Post 74 of 80. Wednesday 13 November – Westbourne Park (Square C3 on the Tube map), West Brompton (D3), West Croydon (F6)
I’m viewing today as an amiable chunter around the Tube network, a day-trip to the seaside or country, if you like, except that I’ll gain not so much as a faraway glimpse of either the briny breakers or the beginning of the middle of nowhere. I’m tempted to take my AA Book Of The Seaside (First Edition, 1972) with me. As Don Quixote found, feasting on tales of chivalry is as good as, if not better than, doing the actual chivalry-business itself. But first I am using the excuse of Westbourne Park to visit nearby Golborne Road, one of my favourite London haunts. It gets better …
I’ve arranged to lunch with my friends, Fi and Andrew, at a wonderful little place they’ve discovered, an authentic … But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s a cold bright late Autumn day and, with lunch as my first stop, I don’t need to leave Gingerbread Cottage until eleven o’clock. Over in the Albion Millennium Green and on the Grove itself, the rooks are boistering in the trees, the magpies are boistering at the rooks, the parakeets are boistering at each other and the squirrels are boistering up and down the trees. Arriving at Forest Hill station I find that the Station Attendants have dusted the platforms with salt: the seasons are rounding one another, the cycle is returning towards winter.
I take the Overground, Jubilee and Hammermsith & City lines without hesitation, repetition or deviation – though I do manage to catch the headline in the Metro: Switch off the lights until 2130 in between reading a novella by Agnes Owen called Birds in the Wilderness. No, I’ve never heard of her before, but it’s a cracker.
I arrive at Westbourne Park (Square C3) at 12.10 pm. There’s a pub to the right of the station (I’ll get its name on the way back) and a big-windowed shop to the left after the Westway. It’s called big table and it sells, what else but beds. I mean, why call your shop big cheese and sell cheese when you could sell turnips instead? I have half a mind to enter into some frolicsome conversation with the shop assistants inside (pardon, the Customer-Facing Exchange Enhancing Executives) but lunch beckons and I’m going the long way round.
This long way round is partly for my own pleasure, but is also partly for your, Dear Armchair Travellers (DATs), edification. There have been many Tube stations this year that have illustrated the reality of there being two sides of the tracks (one down-at-heel, seedy, grim, perhaps dangerous, to be avoided by all right-minded people with wallets or handbags; the other up-at-heel, clean, pleasant, perhaps uplifting, to be cherished by all right-minded people with waistcoats or pashimas). I have always counselled the many DATs who have wished to accompany me on a ‘two sides of the tracks’ (TSOTT) visit ‘to keep their powder dry’. Now, why?
Because the counter-clockwise walk from Westbourne Park station (first taking in the wrong side of the t’s by turning left, past big table, left along Elkstone Road, left on Golborne Road – crossing over to the right side of the t’s, left again at Portobello Road, left after the Westway along Tavistock Road and back to WP station) epitomises the ‘two sides of the tracks’. It is, in the ugly over-used word of the moment, the exemplar of the TSOTT situation. I refer DATs to Roland Barthes’s magisterial essay on this liminal topological bifurcation – at one and the same time both deeply symbolic and deeply real – ‘L’autre côté et le côté nous-même’ in his semiological structuralist exposés of bourgeois society, Mythologies.
Golborne Road, though mainly on ‘this’ side of the tracks, evidences the ‘inter-twingling’ (technical semiotic term roughly translated as ‘mixed-upness’) of both sides with an uneven but definite progress towards more and more of the ‘this side’. Basically, GR has everything from cheap fast-food shops, nail and beauty shops, market stalls, a wonderful old fruit and veg shop, at least one excellent food stall (the Moroccan Food Stall, winner of 2012 BBC Good Food Street Food competition), through Portuguese French and other delicatessans bakeries and eateries, to hyper-up-market Swedish and other knick-knackery and wallet-emptying shindogu emporia. Alas, one of the Halal butchers has gone, its frontage usurped by the neighbouring bicycle shop: the Great Gentrification of London (GGL) is upon GR.
I make a diagonal beeline across Portobello Road to the Galicia. This is a narrow-fronted inauspicious-looking eaterie with a long bar at the front stocked with bulky Spaniards leading to a squarish no-nonsense food-scoffing area at the back. Fi and Andrew are already in place, sipping their Rioja. We talk, sip, order tapas. We have ordered five tapas when the waiter (old-school gruffalo) flaps his hand – ‘Five plates. Enough.’ – and relieves us of our menus. We goggle at this new practice of selling-down.
Five minutes later we are marveling at the succession of dishes placed before us. I could, DATs, describe to you the sizzling, perfectly-grilled tiny green pimientos, the toothsomely-melting calamares, the zingy yet comforting patatas bravas, the deep-sea/deep-earthiness of the baby squid stewed in their own black ink … I could mention the youthful slight-saltiness of the manchego counterbalanced with quince jelly or the tarta santiago positively squirting with almond liqueur … But, really, what’s the point? Reading tales of chivalry may be one step up from chivalry itself, but reading about this lunch is at least one flight of steps down from eating it, besides which you’ll miss out on our chatter. A good lunch with friends mid-week – what could be more perfect?
As the meal processes (in the anthropological sense), it turns out that Fi will be visiting her mother who is in hospital in Croydon recovering from an operation. She will be going there via Dalston Junction and the Overground south to West Croydon. I, too, will be visiting West Croydon but by three branches of the Overground and with an intervening visit to West Brompton. Fi doubts whether I can meet up with her on the West Croydon Overground. A dare, a wager, a challenge? No matter – I can’t resist.
A minute later I’ve scootcheld out of the restaurant. Less than ten minutes later I’ve steamed into Westbourne Park station. (I forget to take the name of the pub.) Fifteen minutes and I’m rocking past Paddington Station where two youngsters (one male, one female, both accompanied by smallish sets of wheelie-luggage) board. They are in the middle of a boisterous argument. Mr TubeforLOLs, as is his wont, joins in. No, no, my dearios, he says, don’t argue. Don’t argue at your time of life, you’ll have plenty of time for that later on.
It’s alright, they reply, We’re not arguing.
Not arguing? No, no, no, no, NO! Quick, start arguing. You’ve got to learn how to argue, you’re going to have to argue all your life.
No, she’s not my girl-friend, he answers. She’s my cousin.
It turns out that, though he hails from Birmingham, he has lived nearly all his life in Brussels (he segues into perfect French, we parry notes on Barthes), with sojourns in various antipodean regions (including Fiji). Meanwhile she has quartered the Northern and Central American spheres. They haven’t seen each other for years but met up accidentally when separately visiting his mother in Tavistock, Devon.
There are a couple of young fashionable women opposite; I rope them in. Hey, isn’t it wonderful, I say, to be in the presence of globe-trotters. I conjure up visions of South Sea Islands and Rocky Mountain gulches … This isn’t an H&C tube in London, I say. We’re in a native canoe drifting down the turgid Orinoco slowly snaking its way through South American jungles …
But the train lurches into Edgware Road and I must change. I shake hands, air-kiss, thank my companions and boister off waving at my laughing congregation.
I get on the right District line (direction: Wimbledon) but, somehow, think it’s the wrong one and disembark at Earl’s Court, then almost get on the wrong one (direction: Richmond) but realise my mistake. It’s 2.30 pm by the time I get to West Brompton (D3). I have 12 minutes before the Overground to Clapham Junction.
Twelve minutes, though, turns out to be ample sight-seeing time for West Brompton which is, when all is said and done, at the other side of the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre from Earl’s Court tube.
As for the Old Brompton Road, it’s nothing special. There’s a line of pretty much the usual suspects to the west with a steady stream of non-chavians, some with wheelie luggage, heading fro and to the station. To the east, despite one pizza joint and one coffee place, the Old Brompton Road ages a few decades and gives a half-convincing impression of professional suburbia.
I catch the Overground to Clapham Junction. The sun glints off the teeth of the alligators basking on the Thames.
The Overground is definitely the maiden-aunt of the Tube lines. It glides decorously – and slowly – across east, north, west and south London. It never breaks into a glow far less perspiration, sully the thought of sweat. It’s also rather good at sighing to a peaceful stop in out-of-the-way places awaiting, no doubt, tea with crustless triangles of cucumber sandwiches. But, nevertheless, I make it to Surrey Quays a full three minutes before Fi’s train sails in. I join her and her friend Nancy as we slope past Forest Hill and Gingerbread Cottage. We talk about walking the Pyrenees, doing the TubeforLOLs shuffle …
We arrive at West Croydon (F6) at four o’clock. I leave them to rush for a bus taking them to Croydon University Hospital (it used to be called MayDay Hospital but got such a bad reputation that the authorities changed its name. So that’s alright then.) I pause to admire the Gregg’s by the station’s ticket office before beginning my tour of Croydon.
Now I know some people are prejudiced about Croydon. I can’t think why: it bundles up the benefits of inner-city ‘hoods like Harringey Green Lanes or Norwood Junction (ahead and to your right) with the suburban splendours of Ealing or Watford (to your left a pedestrianized High Street and two stonking shopping malls). Perhaps the prejudice is founded on the fact that – unlike Watford which has three and Acton which has six – Croydon only has one station on the Tube map? But that shouldn’t put you off. After all, Croydon is the home of Captain Sensible, co-founder of The Damned. OK, so Captain S’s sunglasses aren’t a patch on Mr T’s Ray-Bans. None of that matters as I walk off into the sunset croaking out his definitive punk rendition of Happy Talk:
Come on, everybody, this is an excursion, an outing, a day-trip. All together now. Talk about a girl, talk about a boy, Counting all the ripples on the sea, Happy talkie talking, Happy talk, Talk about things you’d like to do …
The Inner Curmudgeon here. Let’s leave Craig in his clouds, Dear Readers, shall we? It’s almost five and it’s time to take the Overground north to Forest Hill. Now then, Craig. Say goodbye to the readers, that’s a good boy!
Happy talkie talk, Happy talk, Talk about the things you’d like to do …