Tuesday 8 October – Temple (Square D5 on the Tube map), Theydon Bois (A8), Tooting Bec (F4), Tooting Broadway (F4), Tottenham Court Road (C5)
It’s a glorious autumn day but I really don’t want to go out. My muscles are aching from my recent over-strenuous gardening but that’s only a part of it. It’s more that I really really don’t want to drag my carcass around the Tube. Not today, not this week, not this year. Come on! I’ve visited over three hundred stations. What more is there to discover about London and its neighbourhoods? Surely I’ve run the gamut of human emotion – or as much of it as I’m going to run?
It’s his own stupid fault, Dear Readers, The Inner Curmudgeon chips in. And it’s not the first time. He’s a serial offender. ‘Over-strenuous gardening’! My Giddy Aunt!
Craig does this every sodding year! he continues. He can’t be buttocked mowing the lawn for the last two months of the summer until it gets to be long rank meadow. Then and only then does does he get off his BTM. Only he has to hunker down and clip it inch by sopping inch with the hand-shears! Huh!
Sometimes I wish The IC didn’t get things right so often.
It’s almost ten o’clock as I mooch through the Albion Millennium Green. At least I’ve found out that it was Kevin that made the fairy shrine. What with Maria’s Labyrinth, the Green is developing into a Do-It-Yourself ‘Art Space’. Come on down, Charles (‘No Necks Please, We’re British’) Saatchi to where it’s happening! If he can get here, that is. The South Circular hasn’t taken its muesli today – it’s completely bunged-up.
The Metro’s headline is: New father dies a hero in bar fight I am reading Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations – the many neurological causes of hallucinations from Charles Bonnet Syndrome through sensory deprivation, the illusions of Parkinsonism, drugs, migraines, epilepsy, deliriums, narcolepsy, night-hags … I get the 10.04 am Overground northwards changing at Whitechapel onto the District. This is the long way to Temple (Square D5) but it’s the easy way. My attention is attracted to the wooden benches on the platform: the wood is sculpted at the edges to form four individual sitting areas. I’ve never seen this model of bench in my travels. I ask a Station Attendant about them. He’s not sure whether they’re unique, but he thinks some parts of the station are listed – perhaps the benches are? That would be a first, I think gaily, the first listed buttocks-restrainers! Or, since we’re talking English Heritage here and because the exterior of the station has Parisian pretensions, perhaps that should be derriere-gardes?
Tush! Tush! quips The IC. We’re not in a Whitehall farce, you know.
I wander eastwards through the Embankment Gardens. I’ve discovered that the last of the Inns of Court, The Temple, is here. There’s a four-star snarl-up westwards on the Embankment – and as I will discover later in my ramblings, a rival sibling snarl-up on The Strand to the north – but here, in the walkways and gardens of The Temple, peace and serenity hold sway. I amble through the Outer and the Inner Temple, through Fountains Court and Paper Court, Stone Court and Scissors Cloisters, past Essex Court and The Master’s House. It is suffused with an aura of timelessness; it is all truly wonderful. Putting the cherry on the legal cup-cake, the Temple has its own bank (Lloyds), its own temple (the Temple Church) and its own coffee shop (well, the law needs baristas).
I return to Temple station and sit on a sculpted bench awaiting a District train eastwards. I muse on beauty. Is beauty unchanging and eternal, in the Temple’s case sanctifying the law? Or does beauty evolve as social relations evolve, changing with the nature of society? Is it a matter of taste? In which case, is the Temple only an early and centuries-old brand-building exercise? Have I been taken in by its mellowness, cossetted by its architectural gentility in contrast to the shouty Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that is today’s architecture?
I journey on. This will be my last visit north of Snaresbrook on the Central line east and a sudden heavy sense of loss assails me as the train bounces towards Buckhurst Hill. I’ve already completed the Edgware branch of the Northern line, the Jubilee line north of Wembley Park, the Piccadilly westward branch to Heathrow, the DLR branches to Beckton and Lewisham … The Tube map is shrinking … I imagine each station on the Tube map lit up with a little LED light which turns off after my visit: whole branches are now ghost lines … after the Tootings that’ll be it for the southbound Northern line. But feelings of loss about TubeforLOLs! It’s most strange the way my mind turns.
At last! The IC sneers, a smattering of self-knowledge, Craig. Though, quite frankly, if I never see any of those tube stations again, I’ll be a Happy Curmudgeon. What about you, Proffie?
The Wee Professor looks up from Mallory-Tennyson’s Theory of Tragic Numbers. He shrugs. It’s all much of a muchness to me, he says. I could do with less of the jostling. He opens today’s bag of crisps: Brie, Moscatel Grape and Sel de Noirmoutier. He pops a single crisp into his mouth, masticates it thirty two times, swallows, purrs.
Fifty minutes after leaving Temple I arrive at Theydon Bois (A8). This is deepest Essex and TB is a proper village. It has fields all around it (OK, beyond the fields to the east roars the M11, beyond the fields to the north the M25 bellows) except where it has woods, notably Epping Forest. It has a village green (over-large), two handsome old pubs (‘The Bull’ and ‘The Queen Victoria’), two butchers, a baker, a patisserie, beauty and hair parlours and a Tesco Express. There’s a barney going on at the laundrette but mainly it’s peaceful. Rolls-Royces and Range Rovers give way to tiny Nissan Micras. (Noblesse oblige, old chap!)
Enough of this, Mr TubeforLOLs, I hear you cry. You are desperate to know the one question that needs answering about Theydon Bois. I stop off at the second meat-sellers. The butcher – a tall, big-boned chap about my age with a long face and greying hair – is intent on trimming a rack of lamb and doesn’t hear me enter. I wait, examining the different cuts of meat, all immaculately displayed. Eventually he senses my presence and turns round, apologising.
