Tuesday 15 October – Tottenham Hale (Square B7 on the Tube map), Totteridge & Whetstone (A5), Tower Gateway (D7), Tower Hill (D6), Tufnell Park (B5)
A grey day and a miserable prospect. First off, the snorting snarling road junction known as Tottenham Hale. Next up, Totteridge & Whetstone – one from the end of the Northern line’s High Barnet branch and the only thing likely in its favour is that it’s one step nearer to civilization than High Barnet. Then the two Towers, Gateway and Hill – tourist fodder; ugh! And finally, Tufnell Park: an awful dump the last time I was there twenty years ago, an awful dump the first time I visited forty years ago!
Stop belly-aching, Craig! hollers The Inner Curmudgeon.
I get to Forest Hill station at 9.45 am to see one Overground train gliding slowly away northwards and with the news that the next one has been delayed. It sighs up all of five minutes late at 9.55 a.m.
I am reading Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life in which Grosz recounts tales from the psychoanalyst’s consulting room. I read, ‘The future is a fantasy that shapes our present.’ His point is that sometimes we can get stuck in the past. But sometimes also we can get stuck in the future. Both are ways of avoiding the present. OK! OK! But what if you want to avoid the immediate future, eh?
The Overground comes back over-the-ground at Shoreditch High Street. The sun looks like it’s breaking through the clouds. And then: whooff! Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters pop into my mind in full technicolor, singing, ‘Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. You got to spread joy up to the maximum, bring gloom down to the minimum …’
That’s what I’ll do today, I think.
No! NO! NO! yells The Inner Curmudgeon. You can’t do that. It’s not you. It’s false. He’s spitting nails. Stop that noise!
It’s not noise – it’s singing, I reply mid-cadenza – changing seamlessly from Bing’s to The Andrew Sisters’ part.
It’s not singing, The IC replies. It’s croaking, croaking worse than ten thousand English football fans!
The Metro headline is: Maddie: Who was man with a child in his arms This is a new clue in the abduction of Madeleine McCann in 2007. Hah! I think. The Portuguese Police are as perceptive and good at their job as our plods. Great. We may be bottom of the Police Intelligence League but at least we’re bottom equal!
The Victoria line train thunders into Tottenham Hale (Square B7) at 10.35 am. Great stuff! And outside …! Well, I guess I’ve been blind to the glories of T. Hale before. It’s got at least one of everything. And its snarl-ups, boysie-boysie!, it’s snarl-ups are out of this world.
Gracious, there’s so much more to T. Hale than I’d expected. As well as student housing (for 1,200), ‘Hale Village’ has social housing, shared-ownership housing, housing for rent, housing to buy. It’s a true modern village – it’s got a Tesco Express, a Gym and a Kiddies’ Playground. One day soon there’ll be a kidney hospital and, possibly, a coffee-shop. In the meantime, there are a couple of industrial estates, a Technopark and, best of all, the Lea Valley Park on the doorstep.
I make my way LVP-wards when I meet my first Tottenham Haler: a street-cleaner – sweeper of all he surveys which, at this time of year, is mainly leaves. He was born five minutes walk down the road, lived here all his life. It’s all changed, he says. He looks over at Hale Village. ‘If that’s what they call progress,’ he says, ‘they can bloody keep it.’
Hah! The IC chips in. A man with sense.
I slip into the Lea Valley Park. North of here it gets pretty grisly. Ponders End, a couple of miles away, could easily be the grisliest place in London. But, hey! You know what? It’s not on the Tube! I won’t be visiting it – brill!
An immaculate (to my eyes) narrowboat is moored a hundred yards away. I talk with the owner – designer eye-ware, slightly hip, civilized, big, about my age, could be an architect, I think. But no, he’s a photographer called Jobo. He’s only just got here – he was moored last night by Victoria Park and woke up at around four o’clock to an almighty thump. Some kids had opened the lock letting out the water and his narrowboat was lurching to one side. He had to quickly refill the lock and right his n-boat before disaster struck. This morning, he made his way up here first thing. I compliment him on his floral display. He shakes his head. It’s not very good these days, he says. He waves his hand at pots of petunias without blooms. I forgot to water them one weekend in July [during the heatwave].
However, life on the canal-swell can’t be all bad. I rented out my flat for a year, he says. That was five years ago.
It takes three quarters of an hour to get to Totteridge & Whetstone (A5). That’s fine by me. I hadn’t realised quite how exhausting this happiness lark is. I need a bit of mooching time. I arrive at 12.30 pm, stroll past the usual suspects loitering by the station and head for the High Street. This has a Boots, a Waitrose, an M&S, Pizza Express, a pub called The Griffin and some reasonable looking local eateries. OK, so there’s no hanging baskets, The Stone Marquee – whatever that was – is no more and The Green Man is a tyre and exhaust centre. But it’s got fine trees and only a semi-demi-hemi snarl-up. The Wee Professor classifies it in the top quartile of suburban high streets.
