Ah Memory – You Disobedient Dog! (70/80)

Post 70 of 80. Tuesday 29 October  – Upper Holloway (Square B6 on the Tube map), Upton Park (C8), Uxbridge (A1), Vauxhall (E4), Victoria (D4)

I can’t believe it: a Tube station here! Over the past forty years I’ve passed this way countless times (as in ‘I can’t remember how many times’) mainly by car, sometimes on foot and, perhaps, a couple of times by bus. And I’ve never known there was a station here. I’m gob-smacked. Or, as I used to say when but a callow youth – my gast is flabbered.  

Mind you, this particular station is stretching the definition of ‘station’ to the limits of its underpants’ elastic. It’s more a portakabin with a couple of Oyster readers attached and a vast Pergolesi structure of slopes, ramps, 180 degree switchbacks and corkscrews, a redundant foot-bridge, and railings which ascend and descend from platform-level to street-level – the platforms being sunk in a narrow, precipitous ravine many coal-mines deep below the surging snarling A1.

I’m talking about Upper Holloway station (Square B6) which I’ve reached at 9.55 am after 70 minutes on a trio of Overgrounds (to Highbury & Islington, then to Gospel Oak, finally on the Barking spur). It’s bang on the Holloway Road a couple of hundred yards south of Archway (see Post, A Sorry Little Parade of Shops etc). The good old, bad old, endlessly familiar, never-ending traffic jam popularly known as the Holloway Road. How could I not have known it was here? How could I forget it, retain not a trace memory of it?

Mind you, the stretches of shops either side of the road here are instantly forgettable. Take the battered gap-toothed lot malingering on the south-east stretch: Church of the Grace of God (battered, graceless), Century 21 (estate agents), Empty, Beauty Agents, Dry Cleaners, Converted to residential, Empty (currently being re-fitted). Next: Estate Agents, Jump In Café, SatNav Repairs, Two shop-fronts converted to residential, Mini-market & off-license, Empty, Hairdressers, Florists … It’s tempting to say any driver finding himself on this stretch of the HR is in need of repairs to his satnav.

The unlovely Holloway Road at the previously-unknown (or forgotten) Upper Holloway Station.

The unlovely Holloway Road at the previously-unknown (or forgotten) Upper Holloway Station.

I turn into a small linear park, Whittington Park. This has one of everything: one astroturf, one kiddies’ playground, one park-worker blowing leaves from the single path cum cycleway, one sign (‘Blind corner’ – for the cyclists), one one o’clock club and one trim trail. There’s even one person using the trim-trail – a guy in long camouflage shorts listening to his iPod. He reminds me of Chris Evans though, since I can’t remember what Chris Evans looks like, I can’t think why.

In all my TubeforLOLs’ wanderings I can’t remember having seen anyone using any of the luridly-painted exercise machines that have erupted in parks like bad cases of eczema … I wish that image hadn’t come into my head. I reel back to my teenage years and my pluke-pitted teenage face, the years of murky-brown gloop dabbed-on with cotton wool, the dietary regime that included no chocolate and no CocaCola … I decide to chat to Chris Evans, but somehow …

Call me sensitive, but … somehow, I don't think he wants to chat.

Call me sensitive, but … somehow, I don’t think he wants to chat.

When I walk back, he’s migrated to the last, furthest away machine and there’s another, older geezer pumping hard at the first machine! Two open-air exercise fanatics using a trim-trail – that’s 50 points in the I-Spy TubeforLOLs London!

I make it back down the chasm of Upper Holloway station and board an Overground train towards Barking. I look out over the North, then the East, London landscape. It’s bathed in bright sunshine, there’s water from yesterday’s storm everywhere. The Metro headline, by the way, is: Drawn to the sea then lost to the storm I’m reading a collection of essays by Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics? As I read Calvino’s take on the Odyssey I wonder if TubeforLOLs is a voyage of discovery or whether, like Ulysses, it’s a voyage of return, a voyage home. Except, where and what is home?

The Overground snuffles over the Lea Valley, the sun glancing silver-metallic and grey flint on the reservoirs, tufty clouds scurrying across the sky. Then it gruffaloes its way through Leytonstone. In the distance there are two desolate tower blocks – I can’t tell whether they are occupied or slated for demolition. My mind lurches back three decades to the empty block in the south-eastern banlieue of Paris where May and the other zonards returned after a day hanging out near the Pompidou Centre. The block was about to be demolished: everything inside had been ripped out – furniture, fittings, doors, loos, electrics. One floor was for sleeping, the floor upstairs was used as a communal toilet. It stank. You had to be careful where you stepped, particularly after night-fall … Still, some kind of home. A home at the end of its life. I’d never thought of homes dying, but I suppose, like everything, they must.

I make it to Upton Park (C8) a little after eleven. I’m planning to visit the West Ham ground, look at the statue of Bobby Moore, the captain of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning football team. (1966: I’m on a dolmus in Turkey with my friend Harry. Everyone – apart from Harry and I, all Turkish – cheering England on. Or rather, cheering Germany back.) But when I exit station, I realise I am on Green Street – the commercial and consumer centre of East London’s Indian community. Amongst incongruous Paddy Powers and Boots there are rows of Indian fashions shops, sari shops, fabrics shops; shops selling jewellery, gold and perfume; houseware shops, Indian gift shops, trinket shops; Halal butchers and Indian fruit and vegetable markets … And, naturally, Indian restaurants, cafés, takeaways …

Inside Vijay's Chawalla. Don't worry about the fish - this is a pure vegetarian establishment.

Inside Vijay’s Chawalla. Don’t worry about the fish – this is a pure vegetarian establishment.

It’s early for lunch but you can’t keep a good stomach empty. I choose Vijay’s Chawalla where I try their Dabeli – a toasted bread roll filled with spicy potatoes, onions, crunchy peanuts and pomegranate seeds from paradise. While waiting, I watch an Indian soap (with English sub-titles) on the flat-screen TV. I chat with a waiter. The dabeli is street-food, India-style, he assures me. But we cannot get the Indian bun here in England. This is the nearest we can get.

Vijay's dabeli - beli beli good! (Apart from the forgettable bun.)

Vijay’s dabeli – beli beli good! (Apart from the forgettable bun.)

I board a Hammersmith & City line train through to Baker Street, then change to a Metropolitan train. It sways and shimmies from Baker Street to Finchley Road where it hurtles out into the open air like a dog chasing a ball. Somewhere around Preston Park I stop reading and gaze, rather fondly, at the Sargasso Sea of Housing. I am bound for Uxbridge (A1), the last (and first) stop on the Uxbridge branch.

Uxbridge - fine station.

Uxbridge – fine station.

Uxbridge like Ealing and Richmond is a regional centre. It’s got not one but two shopping malls – The Pavilions and The Chimes (or ‘intu Uxbridge’) – and a semi-pedestrianised High Street. It’s pleasant, bland, well-behaved, decorous. Even the High Street appears to be anaethetised. It’s hard to imagine anything unruly happening here, though a visit on a Friday or Saturday night might prove the lie to that. It’s that sort of a place: a grazing and a browsing and a marrying-the-girl-next-door sort of a place.

You’re just miffed because you ain’t got no memories here, says The Inner Curmudgeon.

Now, why is he upbraiding me in double-negative American style?

Uxbridge: What's so funny 'bout peace, love and good behaviour?

Uxbridge: What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and good behaviour?

Time to move on, via Metropolitan, Jubilee and Victoria lines, to Vauxhall (E4). I arrive shortly after three. Vauxhall is the sort of place that tries to be many sorts of places – Transport interchange (the roofs on the bus station like aircraft carrier launches), Gay Village (the Royal Vauxhall Tavern etc.), Spooks’ Corner (MI6), Space Boffin Drop-Box (the British Interplanetary Society), Housing Mash-up (Inner City Estates meet Luxury Riverside Apartments) and, of course, Snarl-Up (South London) Central aka Vauxhall Cross.

Vauxhall Cross with Transport Interchange and Spooks' Corner.

Vauxhall Cross with Transport Interchange and Spooks’ Corner.

But, for me Vauxhall means only one thing. For me, it is associated with a Monday morning in September thirty years ago when I was persuaded, despite all my protestations, to stop our old green Volkswagen Polo in the middle of this dingy underpass.

Dingy dirty underpass, dingier and dirtier thirty years ago.

Dingy dirty underpass, dingier and dirtier thirty years ago.

Fran, in the front seat, was feeling queasy, wanted to get some air. I opened the door for her, but wouldn’t let her out. I explained as gently as I could – I don’t do gentleness very well; I’m much better at impatience – that this wasn’t a good idea. After a couple of minutes I prevailed and we drove off. A couple of minutes after that I delivered Fran to the Maternity Unit at St Thomas’s Hospital. A few minutes later, the midwife delivered our lovely daughter, Becca.

Beautiful Baby Becca with Fran - as you can see, Baby Becca shows no prenatal trauma after-effects.

Beautiful Baby Becca with Fran – as you can see, Baby Becca shows no prenatal trauma after-effects.

My last stop of the day, five minutes and two stops north, is Victoria (D4). I get there shortly before four. I remember the first time I was here …

The Inner Curmudgeon breaks into my reverie. For Goodness Sakes, Craig, give over with the reminiscences. Isn’t there anything useful you can tell the readers?

