Post 79 of 80. Wednesday 11 December (11/12/13) – Woodgrange Park (Square C9 on the Tube map), Wood Green (A6), Wood Lane (D3), Woodside Park (C9)
I get to Forest Hill station almost two hours later than I’d planned earlier this morning. I catch the 10.49 a.m. Overground northwards. There are a number of silver linings – the heavy murky blanket of mist is lifting, the sun is coming through, the air is fresh, the Albion Millennium Green looks splendid – all in all, the makings of a perfect winter’s day. Plus this is the last consecutively-numbered day now for ninety years – how mystical-mathematical is that!
The Metro’s headline is trying too hard: You’re going to get Helle from Michelle It’s about Obama taking a selfie at Mandela’s Memorial Service. I change at Canada Water onto the eastbound Jubilee, at West Ham onto the far-eastbound District and then at Barking onto the Nowhere-bound Overground. The brightening South London day is nowhere to be found north of the river. It’s full-fat fog up here, grim and murky. And it’s grimmest and murkiest at Woodgrange Park (Square C9) where I surface at 11.35 a.m. to a battered trunk road running east – west from Romford to Rumford. Yes, this is one of those cases where an unknown murkiness becomes a known murkiness without there being any perceptible increase in knowledge implied by the word ‘known’.
But I am made of stern stuff. I think of cheese (cheddar, manchego, morbier …) and head off into the eastward murk, much like Columbus sailing off westwards to India. Who knows, if I go far enough I might fetch up at West Acton? There are shops (I use the word loosely – trading posts may be more accurate) littered at intervals on both sides of the road. As well as Shef’Z Pizza Pies, Shanghai Express, Mr Printers and Full Wypas, there are Double Glazing warehouses, shabby internet and electronics outlets, carpet sheds, Zak’s Party Services, ‘Complete Retail Solutions’ which sells ‘Complete Shopfittings and Carrier Bags’ (windows stuffed with carrier bags and mannequins) with, opposite, the ‘Complete Shopfittings’ emporium.
Stop being so downright miserable, Craig, cajoles The Inner Curmudgeon. You’ve got nothing to be miserable about. This is a dawdle – you don’t have to make anything up about this place.
He’s got a point. Besides which, the class of shop is definitely improving. I pass an ‘Indian Vegetarian Sweets and Farsan’ (Gujerati snacks) shop, a mini-market, the Manor Aquatics Centre (also selling invertebrates and, perhaps, alligators), another mini-market … I’m getting towards some sort of centre with Manor Park station on the mainline railway off to my left.
I’m taking this photo when the owner comes out. Are you with Newham Council? he asks, flexing his right fist upon which features a rather useful-looking set of knuckle-dusters. When I explain what I’m doing he puts the k-d’s away. You can tell the people out there, he chuckles, that you met the Victor Meldrew of Manor Park. And he sure does moan about everything though in a cheerful curmudgeonly way …
That’s the best way to curmudgeon, The IC informs me. In fact, it’s the Sixth Habit: A Cheerful Curmudgeon is a Successful Curmudgeon.
Meantime, Victor is telling me that modern life is rubbish. He gripes about the bus lanes and grouses about Somali lesbians but reserves his full-throated belly-aching for Sir Robin Wales, vile Beelzebub and Mayor of Newham, who is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the modern world.
‘Full-throated belly-aching’? That’s a body-part too many, Craig! The IC hoots.
I walk back towards the station. I check the yard of Manor Aquatics Centre for alligators. There are, of course, none, but the longing to tease overcomes me. I enter the shop where serried ranks of fish-tanks, with the most beautiful fish, sea-anemones, sea-urchins, corals, stretch into the distance. I approach a helpful assistant. No, he says in answer to my enquiry, you can’t buy alligators in Britain and certainly not for Christmas. You can get caimans, they’re small crocodiles. But they are wild animals, you can never domesticate them and you’ll need a special license to import and own one. They’re classified under the Dangerous Animals Act. I keep talking to him for a while in the hope he might relent and produce, or offer to produce, an under-the-counter alligator, just a tiny wee helpless baby one – but no such offer transpires.
I walk back and check the Rumford Road the other side of the station. That’s a mistake. It’s even more dismal.
I scurry back and board an Overground towards Nowhere land, decamping at Blackhorse Road onto the Victoria line and the Piccadilly northwards at Finsbury Park. An announcement comes over the tannoy: ‘The Piccadilly line has a good service. There is a good service on all London Underground lines except for the Central line which is suspended between Hainault and Newbury Park.’
The indicator board shows that a train will be arriving within the minute – I can hear the rails’ faraway singing – when a gust of wind blows a floppy brown fedora, obviously expensive, from the entrance to the platform behind me across the platform and under the rails. An Elderly Bespectacled Gent, obviously well-heeled and freighted down with a variety of over-large obviously-expensive hand-luggage hurtles after the hat, U-turns at the platform edge and slams a rather fine leather portmanteau into the platform wall. The air crackles blue as his Inner Curmudgeon goes Outer in North Korean fashion. I start to commiserate. It’s only a hat … That’s not the point, the EBG snarls. He’s about to elaborate when a Young Turkish Guy, who has followed him onto the platform, jumps down between the rails, stoops under the live central rail, picks up the hat – I can definitely hear the train now, it’s just round the corner, the EBG and I are looking in horror at the YTG – who jumps back onto the platform, hands the hat to the EBG. The train hurtles into the station as he walks off laconically. The EBG and I stand dumbfoundered.
I sit thinking about this. What a crazy, recklessly-good deed. To jump between the rails for a hat – and not even his own hat. I’m reminded of my encounter with the tube-train driver still suffering from the experience of ‘a person going under his train’ (see post, Unlikely Heroes … [26/80]). When is a good deed truly a good deed? Plus, in forty-odd years of Tube travelling I’ve never seen anyone jump off the platform.
I arrive at Wood Green (A6) at one o’clock. I like Wood Green. It’s got a large town centre where the mid-market wrestles with the down-market and those sections of the up-market desirous of street credibility grin and bear it for the corporate bottom line back in Mayfair. More to my present purpose it’s packed with Turkish eateries. I go for the one with the most authentic sounding name – Charcoal Grill.
I order the felafel lunch. The waitress brings me a large basket of hot Turkish bread, side-plates of hummus, cacik and mixed salad. I munch. I wonder apathetically where the falafel went, but there’s enough here to keep an army munching on its stomach from Woodgrange Park to West Acton. The waitress returns bearing an over-sized dinner plate heaped with baldo rice, hot mixed veg, roast potatoes, a scatter of sweet-corn, more hummus and a rugby-scrum of felafel. It’s good nosh but, much as I want to, I can’t finish it. I happily shell out £6.50 for the 4,000 calories I do consume.
Back on the tube, I settle down to reading Ho-Jo-Ki (Notes from a Ten Feet Square Hut) by Kamo No Chomei ‘A Buddhist Recluse of the 12th Century’ and still one of the most widely read texts in Japan. This is the 1907 edition published in Gowans’s International Library, a tiny book three inches by five with stained and yellowing pages. Inside on the fly-leaf, there’s an inscription in copper-plate hand-writing: ‘ “This has pleased me. May it please you.” Cyrus. Xenophon’s Anabasis.’ I’ve also brought along Basil Bunting’s Collected Poems which includes ‘Chomei at Toyoma’. Bunting comments in an end-note: ‘[Chomei] wrote the Ho-Jo-Ki in prose, of which my poem is in the main a condensation … I cannot take [Chomei’s] Buddhism solemnly considering … his whole urbane, sceptical and ironical temper.’
I’ll spend most of the remaining journeys reading both versions. I decide that Gowans’s edition, though the translation is fuddy-duddy, is the truer; but that Bunting’s ‘condensation’ is by far the better – a wonderful poem: ‘Hankering, vexation and apathy, that’s the run of the world. Hankering, vexation and apathy, keeping a carriage wont cure it.’
I change from the Piccadilly at King’s Cross for the Hammersmith & City line. There’s an announcement over the tannoy. ‘There’s a good service on all London Underground lines except for the Central line between Hainault and Newbury Park which is suspended because of a person under a train’.
The sun has broken through by the time the H & C surfaces at Royal Oak. I arrive at 2.40 p.m. at Wood Lane (D3). This is a new station opened in 2008 and built to service the Westfield Shopping Centre. It’s about fifty yards south of White City (see post, They Shoot Sofas …[77/80]). That post tells you more than you want to know about the vexations and apathy of the local area. The only aperçu I’ll add here is that, just as there are two sides to the railway track (a Romford and a Rumford) and a meaner end to all high streets, there’s a back-side to all malls – and this is definitely the back-side of Westfield. Best go to Westfield by Central or Overground and enjoy the splendours of the front entrance while they burnish your fingernails and sell you a carriage.
It’s four o’clock when I arrive at Woodside Park (A5). We are deep into the gloaming. The mist has come back, mysterious and immediate in its immensity. Normally it wouldn’t be fair visiting a neighbourhood at this time but I reckon that the solidly middle-class WP is improved by both mist and gloaming. I’m not alone in this assessment. At a first floor darkened room, a white-haired woman sits at a desk and looks out over the world, shunning her sitting room bright with lights next door. Around the corner a grandfather lingers with his grandson at a second floor balcony. The wildness of the mist lifts everyone out of the mundane, the governed, the preordained, the authorised. I suck on a mistical meerschaum drop-handle pipe and cogitate myself uphill to a wide busy high street.
This has three of everything – three bookies, three oriental restaurants, three banks, three charity shops, three estate agents, three mobile phone shops – oh, and one Sainsbury’s with one busker playing an accordion. Well, the exception proves the rule. I walk rightwards. Actually, make that four of everything. No, now I’m passing a River Island and a Waterstone’s – this is, well and truly, a high street. But it’s not got too many pickles stuck up its proverbial, there are some interesting looking shops and eateries and at one Mediterranean market I count ten limes in a £1 bowl. You can’t argue with that.
I chat with a young guy just arrived from Poland. He looks about nineteen. He finds the mist charming – pronouncing it ‘sharming’. He’s collecting for a small charity. It’s his first day of work (unpaid work) in Britain. I think he’s finding it tough-going. I reckon he’s a little lonely, that he’s finding it difficult to make sense of this new world of London, that he doesn’t yet realise that most of us fumble our way through life not making sense of things.
The Inner Curmudgeon nudges me in the ribs. Talk, talk, talk. You do nothing but bloody talking, Craig! Even four-year-olds know what to do here!
I dig into my pockets and put money into the young guy’s collecting bucket. He thanks me. The IC hoots and shouts unheard, You can-tank-er-ous both!
My Polish friend asks me if there’s a nearer tube than Woodside Park. No, I tell him, but it’s not that far and it’s down-hill all the way.
Well, I think as I return a little before five o’clock, it’s down-hill all the way for me. Only Woolwich Arsenal to go, plus a look-see at Mornington Crescent. I get back to a mistical Forest Hill at 6.15 p.m.