I return to the station parade. I’ve spotted a place, The Waiting Room, that’s three-quarters café and one-quarter curiosity shop – the tables and chairs are an assortment of second-hand domestic furniture, with jewellery stands and knick-knacks, all for sale. The menus are fixed in battered hardback books (also for sale), tap-water comes in jam-jars with straws. The waiter is about to direct me to a cramped back table when I’m invited to share a larger table at the front by an ebullient blonde. Within minutes she’s invited a woman at a nearby table to join us. The blonde is called Maria, she’s Spanish. The other woman – slimmer, dark-haired, more intense, with an outrageous French accent – is Mina. She’s reading a book in Hebrew, her mother tongue (and, thus, the origin of the accent that isn’t French after all), about the need to focus on the present. Maria’s menu is enclosed in a book about positivity. Gracious me! I’ve landed in a hot-bed of happiness! Even better, I can relax, I don’t need to will myself to happiness, I’m transported by Maria and Mina’s light-heartedness. The Inner Curmudgeon, recognising that he’s got no hope of resurrecting the Craig misery-guts, keeps a low profile.
The three of us spend a convivial lunch introducing ourselves and our life-histories (both Maria and Mina met their future husbands while visiting England, Mina’s tale is a particularly heartening story of rambling, love at first sight and female determination), talking about the local area and the best restaurants, trading thoughts on England and the English. Everything is suffused with a golden glow. Even the newspapers’ negativity is positive, according to Maria, who launches into a splendid riff on how we need their negativity to enhance our own positivity. The food is pretty good, too: the boiled eggs which accompany Maria and my Super-food Salads are done just right. When I leave, at 2.40 pm, the sun gets into the act and breaks through the clouds.
I haven’t got high hopes for Tower Gateway (D7), accessed via the DLR, or for Tower Hill (D6) barely a hundred yards away on the Circle and District lines. At T.G., I veer eastwards to the old Royal Mint site. The Royal Mint has long since decamped and it’s now a dismal compound of offices.
But, you know what? I look on the bright side. I don’t have to work here – fabulous! I smooch my way to St Katherine’s Dock. Forget Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, SKD is where history was made. This was the first of London’s Docks to be re-developed in the mid 1970s, initially with artists’ studios and a couple of pubs. All those have long since gone. It’s now a boat-park for huge cruisers surrounded by ‘up-scale’ (i.e. ludicrously expensive and poor value) restaurants, flats and offices.
It took some time for SKD to take off. Arguably, if it hadn’t, Thatcher and Heseltine wouldn’t have concoted the London Docklands Development Corporation, Canary Wharf may never have happened and the Banks may have rested on their laurels as the Inventors of ‘Holes-in-the-Walls’ rather than as ‘Holes-in-our-Pockets’ Bandits.
I’m looking on the bright side on my way to Tower Hill – Shadwell on the DLR is one of the few DLR stations with an island platform making changing a dawdle – when I overhear the young guy next to me on his mobile phone. Earlier this morning, he says, I ran my bath, went through to the living room to listen to some music. But, hey, I forgot, just forgot, about the bath. Then, when I got there, there was water all over the floor. And, like, it had got into the flat below. He recounts this disaster with great good humour: what a gas!
Hmm! Actually, sometimes you can have too much of this positive accentuation lark. Sometimes the appropriate response is negative.
Tower Hill station’s Unique Selling Proposition is that it has a separate exit and entrance. The exit, which you encounter first, has an old tram outside masquerading as a food stall. The sickly-sweet smell of carbonized onion and greasy hot dog hangs in the air. I decide to U-turn northwards and drop by Fenchurch Street Station – besides, it’s the only mainline terminus I haven’t visited.
To say FSS is disappointing is akin to suggesting that an eternity in hell is a toasty experience. It’s at least Number 602 in the 1,001 Things You Don’t Need To Do Before You Die. I return to the entrance of Tower Hill where my nasal organ twitches to the sweet odour of chocolate-covered nuts being warmed. Much better to chance on this bearable reek after having suffered the dogs’ guff first.
It takes an hour to get to Tufnell Park (B5) even though it’s only one stop west on the Circle and eight north on the Northern line. The voice in the lift is fierce. ‘No obstructing the doors,’ she says even though we’re half-way up already. ‘No smoking anywhere on the Underground,’ she adds, her voice bringing a tinge of the Gestapo to the word ‘stern’. I catch the eye of a young woman standing with her mother. ‘No smiling anywhere on the Underground,’ I mimic. She and her mother burst into laughter, followed by the other travellers.
Outside, Tufnell Park is better than I remembered. Mind you, I’m dubious about any eaterie called The Rustique – The Literary Café, I can only slightly warm to the pop-up children’s wear shop Leaping Lizards, and am appalled by Ackland Burghley School’s slogan (‘Learning to Succeed Together’). ‘Better’ is, of course, a relative term.
I fancy a drink, but neither of the two hostelries (a ‘sports bar’ and a customer-free black-painted zone called Aces and Eights) on the five road junction at the station, appeals. I fancy something more old-fashioned. Then, I remember the last time I was here there was a truly-awful spit-and-sawdust beer-swiller somewhere … I set off towards the Holloway Road and, yes, it’s still there: The Tufnell Park Tavern. Sure, it has changed, changed utterly. It’s a gastro-pub now, offers real ale, has a toddler-session just ending (a real live toddler eagerly holds the pub-door open for the Craig misery-guts), it’s warm and friendly and the half of Butcombe bitter from Somerset goes down smoothly …
Except the waitress sweeps it away before you’ve finished it, sneers The Inner Curmudgeon. Makes you decide you won’t have another!
His comment is water off a duck’s back. As is the turgid 65 minutes it takes to get back to Forest Hill (trouble on the Overground) where I arrive, the night long since turned pitch-black, at 7.25pm. Come on, IC and WP, all together now: ‘Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark, What did they do when everything looked so dark? They said, We’d better accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative …