Post 75 of 80. Tuesday 19 November – Westferry (Square D7 on the Tube map), West Finchley (A5), West Ham (C8), West Hampstead (B4), West Harrow (B2)
I step out of Gingerbread Cottage early and breakfast-less for today’s assault on London. By Jove, it’s cold! That wind is Arktik! Rounding the corner into Sydenham Park Road (there’s no Sydenham Park, by the way) I come across a traffic jam in Dartmouth Road heading towards the South Circular: it’s a supersnarlyhootilisticexpleetayalatrocious snarl-up! Less of the outrageously long words, snarls The Inner Curmudgeon. Otherwise we’ll never get through this post. Feeling something like the Israelites must have done when crossing the Red Sea, I shoulder my way past the boils and whirls malarking on the pavement on their way to skool.
My first stop is Westferry. This, of course, is located in the east, not the west, of London and nowhere near any ferry. Did I tell you that Transport for London has a Station Naming Directorate? I was trying to rustle up some publicity from their Marketing Department but got put through to it by mistake. I asked a very nice woman there called Ms Desi Nation what on earth a whole Station Naming Directorate found to do all day. After a quick bureaucratic side-swipe at the Station Non-Movables Numbering Directorate, she explained that they were in the middle of a Strategic Review. Before, she said, it was simple, their objectives were clear: have a bit of fun with station names and give tourists (Scottish football fans in particular) the run around. It’s all changed now, she told me. Their objective is ‘to make a positive contribution to the economic livelihood of London as measured by sales of patterned wall-paper and the waiting list at Eton’.
It takes forty minutes via Overground, Jubilee and DLR to get to Westferry (Square D7). It’s 9.25 a.m. Nearby, there’s a kiosk located in half a container that at one time was painted blue. That’s it, apart from a pricey modern Indian restaurant across the road. Buses whine and snuffle under the railway arches. Fifty yards north is the 19-lane triple-carriagewayed West India Dock Road. Beyond that a dismal parade of shops – one, a hairdresser’s called Scintillate – but they’re mostly shuttered fast and none of them sparkles.
I decide instead to look at the Thames – it’ll be shimmering in the sun, whipped-up in the wind. I walk past a Work/Life building called Westferry Studios (go there for Physiotherapy, Fitability, Wonkagoojiberry, etc.), a gym with a half-hearted climbing wall, some bland modern housing. Beyond looms Canary Wharf.
I round a corner to a pretty little tree-shaded square that’s also part of the modern world – of the six shops, four are estate agents, one unit is empty and the last is an Italian café going under the name of Vesuvio.
I’m about to enter the last when – past the trees, across a small private parking area and behind a massive wall – I spot what looks like an ancient Thames wharf. I go over. There’s a little fenced-off garden in front of the wall filled with flotsam, jetsam and Christmas decorations. The inlet is stacked with flotsam, jetsam, splinters of wood, plastic bottles, a huge spar and other assorted debris.
A grey-haired beachcomber cradling a mug of coffee and wearing a dark blue zipped-up fleece comes out of his flat into his flotsam garden. We talk. He explains that, not before time, the authorities are promising to remove the debris – health and safety, dontcha know! I’m puzzling over his accent – is he Danish? But there’s a distinct transatlantic twang. It turns out he’s Dutch, was an investment analyst for years with Morgan Stanley, worked in both London and New York, is retired but still freelances. He says he’s well-known in Holland and that he predicted the dotcom bust while it was still the dotcom boom. The latest bust-to-be, I chip in, must be the London housing market. Have you heard of Bitcoin? he counters. (It’s a decentralized cryptocurrency loved by criminals and speculators and taking the internet by storm. Its value is soaring – starting from basically nothing it’s now trading at over $1,000.) It’s the latest example of Tulipmania, he says, then adds wryly, you have a point. I sold my flat in the Barbican six years ago. I’ve been renting this flat since. I should have sat tight and sold up now. His cat, a muted ginger with wide eyes, comes out, takes a look at me and goes back inside the flat.
I repair to the café and am about to order when I realise I can’t find my wallet. Panic stations! I bundle out. I go back in, retrieve my notebook. I bundle out again. I phone Fran who institutes a search of GC – to no avail. By this time, huddling against the cold, I have remembered that the last time I used the wallet was at the Co-op in Camden Town. I think about aborting today’s TubeforLOLs …
You’re thinking about aborting the whole lot, snarls The IC. Not just this visit, but the whole caboodle. You old frazzlehead! You’ve got no resilience. That’s your problem.
The Metro headline casts a further pall on my journey: Yes, I am guilty … I am a serial killer This is about Joanna Dennehy.
At least Camden Town is on the way to my next alphabetic stop, West Finchley. I decide that special circumstances demand that I hand myself a special dispensation allowing me to exit en route. Events take a curious turn when, back at the Co-op, I find my credit card – but no wallet. I phone my bank, cancel my debit card, arrange to get cash out of the local bank. That needs a ‘Key Word’. I ponder on this. What would be a suitable ‘Key Word’? Any ideas?
It’s half-past eleven when I arrive at West Finchley (A5). This is a nothing sort of a place to the north and east of Finchley Central. But at least its so-so shopping parade has got a café with cup-cakes and croissants on cake-stands in the window.
Inside I am met with huge industrial stainless-steel cooking ranges, grills and cool cabinets and a piercing overhanging smell of burnt fat, burnt chips and garlic. It’s called Madys Healthy Kitchen and the special today is Lamb Shank with Mush. The coffee is bitter, the croissant burnt. I talk with the guy on the next table about my wallet-loss. Some years ago, I was working for Islington Council, he says, and we had a fire-drill. We all trooped out of the office. Hours later, I was still at my desk, I had a call from my bank about ‘unusual activity’ on my account. Someone had blown four and a half thousands pounds of my money at betting shops.
The radio is playing David Bowie’s Life on Mars. Maybe that’s where I am?
On the journey back east I settle down to read Voltaire’s Candide. Bless me, this is helter-skelter stuff. In the first two-page chapter our eponymous hero falls in love with Miss Cunégonde, Pangloss is busy teaching metaphysico-theologico-cosmo-codology, C and Miss C consummate their love and C is chased out of the castle ‘with a number of hefty kicks up the backside’.
I reach West Ham (C8) a little before one o’clock. I’m about to patronise a local café with books in the window. Then I spot a sign saying they don’t have toilets. What is this conspiracy of cafés that they fill you with coffee and coca-cola and then don’t have toilets? What are you supposed to do – cross your legs and think of England?
To further darken my brow, the wonderful floral display I’ve spotted outside the station over the summer while I’ve been waiting for DLR trains is no longer there. Have I been imagining things? First my wallet – but not the credit card inside it – vanishes. Now an eight-foot high triple-layer Award-winning ‘Heaven in a Hanging Basket’ dematerialises. This isn’t Mars, it’s Doctor Who. I ask the Station Attendant about it. He looks a bit mystified. Oh! Out there on the pavement, he says. He looks out at the pavement as though he’s never seen it before. That’s the London Borough of Newham out there, he says. They’ve got their own way of doing things.
It’s straight through to my next stop, West Hampstead (B4) – half-an-hour by Jubilee Express. West Hampstead has the distinction of having not one, not two, but three separate train stations – a Jubilee-line, an Overground and a mainline suburban station. That’s what I call joined-up transport! It’s also got at least two separate snarlie-poos on the roads.
Enough of these Public Service Announcements, I’m ravenous. I spot a cool-looking café with a sign-board outside offering five salads for £7.50 eat-in. I’ll go for that. But when I get inside the price is £9. I query the waitress. Oh, she says off-hand, we haven’t got round to changing the sign outside.
It’s your loss, I fume, stomping out.
That’s it, boyo, crows The IC. Have a rant! That’s the Fifth Habit, you know: A Rant a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!
There’s something wrong there surely?
No, no, it’s well known. The IC puffs out his chest. A rant lowers the blood pressure, it kicks in your endomorphins, it smacks those nasty free-radicals around the choppers. It’s a natural antibiotic and a well-known cure for the mumps.
I ask The WP what he thinks of this nonsense.
I’ve no objection, he replies, munching on a bag of Grandmere Sophie’s Artichoke and Morbier crisps. What difference does one rant more or one rant less make? It’s not going to change the world, is it? I suggest you cultivate your crisps.
Eventually I enter a place called Brioche, though there’s little evidence inside of brio and no sight of the eponymous French bakery-product.
Enough! Enough! The IC yells. One ‘eponymous’ a post is one eponymous too many. Two eponymice is too much.
I have a tomato, olive and rocket bruschetta. I struggle to cut the bruschetta and lose count of the number of olives that roll cross bruschetta, plate and table before falling on the floor. And is my imagination playing tricks with me or isn’t that frisée not rocket? I decide that panini is the new ploughman’s and that bruschetta is the next panini.
One station south on the Jubilee, five north on the Metropolitan and I’m at West Harrow (B2) in 25 minutes. This is a nothing-sort of a place. There’s nothing but houses to my right, nothing but houses ahead. I walk left past nothing but houses and after five minutes reach this biscuit-winning parade of … of what? Not shops.
I ask some burly labourers in hard hats and hi-vis moon suits if there’s a café nearby. There was one up there on the right, says one, but it’s closed. He gives me directions to North Harrow instead. I toddle off ‘up there’, spot North Harrow to my left and go right. I check out the long set of shops – plumbers merchants, a tyre place, Cash and Carries, a carpet showroom with cracked façade, an Indian sweet shop, Monty’s Café – well and truly extinct – and something called The Nest: A baby lounge.
I turn back. This is my last journey on the Metropolitan line and the sun is going down over the vast Sargasso Sea of Housing. Above Northwick Park Hospital the clouds are flecked with blood. Beyond, a petrochemical smug hangs over Harrow-on-the-Hill.
The day ends with more silver linings. Two delightful young women – both, coincidentally, black – offer their seats to me on the Overground, but my ranting has kicked those free-radicals into touch, so I decline. I ask one, How is it that young women today are so courteous? Oh, she quips, we like to look after our men. Wow! There’s a boost to my endomorphins!
It’s just after five when I enter Gingerbread Cottage. I spot my old suit jacket on the coat-stand. Inspiration hits me with its rhythm stick: that’s what I was wearing last night. I reach into the jacket’s inside pocket and pull out my wallet.