Tuesday 22 October – Turnham Green (Square D2 on the Tube map), Turnpike Green (D2), Upminster (B9), Upminster Bridge (B9), Upney (C9)
TubeforLOLs presents – perhaps, ‘throws up’ is a better expression – many philosophical questions. For instance, is there a Platonic ideal of a TubeforLOLs trip? Or is the Wittgensteinian notion of ‘family resemblance’ a better intellectual tool with which to get to grips with this alphabetic tube travelling? How can we reconcile the sheer pointlessness and boredom that is the hall-mark of TubeforLOLs with the fact that things, admittedly mainly pointless and boring things, do occasionally happen? Whatever. As today progresses – perhaps, ‘unravels’ is the mot juste – I begin to entertain hopes that this may turn out to be the quintessential TubeforLOLs trip.
I shuffle – half-wonky, half-dazed, half-mushy-minded – into Forest Hill station at somewhere around ten o’clock. It’s grey, wettish and very mild – the macrocosm of the world reflecting the microcosm of my mind. The Metro’s headline outdoes itself: One-man race war It’s about an Ukrainian neo-nazi student who murdered a Muslim OAP and tried to bomb three mosques – all within weeks of arrival in the UK. I wonder if the world invents itself so that it can be turned into a good Metro headline. I turn to the book-of-the-day: The Blunders of our Governments by Ivor Crewe and Anthony King. If you had to pick the archetypical TubeforLOLs read, surely this would be in with a shout?
Even the minutiae of tube travelling as I wander through the day are all stock, classic or stereotypical – the over-large woman with voluminous bags who laps over two seats in the District line train to Turnham Green and talks constantly to herself in a stage-whisper; the interminable journey on the Piccadilly line (also known as the Wheelie Luggage International Game Reserve) topped off with three delays ‘to regulate the service’ (including the driver’s triumphant announcement at the end of the last delay that ‘We have been given permission to go!’); the toilet-experience at Turnpike Lane (say no more); the various building-works at Blackhorse Road (en route from Turnpike Lane), by Dagenham East (en route to Upminster) and later at Upney; the couple at Upminster Bridge who miss the train and immediately start arguing …
I get to Turnham Green (Square D2) at 11 am. Way back in March I was struck that Chiswick Park station was actually the nearest to Turnham Green (the Green) – see post, Toot! Toot! etc. Sure enough, there’s directions to Turnham Green (the Green) from Turnham Green (the Station): it’s 890 yards away. It’s yet another example, if any more were needed, of the wilful misnaming of Tube stations. And it’s not even as if there’s a shortage of green spaces after which to name the station: Acton Green Common directly across the road is a perfectly acceptable Green to name a station after, while Chiswick Back Common thirty yards to the left may fit the bill better for TG’s snootier residents.
But I quickly realise that I have stumbled onto something more Platonic: forget the likes of Hampstead (over-run by tourists in denial), Kew Gardens (too tasteful, too light-weight), Ealing (too bland, too over-run by brands and, anyway, too large), Turnham Green is your ideal chi-chi London village. From its half-timbered shops clustered around the station, its two greens and lofty red-bricked church, to its neatly-turned out and relatively smooth-tootling High Street with its JoJo Maman Bebe outlet and its estate agents, its chocolatier displaying chocolate high-heeled shoes (there’s also chocolate Snowmen, chocolate rugby balls and chocolate theatrical masks for my non-fashionista followers), its bistros and delis, its butcher and its fishmonger, TG makes a convincing case for a podium finish in the category of ‘chi-chi London village’. It’s also up there in the ‘Foodie Heaven’ stakes. The knock-out blow is provided by Natoora green-grocers where the shop-attendants titivate and delicately spray the freshest and most curious of greengrocery-wares from around the world. After considerable discussion I buy some sorbe fruit – no, I’ve never heard of them before. They look like small brown gob-stoppers and I learn that they come from Italy and when ripe they have a distinctive brandy aroma.
Mind you, TG can’t quite rival East Dulwich which has a better fishmonger, butcher and delis plus similar bistros, estate agents and a sibling JMB outlet. However, TG counter-punches because ED is, basically, a long straggling road prey to slow-motion snarl-ups. But then, of course, ED isn’t on the Tube and therefore can’t logically be a rival …
You’re getting your proverbial underwear in a rhumba, warns The Inner Curmudgeon. And what’s all this going soft on middle-class havens?
During my hour on the tube to Turnpike Road I sample the pleasures of Crewe and King. I turn to their chapter called Down the Tubes which is about the largely-forgotten Public Private Partnership (PPP) that would, allegedly, deliver much of the London Underground into the 21st Century courtesy of Metronet (a joint venture of half-a-dozen large private companies) and a mind-boggling specification and contract for its services. The PPP – and Metronet – was a disaster from Day One. By the time it was put out of its misery, Crewe and King estimate that it had cost the UK taxpayers somewhere in the region of £20+ billion. While The Poll Tax, the Pension Mis-selling Saga, Britain’s exit from the ERM, the Dome are ‘blunders’ of government, the Metronet disaster is ‘blunder-plus’. As one of the main players says, ‘You couldn’t make it up. You simply couldn’t make it up.’ Unfortunately, someone did make it up – his name is Gordon. And no-one dared stop him.
Turnpike Lane (A6) measures up fine for stereotypical run-down inner city. My notes read, ‘Typically splendid Piccadilly line station. Classical music being played. Big bus station out back. Disappointing public toilets. Two down-at-heel shopping ‘parades’ – nothing parade-like about them. No, three of them. Back-street traffic jams. People milling in every direction. Loads of street furniture, CCTV cameras everywhere, CCTV cameras grimly monitoring other CCTV cameras, ambulances screaming through. No, maybe five down-at-heel lines of shops.
Dark gloomy Indian, Turkish and Mauritian restaurants, cheap Halal butchers, long narrow Asian grocery ‘bazars’, a Wetherspoons. Newsagents/tobacconists/off-licenses, luggage shops, all the usuals. Dingy bit of greenery with huddle of multi-cultural super-strength cider drinkers drinking under cover by tube entrance. (The drizzle at TG strengthening, rain sweeping in.)’
I am entranced by mammoth splendid-looking fruit, called jackfruit, in an Asian bazaar. They taste a little like water-melon, I am told. I ask the price. The shop-assistant points to one. About forty three, forty five pounds for that one. I decide to buy some that are already prepared, set on a polystyrene tray and wrapped tightly in cling-film.
My journey to Upminster involves three changes and four Tube lines – Piccadilly south two stops to Finsbury Park, Victoria north three stops to Blackhorse Road, Overground counter-clockwise eastwards on the Gospel Oak to Barking branch, then District east to the end of the line. I had been told at Natoora that you could tell when sorbe fruit were ripe by their distinctive brandy aroma. By the end of this journey I am being borne along on a heady waft of five star cognac – a Rémy Martin, their Coeur de Cognac Fine Champagne I think.
After the packed shoutie hurly-burly of Turnpike Lane, Upminster (B9) comes as something of a relief: slower-paced, much less busy, suburban, Uppie is a true end-of-the-line station though with a distinctive Essex flavour. Size-wise it sits midway between Cockfosters and Morden. Wealth-wise it can’t compete with its Northern or Western cousins. It’s got an M&S, a Waitrose and its own local semi-department store, Roomes – split inconveniently into two buildings on either side of the main drag. But don’t expect a Debenhams or a Fenwicks and forget about your Paul patisseries, Petit Bateaux or JoJo Maman Bebes, while the local Bang & Olufson has closed its doors for the last time. Of the three eateries I spot none quite tickles the Craig-palate. I guess I’m a bit paninied-out. Besides, not quite being able to decide where to lunch is surely another defining characteristic of TubeforLOLs?