I decide appeasement is the best policy. Besides which … Built onto the northern flank of Victoria Station, Dear Readers, is the multi-starred Grosvenor Hotel. This can be accessed direct from the station concourse near the ticket office. Now, should you ever be in need of spending a penny (or rather 30 pence which is the charge to use the station toilets to the left) enter and ascend the stairs to the ground floor of the hotel.

Victoria Station Concourse: entrance to the Grosvenor Hotel by the Bureau de Change

Victoria Station Concourse: entrance to the Grosvenor Hotel by the Bureau de Change

Do not be put off by the doors ahead. Turn left as you enter the foyer and, after briefly admiring the tiling, lighting and décor, head across it and immediately before The Brasserie turn left through the door marked with the male and female icons. This will lead you back down to a set of clean, well appointed, fully functioning water closets. Turn right on returning to the foyer; check your watch, purse your lips, frown – as though you are meeting a friend who is late – nod at the assembled doormen, concierges, flunkeys and maids-in-waiting and make your way with unhurried step back to the station concourse.

… the first time I visited Victoria Station would have been during the Easter vacation in either 1964 or 1965. I was on a School Trip to Annecy in France with twenty or so other boys. We had travelled down from Edinburgh the day before and now all our attention was focused on the long long Boat Train on Platform Two. It would be my first time abroad, to ‘Europe’; my first holiday not with my family. I remember a wonderful feeling of freedom, light-headedness and adventure; of beckoning possibilities … I remember the first breakfast the next day at the pension near Annecy – coffee in soup-bowls, the endless French bread, the never-ending supplies of butter and jam … I think I remember the train itself, the steam locomotive, the clamour and smell of the smoke … But I may have got that wrong. By 1964/65 most of British Railways had converted to diesel.

Today, there’s no sense of adventure and the night has fallen when I leave Victoria. I dive back into the Tube, take the Victoria line to Green Park, then the Jubilee, then the Overground from Canada Water.

I’m still musing on my odyssey when I arrive back in Forest Hill a little before seven o’clock. If life is a return to home, is it also a return to the idyll of childhood after the years of tedium pointlessness and diversion we know as work? Is this the terrible secret we withold from ourselves? And is this what TubeforLOLs is a metaphor for? Or are these thoughts only the kind of thoughts which arise naturally from someone reading Italo Calvino on the Tube?

For Gods Sakes, Craig, complains The Inner Curmudgeon. Hurry it up! I’ve got the second series of Downtown Abbey on DVD to watch!

8 thoughts on “Ah Memory – You Disobedient Dog! (70/80)

  1. Nick Hayes

    Memory and loss: your latest post prompts a trilogy of thoughts:
    1) Victoria == ah boat trains scuppered by the apparent gleaming efficiency of Eurostar but what could be more thrilling to the young adventurer at the gateway to Europe for the very first time.On 27th December 1963 my mum took this 13 year-old to Victoria destined by the Golden Arrow to Paris where he was to stay with a French family befriended on a Brittany beach the previous summer. It was the first day of the legendary winter snows of that year celebrated by Raymond Briggs in the Snowman. The steam train from Redhill finally lurched into Victoria through what must have been the right kind of snow, and after an ill-tempered conversation with a railway official where yours truly, the young upstart, was properly put in his place, he finally made it onto the boat train and thence to Paris through the freezing night. Perhaps we are the last generation to remember those clickety clack trains with their corridors and separate compartments – not always efficient maybe but owned by the people for the people.
    2) Becca pic: thank you for the sublime and beatific picture of Fran and Rebecca – quite the best photo of the blog. No wonder Becca became a midwife afetr such an introduction to the planet. No wonder Vauxhall has a specialm place in your heart.
    3) Loss or more anticipation of loss – I have a rising sense of anxiety that Tubeforlols will be no more, as the inexorable countdown to Woolwich grows ever more insistent. No more luminous descriptions of dreary suburban shopping parades and soulless transport hubs , no chance discoveries of weird and wonderful emporia, no more encounters with the waifs and strays, the cheerful and despondent, the vagabonds and chancers that inhabit the Capital’s human jungle, no more off the wall metro headlines and insights into Mr Craig’s reading list. What will there be to look forward to in my inbox at the cold turning of the year? Still a few more to go, and we must be thankful for that.