I ask him: How long have you lived here? All my life, comes the ready answer, here and in these parts.
Good, good, good! I think. I have an expert here. I ask my second question: And how do you pronounce the word after ‘Theydon’? Is it ‘Boy’, ‘Boys’ or ‘Bois’ as in the Bois de Boulogne?
‘Boyz’ comes the answer. We get to talking. He tells how, in junior school, he was taught that Epping Forest was once called Essex Forest and was owned by the monks at Waltham Abbey at that time the second richest abbey in England. He shakes his head. Everything changes, he says. Epping is no longer the country market town it once was; Theydon Bois no longer the village it once was: three Indian restaurants, an Italian restaurant newly opened up, garages and shops closed, flats – flats being built on every patch of ground. The greenwood vision of his childhood, the Englishness of it, is disappearing before his eyes.
I pop back to the bakers where I buy a mozzarella and salad sandwich. It takes the concept of the ‘doorstep sandwich’ into a whole new dimension. Fortunately, I’d had wheels added to my back-pack at Mr Luggage (see post How The Luggage Got Its Wheels). I manage to lug the sandwich out to a handy bench before the wheels buckle. I meditate on change. Whether we call change progress or not, all change involves loss as well as gain, and the loss is often the easier to perceive.
It takes an hour to reach the first of the two Tootings. I’ll deal with Tooting Bec (F4) and Tooting Broadway (F4) together, since they both lie, less than a mile apart, on the snarling, growling, gnashing-of-teeth A24, and since, in many respects, they are almost indistinguishable.
At both stations you are met with classical music and Thoughts for the Day. (Since you ask: ‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.’ ‘It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you have.’) Outside both, you will be tapped for money by beggars while police cars burst ear-drums practising their Formula Dodgem antics. There are no riverine developments at either (not a culverted brook or rill at Bec, at least not this side of the gargantuan Tooting Bec lido half a mile to the east). The width of the road is the same in both neighbourhoods (there is nothing wider about the Broadway). At both you will be faced with seemingly never-ending lines of shops reflecting the tastes of the inner-city, mainly Asian population – though both also have a coffee-bar/eaterie apiece hinting at the presence of a trendy middle-class.
T. Broadway has more High Street names, is marginally less down-market and has two indoor markets selling more types of clothing, textiles, linens, household squatchums, etc. etc. than seems feasible or possible. If there’s something you think you might want and you can’t get to Peckham, try T. Broadway. On the downside, T. Broadway station has an exit on only one side of the A24 though its frontage is enlivened by a statue of Edward VII – funded by public subscription. Times change: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to pay for a statue of the Prince Bletherer when he slouches to the throne! Hmm! Could that be progress?
T. Bec stands out for having more terminal alcholics weaving across the A24, exits/entrances to the station on both sides of the A24 and a huge warehouse on the A24 towards Balham bearing the noticeboard: South Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co. Ltd. My heart leaps at the sight like a doe-deer on the first day of spring. I’d missed a full investigation of its retail branch (see post, My Wimbledon Epiphany) a couple of weeks back. Now is my chance. Inside, it is truly an Aladdin’s cave – that is, if Aladdin and the Genie were of a sewing persuasion.
There are ranks and ranks of machines on display, machines of all vintages. There are huge Dexion stacks leading into the far distance all packed with sewing machines, engines for sewing machines, parts of sewing machines. Further on there are vintage motor cars …
I explain to a large gentleman in braces with a waft of cigar-smoke about him that I have been to their shop in South Wimbledon. He cuts me short. That’s a separate branch of the family, he says. We have nothing to do with them here.
Whoops! Foot in Mouth time! Again!
But he mellows. His already large frame expands as he extols the unique virtues of his empire. We can restore any sewing machine, any, he says. Take that [name indecipherable] from 1902 – he points to a gleaming black with silver filigree machine midway up the first stack of Dexion shelving. And we have a Sewing Machine Museum – we open it the first Saturday of the month in the p.m. We have Queen Victoria’s sewing machine in there, plus the fourth sewing machine ever made by [name indecipherable]. Who? I ask. He cocks an eyebrow. The inventor of the sewing machine, he replies.
My last station, 35 minutes away on the Northern line, is Tottenham Court Road (C5). I get there at 3.45 pm. I’ve a mind to check out Foyles and have a juice and cake at their café but when I eventually manage to negotiate the Crossrail works I find the café dark dusty and crowded. I decide to use the toilet only to find a queue for the single unisex cubicle. The queue is Mo, the elder son of the Somali family I met atop wheelie luggage at Edgware Road (see post, Redemption Song) and then selling Pifco fans (see post, 2013: A Tube Odyssey). He tells me he’s a professional queuer. I’m queueing for seven people already, he says. With the amount of coffee they drink out there, he nods towards the café, it’s a steady business. A woman slips out of the toilet. Instantly, Mo is on his mobile to the next in line. Sorry, Sandy, he says, I can’t let you skip the queue. That’s OK, Mo, I say, as he gives the toilet a quick anti-bacterial cleansing.
I trail around the area for another half-an-hour but all the little hideaways I once favoured have disappeared. The whole neighbourhood north of Oxford Street is changing. The vast Royal Mail Sorting Yard stretching from Rathbone Place through to Newman Street, a prime site, is being redeveloped. It must have sold for hundreds of millions of pounds. I hope Osborne Junior has counted that in the price of the auction for the Queen’s Head.
I bundle myself back on the tube and, via Northern, Jubilee and Overground lines, arrive back at Forest Hill at 5.10 pm.