Post 73 of 80. Thursday 7 November – Watford High Street (Square A3 on the Tube map), Watford Junction (A3), Wembley Central (B3), Wembley Park (B3), West Acton (C2)
The Inner Curmudgeon and The Wee Professor have kept me up half the night with their incessant bickering over The TubeforLOLs Awards – The LOL-OSCARS. [Click on AWARDS page for details] ‘Bickering’ is the wrong word: The IC has been shouting and throwing pots and pans at the furniture, The WP has kept an impenetrable – and extremely annoying – reserve. And we haven’t even got to the LOL-OSCARS short-lists yet; they’re arguing over the categories – The IC insists on ‘half-dozen, max!’, The WP’s list stretches to more than forty …
Ah! Shaddap you face! snarls The IC at me, We-a kissed and made-a up, so Getta on witha you post. (Hey!)
Huh?! The IC doing references to Popular Culture!
The first station today is Watford. I’m reading Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend so Watford is something of a God-send – it enables me to put in an hour and a half’s quality reading time (discovery of true identity of Mr John Rokesmith, further scenes of the good-heartedness of Mrs Boffin, Mr Boffin [aka ‘the Golden Dustman’] alas falling prey to the fascination of money, the bran [sic] new world of the Veneerings, Mr Veneering buying himself a seat in parliament, etc. etc.), with a sideways glance at the Metro’s headline: Dinner’s in the bin
I reach Watford High Street (Square A3 on the Tube map) at 10.40 am. The day is cool, overcast with suggestions of brightening-up. The good news re WHS is that – ignoring the frothing ring road that has to be negotiated courtesy of a series of pedestrian lights on a permanent go-slow, the multi-storey carpark ahead masquerading as a shopping mall and the fact that of the two ends of any High Street one has to be the meaner, and in Watford’s case this is the meaner end by far – WHS the station is situated within easy reach of WHS the High Street.
Step briskly past the Peace Hospice Shop, Chinese Medical Centre, Polski Sklep, Money Shop and the glass pyramid-hatted Cotswold, pausing only to admire the wholescale healthy disregard of Watfordians for double-yellow lines, and there is more good news. It turns out that the car park is, in fact, a shopping mall, the ‘intu Watford’, sibling to the ‘intu Uxbridge’ but two or three classes of shopping mall above the latter.
This entrance greets you with a Clas Ohlson, Lakeland, John Lewis (with one of those annoying Waitrose Littles with their taking-the-piss pricing – see post The Exotic, the Mundane … [4/80]) …
And The Inner Curmudgeon, yells The IC. He breaks into yodelling, (with – it’s almost too awful to relate – The Wee Professor on Heys!) Whatsa matter with you! (Hey!) Gotta no respect! (Hey!)
… and a little kiddies train, called Piratescove Express, which heaves a hoot like a sigh and trundles off to another wing of the mall. All the chains are here – M&S, Primark, Next, Disney. Mind you, I can’t honestly recommend Dear Readers, when you get jaded with the Westfields East and West, that you take a trip to Watford. Unless, that is, you’re big on calendars, or can’t quite decide which calendar to buy your loved one or elderly uncle for christmas. In which case the Calendar Stall (particularly good for dog-lovers, of whom I presume there are many in Watford, with over a hundred dog calendars) may just be the ticket. And it’s not just dog calendars, there’s cheese calendars galore. Why, there’s even a ‘Pin Up Girls’ calendar which offers a 16 month 2014. Now that’s what I call getting your money’s worth!
Exit via the ‘back end’ of the mall and you come across the unlovely backside of the multi-storey car-park and enter an older open-air mall which, weirdly, has shops like a butcher’s and a green-grocers. I mean, come off it Watford, how twentieth century is that! I stumble back onto WHS (the High Street), now only semi-pedestrianized, where I left off on Monday (see post, Much Ado About Nothing) and make my way back to WHS (the Station).
I’ve a good mind to stay on the Overground at Watford Junction (A3) and let it coddle me back to my next stop a.s.a.p. After all, I’ve already spent over two and a half hours in Watford this week. That’s more than 50 million UK residents spend in Watford in a life-time. 50 million people can’t be wrong, can they? Plus, Watford Junction – surely that’s for train-spotters only? But what my father called my ‘overactive superego’ intervenes and I scramble out of the train. I find that the station is busy to busting with people milling every which way. There’s a lot of people who obviously have to go to Watford. Perhaps it’s Iain Duncan Smith’s latest ruse to get people off the dole (or whatever it’s called these days) … I’m sorry, that should have read ‘back into work’: you’ve got to go to Watford before you get your dole can get back into work. Obviously, if you live in Watford you’ll have to go to Oldham instead.
Passing on without any description of Watford at Watford Junction, I take the Overground back to Wembley Central (B3) for 12.25 pm. In my days as a consultant, football fan and rock fanatic, I would turn right (past TK-Max and a huge Tesco) along the battered high street to Brent Council, Wembley Stadium or Wembley Arena. Today, I turn left and discover that the true essence of Wembley Central lies in this direction. This is the heart of the Indian shopping experience that is WC – see post, Ah Memory etc. [70/80] for similar Indian shopping experience at Upton Park. Out of the many similar eateries, I decide at random on the Saravanaa Bhavan, a canteen style ‘pure vegetarian restaurant’, offering a 13 part buffet for £5.95. The SB claims it is part of a global chain and its décor is ‘international modern’. Thankfully that is – almost – the limit of its internationalism. The rest – almost all of the rest – is true Indian.
By the time I leave – replete, satisfied, The Inner Curmudgeon burping and even giving signs of avuncularity – it’s packed with groups of Indian friends, the occasional solitary Indian man, groups of Indian work-colleagues and Indian families (including a four generational spread from two year old to 82 year old at the table next to me) forking down immense quantities of rather good Indian food at £5.95 per head.
I realise I’m one of only two white people in the restaurant –the other whitey is a waiter, Polish I assume, rake-thin and younger-looking than even the youngest-looking of policemen. When I pay my bill I discover he’s Albanian. Why does everybody ask about the waiter? the owner wails. Because, I reply, no-one has ever seen a white waiter in an Indian restaurant before. We, he says, need more waiters, he needed a job. I reply, I’m not criticising. I think it’s good for him, he’s got a job. Good for you, you’ve given him a job.
I walk out of the restaurant thinking about the determination and pluck of the waiter, risking everything to travel from Albania, prepared for any type of job – including waitering at an Indian restaurant where he’ll have to learn the rudiments of Hindi as well as English. Isn’t it about time you hiked to Albania to pick up your dole, IDS?
My next stop is a fifteen minute hike that takes 45 minutes by tube – or, in my case, taking the wrong Metropolitan at Baker Street, 55 minutes. It’s Wembley Park (B3) and the sun has come out. Ahead of me lies the Bran-New World of Wembley Stadium, a morality-free zone with its gloss and its brightness and the wretched vanities and corruption of Fifa and the Dickensian working conditions of the indentured labourers in Quatar that will make possible the Bran-New World for the rich corruptors and their rich corruptorations who never pay tax but always publicly give to charity so that they may display the goodness of their hearts, the magnificence of their wallets, the smugness of their self-satisfaction and, above all, the stratospheric superiority of their superiority over the benighted poor beneath them. Long may your tax affairs be domiciled in the Antilles! Long may your names live forever! Long may your brands be burnished!
Gracious he’s off on a stormer! The IC exclaims, then bursts into song. Whata think you do! (Hey!) Why you looka so sad! (Hey!) Oh no-o-o! The Wee Professor has produced an old squeeze-box accordion – he’s doing the instrumental solo!