I decide instead to develop the incipient fruit-theme of the day by taking cakes home from the nearest Upminster does to chi-chi – the Susie Bon-Bea Bakery. I purchase a slice of Spiced Rhubarb cake with nutmeg and cinnamon, with frosted vanilla topping, and a Gooseberry cup-cake. I also add to my vast stock of bakery knowledge by finding out about the post cup-cake craze that’s sweeping the nation: the Whoopie. (Actually, it’s probably already swept the nation while slipping past me.) Half cookie, half cake, half biscuit, half bicycle – well, slightly joking about the last, though a whoopie is composed of two, often chocolate, wheel-shaped biscuity-cakes with an even-sweeter creamy filling.
The assistant makes conversation as she packs the cakes into their pre-formed plastic ‘click and clock’ boxes. You’ll be having a high old time at tea, won’t you, she says. What with that armagnac you have in your back-pack, she adds coquettishly. I tip a roguish wink on my exit.
As the more assiduous of my followers are aware, amidst all the ennui and pointlessness that I suffer for my TubeforLOLs’ art, I do, on occasion, experience brief twinges of jubilation. And now is one of these felicitous junctures.
The Inner Curmudgeon butts in. Craig is getting carried away. He means, relief, Dear Readers.
The occasion is that my next visit is to Upminster Bridge, the next stop westwards, homewards. And the final visit is to Upney, only six stops away, and also homewards. Rare are the occasions when the stations fall so pat in line – the Northwood / Northwicks and the Stratfords come to mind. They are to be savoured for their rarity.
Upminster Bridge (B9) is Upminster’s poor, largely-forgettable and best-forgotten relation. There’s a line of shops on either side of the railway line, both so-so except if you need plumbing supplies or bedding in which case left is your direction of choice. You will also find an Indian restaurant called ‘Passage to India’. Alas, it was closed on my visit so I could not connect.
Turning right there’s an assortment of shops including an empty barbers (the barber busy extracting hairs from his noise as I passed) and a small Londis. I enter hoping for a meat-free snack or sandwich. I exit without hope though I do spot four apples sitting lonely on a polystyrene tray imprisoned in heavy-duty clingfilm, ditto four oranges, ditto three limes. Opposite there’s an empty-looking pub called ‘The Windmill’ which makes a great deal about its prowess at flame-grilling.
My final visit is to Upney (C9). This reminds me a lot of Becontree – but then it is the neighbouring station. The fifties council housing – two-storey pebbled-dashed terraces and semis – also reminds me of my first home, on the Bellsdyke Road in Stenhousemuir, though why I’m not quite sure. Our house, Dunelm, was one half of a pair of semi-detached for the McDoctors at the local hospital. Between them and the hospital lay ‘the huts’ – rows of wooden prefabs – which housed the McNurses, McPorters and their McSproggins. I spot a big yellow sign stating Upney Fish Bar Winner 06-07 Chippy of the Year in London. But when I get there, and despite the woozy sorbe aromas, I realise that six years is a long time in fish frying.
I make do with a banana and apple I catch loitering in the local mini-market supplemented by what the box containing what it tells me is an egg and cress sandwich. I make my way to Mayesbrook Park. This is a mistake. Partly because it’s as grey bleak and wind-swept as the golf-course across the Bellsdyke Road in my fifties childhood. But mainly because within seconds I am surrounded by a pompous, irritable, impatient deputation of Canada geese with reinforcements quick-marching from all points of the horizon. They are upholding the ancient Upney tradition of highway robbery. I sacrifice some of the e-and-c sandwich though they seem more interested in my back-pack. I beat a strategic retreat before they discover the rhubarb and gooseberry cakes.
I scuttle back to Forest Hill via District, Jubilee and Overground lines, arriving home shortly after 4.45 pm. Really I should be trying to sum up the day in my mind: was today but fleeting shadows in the cave? Or was it something more – or rather, less – insubstantial? Something ideal (in the Platonic sense)? In reality, as soon as I get home, Fran and I sit down to tea. Both cakes were well worth the wait.