a couple of Italian panini joints, and the green splodge and Number 18 buses for an enormous Tesco the size of Berkshire – and there isn’t too much of a difference shopping-wise between here and ST. Housing-wise, though, this is chalk to ST’s industrial-cheddar-strewn pizzas. ST’s Sargasso Sea of indistinguishable streets of bay-windowed pebble-dashed between-the-wars semis are replaced by blocks of municipal flats, estates of Council housing to the west, more Council housing, including neat little sixties ‘Brookside’ type developments, interleaved with modern ‘luxury flat’ developments stretching east towards the Thames.
I stop for a flat, soggy panini. Another text comes through from Fran: The mushrooms I meant! Don’t know how they’ll do in the rain – good simulations, though. I had to touch them to decide.
I reply: ‘Simulations’? You mean someone – then who? – made them and put them there?
A little later, another text: Exactly!
This, I think, is the most exciting thing that’s happened so far today. I text Fran to take photos and investigate further.
Half-an-hour after leaving Surrey Quays (Overground one stop north, Jubilee the rest of the way), I’m at Swiss Cottage (B4). Thankfully, the rain has stopped. When I lived at Goldhurst Terrace I patronised the swimming pool and library here – and, very occasionally, the Hampstead Theatre. In those days the area was a bit disjointed and run-down but Camden Council have spent serious money and, though the modern leisure centre isn’t standing up as well as the older central library, it looks cohesive.
I walk back up the Finchley Road examining the shopping parades. I’m pleased to inform everyone that the FR is practising hard for the Rio Olympics and the new Olympian Sport of Traffic Snarl-Up: going north I think it’s got a fair chance of making the finals. But it’s got some strategic planning to do if it wants to get anywhere with the southbound carriageway.
I chance upon a luggage shop, Mr Luggage. I case out the joint. It’s packed with luggage but the wheelie luggage here isn’t nearly as huge as at Seven Sisters (see post, Ambiguous Neighbourhoods etc). Clearly, an explanation is in order so I engage the proprietor in discussion. I point to a gigantic silver trunk the size of a container lorry. Why, I ask him, aren’t there wheels on this?
Oh, I could put wheels on that for you if you want, he says. It would cost about another hundred pounds. I’d make more money, but I don’t advise it. The wheels wouldn’t last long, the load would be too heavy for them.
We talk some more. I ask him how he can make any money when wheelie luggage the size of an average American costs a tad under thirty pounds sterling.
I have been lucky, he replies. Very lucky.
That is Balm of Gilead to me, a joy to my ears. Too often those fortunate people – those high-flyers, leaders of industry, financial whizz-kids – think that their wealth is due to their skills or arcane knowledge rather than luck. E.g. – having the luck to be born to the right parents who, in Mr Luggage’s case, inculcated the virtues of hard work and personal service into him at an early age.
Mr L. continues. He has a tale to tell spanning generations and stretching across the globe. His Grandfather emigrated from India to Hong Kong where he built up a multi-million pound business. The fortune descended to his Father who divided it equally with his brothers. Subsequently there were ructions but Mr L. – who was at the London School of Economics – had already bagged the lease on this shop. Through his contacts, he approached Samsonite with the idea that the future of luggage included integral wheels. Boxing cleverly, he became in return the Samsonite wholesaler serving North London. A case of an idea that found its time, of being in the right place at the right time.
There is more, much more, to his tale – but, alas, I must truncate the recounting. At the end, I ask his name.
Sandeep, he says.
Shaking his hand, I reply, And I’m Sandy.
Ah! He says. That’s what I usually call myself. Some people find Sandeep too hard to pronounce.
Why do I suddenly feel so thrilled? No, not thrilled. I feel filled with the endless possibilities of life. But why? What’s in a name? What switch in my mental marshalling yard has been thrown that gives this coincidence its special charge of meaning?
The Inner Curmudgeon gives me a kick in the pants. Ach, laddie! he says, Stop your endless fretting! Enjoy the moment!
My last stop of the day – Jubilee then the Overground one stop south of Forest Hill – is Sydenham (F6) – and the sun is out. Well, sort-of-out. I’m still chasing Fran about the mushroom simulations but making little headway. Basically, Sydenham is a long high street slipping downhill eastwards from Crystal Palace. It’s almost a proper High Street – it’s got a fishmonger, butchers, greengrocers, coffee shops, an excellent community bookshop (Kirkdale Bookshop) and matching Co-op and Mediterranean supermarkets – but like many of its sister streets, it’s struggling. Recently Lewisham put money into a makeover and it seems to be working. It retains its five-star snarl-up but it’s a more pleasant environment for pedestrians.
I try a new shop, The Calabash of Culture, whose windows are filled with African musical instruments and crafts, though I’m attracted by the notice-board advertising plantain fritters. Inside I learn that it also hosts complementary therapy sessions. I decide I’ll go back some time soon but for now, apart from getting provisions at both supermarkets, it’s time for me to head home – one stop north, arrival time: 5.25 pm.
I examine the grass in the Albion Millennium Green. I spot one broken mushroom head. It feels a bit funny, but I’m still not sure what’s what. It’s only when I’m back home that things become clearer …