I turn right out of the station and view a couple of downish-at-heel parades scratching for a living. This is definitely old world, though an old world not without its own courage in making-do as well as being on the make. I discover you can buy 9 sheesh kebabs for £12.99 and that, around the corner, there’s a mammoth Asda which is open 24 hours a day (extending through the Christmas period to 27 hours a day) and where everything is on a ‘Two-for-One’ deal (even the existing ‘Two-for-One’ deals which are now on ‘Four-for-One’).
Ridiculously I get a slow Jubilee train out of Wembley Park rather than a much faster Metropolitan with the result that it takes me three quarters of an hour to get to West Acton (C2). The station isn’t upto the usual Piccadilly line standards – it’s gawky and the walls in the ticket hall are peeling, but it improves as night falls and the interior up-lighting comes into play.
At first glance, West Acton itself hovers between middle-class suburbia (to right of station) and an overlarge housing estate (to left of station) with two storey semi-detacheds from between the wars, mainly brown-bricked but with a potentially-terminal outbreak of pebble-dashing. It’s on this side that you’ll find the few shops – the usual retail-outlets – neatly arranged around two corners facing a mini-roundabout. I’m about to plunge into the housing estate to establish its vastnesses, when my eye spots a narrow shop called Atara-Ya, advertising itself as a Japanese Food Shop. For the first time I realise that a sizeable number of the people on the pavements are Japanese, mainly women with young children. I enter the small but perfectly formed emporium crammed with boxes, cartons, tins, packets, trays and jars of Japanese food with, beyond, gleaming chill cabinets filled with expensive ‘sushi-grade’ fish of all descriptions and attended by assistants waiting to meet their many customers’ many, numerous demands.
I exit and spy on the other corner, the YoYo Kitchen, a Japanese deli. Here there are flawless displays of sushi, sashimi, boxes of bento, rows of sake, shelves of Japanese condiments. Behind the gleaming arrays a bevy of courteous Japanese assistants and a young equally helpful and charming Moslem woman attend to the needs of their demanding customers. I remember that a shortage of soy sauce has been declared at Gingerbread Cottage and, half an hour later, exit with said bottle of soy sauce and a generous stock of sashimi, sushi, bento, wasabi beans and – after a tasting – YoYo’s own brand sake.
I gambol across the tracks for a decko at the other, more up-market, side of West Acton and chance upon a Japanese estate-agents. I’m on Queen’s Drive: I recognise it as the other (and much better) end of QD from the end I investigated in August when visiting North Ealing (see post, Rivers Of Babylon [51/80]). A Japanese house-agent comes out as I’m looking, takes particulars of a property from a rack outside and disappears inside. I find out that the reason for this most unexpected and joyous find is a historical accident: along the road is The Japanese School. This is London’s Japanese enclave.
Itsa not so bad! (Hey!) Itsa nicea place! (Hey!) Then, together, The IC and WP go hell-for-leather into the chorus: Ah! Shaddap you face!
Huh! Let them sing their silly song! Instead I ponder on this unexpected and delightful consequence of my decision back in those balmy mid-August days to turn right, rather than left along Queen’s Drive, out of North Ealing station. It’s unusual – as unusual as an Albanian waiter in an Indian restaurant – that one glimpses the far-off consequences of past decisions. Indeed, we tend to think of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ as more-or-less instantaneous: the billiard cue strokes the white ball which bumps into the red ball which slides into the pocket (or not). It is salutary to realise that there are also instances when the effect or consequence is delayed weeks, months (as in this case) or even years. How often does this happen? Ah! Here, bumping along the boundary of human knowledge, we stand poised on the sea-wall overlooking the vast ocean of the unknown.
Postcript, Gingerbread Cottage, two hours later: Hm-mmm! Lovely! Delicious … Another sliver of tuna? Hmm-mm! … (Slurp of sake, smacking of lips) … Aaaah! … Perfectly wonderful, such fish, that sour plum, the horseradish, the prawns … yumsieyumsieyums! …