  2. Jane Black

    Memories of Uxbridge: I used to get the. Metropolitan from here to Eastcote to school in the late 1980s. The A Stock trains had guards and, if they were nice, they’d see you running and hold the doors until you got there. If not, you’d see their grins as the train pulled away, and a twenty minute wait lay ahead for the next one (plus a ticking off from the class teacher).
    As schoolkids, we collected our cardboard weekly travelcards in a wad behind the current one, and gained respect from our classmates for how many we could cram in to the plastic wallet before it gave way. A LRT jobsworth at Uxbridge once confiscated all of mine in a fit of pique and I’ve never forgiven him.
    In the early days of automatic gatelines, Uxbridge had two narrow paddles at thigh-height which a teenage fare-dodger could easily vault with grace.
    Uxbridge is probably more beautiful now as its stained glass has been restored to the old Metropolitan Railway glory.
    Love the posts. Even post-Woolwich, they will remain for reference for many years to come.

  3. francesrowe

    Delving into the memory banks, I’m going back to 26th September 1983 . . . we’d been to the NCT classes and had the bag packed and the sandwiches ready to take out of the freezer, supposedly to satisfy Sandy’s hunger after the rigours of being principal birth attendant. So off we set, a bit after 9am, through the Brixton traffic. I think I took a pillow to clutch. By Vauxhall Bridge I was feeling decidedly queasy and longing for a breath of fresh air. So I asked Sandy if we could stop and as I remember it, got out of the car and knelt at the edge of the kerb with the pillow – I guess the traffic was not as horrendous as now, 30 years on, but the air was hardly fresh!
    We arrived at St Thomas’s Hospital, not having thought of phoning beforehand, and I was trolleyed off to a birthing room, Sandy in attendance (not sure what he did about the VW polo). A couple of hours later baby Becca emerged, our delightful daughter. Sandy had a 1000 ASA film in the camera, as recommended by our friend Chris Schwartz the photographer, which meant we could keep the lights low. An unforgettable morning, with the action being so fast that the sandwiches were still frozen when Sandy came to eat them!

  4. worldsworstlandlord

    memories…i have been to uxbridge a few times, and not noticed the glass. glad one of the posters suggests it has been recently done, proving i am not so unobservant. then again, is being unobservant a bad thing? there is so much you wish you hadn’t observed.

    a lesson learned: if i’d read this post when it came out i’d have saved 30p on saturday. must try harder.

  5. Maurice

    Ditto Nick’s comments on Fran’s birthing of Becca. A lovely reminiscence, and fully worth repeating. Nice dark hair on the Mum too. What kind of sandwiches were they?
    Those of us who don’t live there, or who never really have, are limited in memories of the Tube. I can recall waiting at Oxford Circus for a train that was very slow in coming, and the platform got fuller and fuller of human flesh. It was summer, rush hour, and hot. In the end I was on the last rain west before the system shut down for some considerable time. That busy platform stays with me, though, just people stacked vertically right to the edge. Come to think of it, it’s like that most times I decide to get a Circle Line train to/from anywhere.
    But Vauxhall does bring back memories. Every now and then the family would embark on a great adventure, driving to London from Cumberland to stay with friends in Brixton. Late 1950s early 1960s this would be. Dad drove everywhere in the red Morris Oxford, navigating his way around Lake District lanes effortlessly, commenting endlessly on this or that farmer’s approach to his holding, or the general state of its tidiness. Pitch him onto the A1 in the days when nowhere was bypassed (Doncaster especially) and it was a different thing. Then there was getting through the heart of London, crossing the river, and reaching our destination. I was the navigator, as I knew a bit about maps. I picked the Edgeware Road as our initial approach, around Marble Arch, down Park Lane, around Hyde Park Corner, onto Victoria and the Vauxhall Bridge Road which led to Stockwell and Brixton. Tuck in behind a Number 2 bus, our friends said, just follow it to such and such, then peel off and you’re there. That offended my sense of cartographical independence. Mostly it worked, sometimes we got completely turned backwards and began back towards Stevenage and Grantham. Not as much traffic back then, but one-way systems sometimes confounded the best-planned routes.

  6. brione dominique

    Bonjour Sandy A customer toll us than you where on the radio last week talking about us Thank you, and take care Delphine & dom Brione

  7. sandycraig2013 Post author

    Thank you to everyone for leaving their comments and memories. Nick’s memory of his first trip abroad is sharper than mine but has the same flavour of adventure and opportunity. Jane’s is a wonderful reminder of the ‘old times’ on the Underground – the different guards and their moods, the old-fashioned tickets – it all seems so much less regimented and care-free than it is now. (Though still a number of jobsworths amongst TfL staff.) Fran’s memory provides a useful corrective, as well as addition, to mine of our journey to St Thomas’s that day. In answer to Maurice’s question, I’m not sure what was in the sandwiches I took with me. For a guess I’d say cheese and tomato but I may have been adventurous and gone for cheese, egg and tomato – a favourite of mine first made by my Gran in Portobello when Jim and I were going to school in Edinburgh.


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