Post 78 of 80. Wednesday 4 December – Willesden Junction (Square B3 on the Tube map), Wimbledon (F3), Wimbledon Park (E3), Woodford (A8)
You would have thought, after all the crazy stuff that TubeforLOLs has thrown at me, that it would be plain sailing from now on in. I should be so lucky! The latest upsets are courtesy of The Inner Curmudgeon: he’s taken to instructing me on writing. Your jokes are getting out of hand, he cudgels. Jokes should be like salt on roast meat – a pinch to bring out the savour, not scattered like hundreds and thousands over a Gregg’s cup-cake.
Hmm! At least I’ve got my friend, Nick, accompanying me on this post. He’ll provide the necessary uplifting corrective to The IC. Nick gives a little cough. Sandy, he says gently, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your photographic skills …
We are swaying gently on the 10.04 a.m. Overground northwards between New Cross Gate and Surrey Quays when there is another cough. It’s The Wee Professor this time. Eight thousand kilometres, he says.
The IC splutters from the opposite corner. What are you wittering on about now, Proffie?
That’s how far we have travelled to date on TubeforLOLs.
There’s a pause before another explosion. Eight thousand kilometres? What does that mean! How far is eight thousand kilometres? Could it get you to the moon?
There’s a silence that, if The Wee Professor could be accused of arrogance, is laced with disdain. You could, he says, have gone from London to Paris by Eurostar, return, eight times.
Outside it’s a grey, slightly misty, slightly drizzly day. The Metro’s headline is Soldier dies after drinking 16 shots – another cheery start to the day. I’ve forgotten to load my book of the day into my backpack – so no chameleon antics today. We take the slow but easy way – the Overground to Highbury & Islington, change for the Overground towards Clapham Junction for Willesden Junction (Square B3). We arrive at quarter past eleven.
Willesden Junction must be the railway epicentre of Britain. Freight trains rumble past with containers bearing the names of Chinese, Scandinavian and Arab mega-corporations (actually the Arabs haven’t got round yet to changing the name of the U.K. shipping corporation it recently bought), suburban trains rattle northwards sniffing out alternative LS3 (Low Speed 3) routes, the backwards explosions from Virgin Pendanougat choo-choos breaking the sound-barrier ricochet across vast tracts of marshalling yards and recycling depots.
The galactic-sized industrial estate known as Park Royal stretches west. To the south Wormwood Scrubs squats the far side of another industrial estate, while to the east lie Kensal Green and St Mary’s cemeteries. This is where you come to slave, die or get thrown in clink.
I’ve passed this way relatively recently. Then I took the narrow path eastwards that scuttles parallel to the railway tracks, guarded on both sides by high pallisade fencing and destined for a particularly unlovely section of the Harrow Road. (Readers have met the HR at Kensal Green, Royal Oak, Stonebridge Park and Sudbury Town – it must be the most tube-infested road in London.) I elect to take the Old Oak Lane exit. There are no oaks here, only buses facing in different directions. They’re empty and have no destinations marked up, not even ‘Returning to Depot’ or ‘Out of Service’. After a few minutes they leave, still empty, in opposite directions. Fortunately, there is a sign indicating ‘Harlesden Town Centre’ – Nick and I mosey off thitherwards.
I’m not sure if what we find is Harlesden Town Centre. If it is, it’s an extremely small and rather deserted centre – really only a couple of parades of shops facing each other across a winding and down-and-up-hill road. But many of the shopfronts have bright gold and green paintwork with signage in English and Portuguese. It takes us a few moments to realise that – despite the Bumbuu Taste of Jamaica shop, the tattoo parlour and the Sickle Cell Society offices – this is a Brazilian enclave complete with Brazilian grocer / butcher shop (nail varnish next to the frozen cassava), a Brazilian hair and beauty parlour, Brazilian cafés, a Brazilian money shop, a Brazilian Association office and the ‘Oforcado Portuguese Tapas Bar’ (roast pig is the main course for their New Year’s Eve dinner). Even the desolate (probably defunct) Willesden Junction Hotel (the letters of ‘Junction’ peeling from the stucco) advertises ‘Gaucho BBQ and Rich Buffet’.
Nick and I make our way back to the station. We catch the southbound Bakerloo and change at Paddington for the District line to Wimbledon. We arrive at Wimbledon (F3) at 12.35 p.m. This is another two tier station, like Richmond, but with a Paperchase instead of an M&S at the end of the platforms. Upstairs there’s a variety of fast food outlets including an Upper Crust, a sweet shop called Snoggy’s (with South African flags) and a West Highland Haggis Shop. We take the exit to the left narrowly avoiding a shopping mall. Across from a Tesco Metro encamped in what might once have been the Town Hall, I spy a shop called Aubergine. Disappointingly this turns out to be a picture-framers rather than the hoped-for lunch stop. It does, however, have the dubious distinction of being the sole non-chain ‘retail offering’ in the Whole Wide World of Wimbledon. Yes, dear readers, if you want to see the future of suburban shopping (and what else is there to the future but shopping?) – if you really want to see it, if you have sufficient strength, guts and determination not to mention foolhardiness and muddle-mindedness – go west, dear readers, go west. Or, rather, go south-west to the Whole Wide World of Wimbledon!
Despite the vaguely-Portuguese lure of Nando’s we decide to wait till our next stop for lunch. I leave Nick to take photographs of Santa and his grotto in the mall while I go to ‘refresh’ myself. I come back to find him engaged in discussion with a security guard from Senegal – a tall, lean, bespectacled, slightly stooping chap who talks in a stately, oracular style. He’s a modern-day philosopher with a proverb for everything. ‘Africa is rich. But it is sleep-walking over a bowl of fire.’ ‘Intelligence has no borders.’ ‘Ageing is not a disease, it is a step of wisdom.’ ‘You [the UK] invent the National Health Service. You export it to Australia, to Israel, to Germany, to Canada. They make it better. You make it worse.’ Yes, says Nick, and our politicians are waiting until they can say it’s not working and dispense with it entirely.
Our friend is fluent in Wolof, French, German and English and privately gives language lessons in French and German. Despite his undoubted intelligence, his university degree, his linguistic and other skills he – like so many immigrants – has spent many years here in Maggie’s Farm working in menial jobs. His children have all been educated – one is a doctor. His youngest daughter is now 19 and entering university. When she has completed her studies he intends to return to Senegal – he is intensely proud of its democratic tradition upheld since its independence from French rule in 1960. His final view on Britain? ‘You have very clever people but you don’t like success. Your doctors go off to the USA, Canada, Holland …’
Nick cajoles him into having his photo taken with me. First, though, we have to go to another part of the mall where there are no CCTV cameras to record the photo-session. I’m hoping that our friend doesn’t leave it too late before going home. And that it will be, even if only a little bit, like what he remembers.
Our next station is one stop back on the District line, Wimbledon Park (E3). We get there at 1.35 p.m. The IC compliments me on the fact that I haven’t mentioned ‘womble’ once. Truth to tell, it’s a relief to get away from the future of shopping. Wimbledon Park is stuffed with fine Edwardian terraces and there’s a semi-satisfying little High Street including the Park Vintners, W A Gardner & Son (1904) butchers, Stitch-Up (all things knitting), Estella (Bar de Tapas) and a Co-op that advertises itself on the pavements.
Nick and I take the three minute hike to Wimbledon Park (the Park) where, naturally, they are playing tennis. We have baked potatoes in the park café. The sky is clearing as we leave South London for the far north-east via the District and Central lines.
Nick talks about London. For most of the past twenty years he’s lived in Manchester, but before then he lived in London working for the BBC and filmed in many locations across the metropolis. He used to enjoy his trips back but increasingly he’s finding that London has changed. It’s a different place – a more affluent one in parts and, again in parts, more diverse, but it’s not a better place. Its values have changed. The places he loved best are but sweet memories. It no longer feels like home.
Seventy minutes later – the skies are blue but the light is going from the day – we arrive at Woodford (A8) at 3.40 p.m, exiting to the north of the station. It reminds me of nothing so much as – South Woodford. It’s got a parking area at the end of a short cul-de-sac, a pedestrian tunnel to the other side of the tracks and two curving parades of shops above which two residential floors flaunt bay windows, bellied-out railings, and decorated panels set against Edwardian brick. The main road curves to the right and up-hill, curves leftwards and up-hill with, behind a glade of trees, a further more modern stretch of shops including a Budgens. This part of Woodford calls itself Woodford Green. It has an old-fashioned chemist (Chrystall) that styles itself a druggist, an upmarket off-licence called Ask Wine, a women’s outfitters called She She She (punglorious!), Jay Jay Stores (High Class Grocers), an almost full set of our wonderful UK banks and a selection of eateries.
The Seasons restaurant is in full swing – it’s quarter to four and it’s packed with Essex ladies yet to finish their lunch, wine-glasses a-winking, faces flushed and a-beaming, a bubble of sociable babbling a-issuing via the door. There are a couple of groups outside, one swaying and smoking, the other pausing to bad-mouth the former for their over-application of beauty products, etc. They’ll be lucky if they get home in that state, says one from the latter group (though using more colourful language). Hmm, I think, Essex ladies sure do know how to have fun.
We make our way, via the pedestrian underpants, to the south side of the tracks. This reminds me of nothing so much as the other side of the tracks at South Woodford. The example here has a tile and bathroom showroom, a defunct kitchen shop and a car hire outfit plus betting shops, fastfood joints, hairdressers and a greengrocers. About all it has going for it is a magnificent sunset – but then it’s sharing that with much of north-east London.
We take the Central line back, change to the Jubilee at Stratford and the Overground at Canada Water …
No, no, NO! The IC yells. You’re going from one extreme to the other. Too many jokes, then too much misery-blog! And what’s all this nonsense you’re writing under the photos?
I spot a brake pressure dial – the first I’ve spotted on a Central line tube. I ask Nick to take a photo of it.
We reach Forest Hill at around five o’clock. I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours – I think Bob Dylan said that.