Post 80 of 80. Woolwich Arsenal (Square E9 on the Tube map), Mornington Crescent (B5)
Only one and a half stations today, but this is no cut-down post. There’s fun and games to the end: The Wee Professor gives you the full statistics (well, obviously not the full statistics – that would take far too long) of this absurd and pointless quest, The Inner Curmudgeon has agreed to release what he’s calling ‘the headlines’ of The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful Curmudgeons and the winners of The TubeforLOLs’ Awards are announced.
In honour of the event I’m wearing my full Mr TubeforLOLs’ summer gear – blue straw titfer, Ray-Bans, Hawaiian shirt, shorts and pale blue socks. Plus, since it’s grey, wet and blustery and I’ve got a stinker of a cold, black long-johns, scarf and raincoat. Fran, who is accompanying me on the trip, says, ‘I suppose you look borderline respectable.’
We arrive at Forest Hill at half-past two. The Metro headline is: Homecoming The front-page photo shows Nelson Mandela’s last journey on this earth.
On the Overground, I get talking to a young guy going with a friend to the Winter Festival at Hyde Park. ‘Oh, goodie!’ I say. ‘I hope Santa will be there.’
‘I’m a scientist,’ he retorts, ‘I believe in facts. I don’t believe in fairy tales.’
I remind him that the essence of science is its falsifiability. While, in the words of Stephen Jay Gould, the American science-writer, ‘… fiction has, ironically, the rock-hard permanence that fact must lack – and everyone did do it, now and forever more, on the Orient Express.’ He doesn’t seem convinced but I decide not to press my case with The John Major’s Underpants Theory of Relativity and Truth in Fact and Fiction – in Steve Bell’s cartoon-strip Major’s shirt will always be tucked into his underpants, but in real life we will never quite be sure.
My interlocutor changes his defence of science from science as the fortress of truth to science as the fount of all good things. I think the evidence here is mixed. I put forward the case of nuclear fission and nuclear bombs. It turns out that sub-atomic particle physics is his specialism. Of course, he replies, you can’t stop people using scientific discoveries for evil as well as for good. Besides, no-one now does research into nuclear bombs.
I leave matters where they are. You can’t expect scientists to be philosophers. Anyway, my young scientist is constructing his hero story in which he, with other scientists, saves the world from ruin. And, of course, I’m constructing my own hero story: the story of the traveller venturing into the real unknown – London.
My book today is Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Only two stories remain from Lao Tzu’s life, one apocryphal, the other probably not. The latter records his encounter with Confucius (551-479 BCE). ‘Confucius said, “I know that a bird can fly; that fishes swim; that animals can run. Things that run can be trapped in nets. What can swim can be caught in traps. Those that fly can be shot down with arrows. But what to do with the dragon I do not know. It rises on the clouds and the wind. Today I have met Lao Tzu and he is like the dragon.”’ I wonder if London is, in one respect only, like Lao Tzu – that it is like a dragon.
We surface at Woolwich Arsenal (Square E9) at 3.15 pm. Welcoming us to their manor are our friend, June, and a Station Attendant whom June has briefed about my exploits. June then hurries me past the ‘town centre’ towards the Thames.
Woolwich is in more senses than one an ‘end of the line’ station. It is at the very end of the known universe and it has fallen on hard times. Its glory days are back at the beginning of time: the Woolwich Building Society – gone; Arsenal Football Club – decamped; the once mighty manufactuary of naval warfare – a heritage park being crowded out by massive up-yours apartment blocks.
I walk into the Berkeley Homes showroom and talk to an agent there. I learn that a three bedroom flat on the block planned by the Crossrail station will cost £450,000. As we talk the agent places his Ray-Ban glasses on his forehead from where they slip down periodically. £450,000! I expostulate. In Woolwich! He nods. His glasses slip down. He pushes them up. He tells me that a similar flat on a block by the Thames will cost £200,000 more. That’s crazy! I say. He nods, his glasses slip down. He strikes me as someone who sees the world as a wonderful, fabulously-complicated toy that – for some unaccountable reason – he’s being let play with. I rather like him. And, perhaps, at long last, things are looking up for Woolwich.
June, Fran and I walk down to the Thames to look out over the end of the known universe. This is called, in London-terms, as Thamesmead; locally, as SE28. Beware: dragons do live there.
I look out over the broad, dark-rippling Thames. I spot the alligators immediately, a phalanx of them, their snouts high in the air. They make straight for me in formation and open their huge maws, their yellow teeth drooling trails of saliva. I shake my fist at them. They snap their jaws shut, turn sharply towards the northern bank, wriggling their scaly bodies in a suggestive fashion, then swim majestically away.
I rescue June and Fran a few moments before they fall off the edge of the universe. We return to the Cornerstone Café. I recommend the redbush tea and the orange-free chocolate and gluten cake.
We leave June and head for the last half-station. I decide we must get there via Bank, then the Waterloo & City line to Waterloo – a mistake, the platform is 100% sardined with extra commuters extra-sardined into the tunnels leading to the platform – changing to the Northern line (Charing Cross branch) for Mornington Crescent (B5). We meet Steve, the Station Attendant, who welcomed Becca and me on my previous visit (see post, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue [50 / 80]).
I didn’t leave the station on that visit. This time I do, crossing the road to the Lyttelton Arms and The TubeforLOLs Gala Awards Evening, where I am welcomed by many people, some from places not on the Tube map.
While I am glad-handing, The WP and IC get together. Roll out those statistics, Proffie! The IC urges, sneaking a crumb of Hafod Cheddar from the slab my four year-old grand-daughter, Iris, is carrying away from the massive round bought by Mr T for the celebrations.
The WP clears his throat. Assuming that Mr T goes back the slow, easy way –
Which he will. He’ll be here for hours. He’ll be stocious. Let’s hope he doesn’t get maudlin –
Via the Victoria line to Highbury & Islington and the Overground to Forest Hill, then, over the past year, Mr Craig will have travelled –
And us, interrupts The IC, don’t forget us!
We will have travelled almost 8,300 kilometres. To put that into context: it is 4,282 kilometres from North Greenwich tube station to the North Pole. We have gone the equivalent of the round trip bar a couple of hundred kilometres –
So, finishing at somewhere like Sheffield? They’ve got trams there, haven’t they?
Another cough from The WP. Assuming a working day at 7.5 hours, it has taken us 81 days travelling to stations and visiting their neighbourhoods, while Mr Craig has spent well over a further 81 days tending to his blog. Travelling has occupied 56% of the time (45 days); visiting 44% of the time (36 days). In the course of our travels we have passed through 6,443 stations and, if Mr Craig was not the possessor of a ‘Freedom Pass’, he would have spent £743.45 on the travelling.
The IC is beginning to fidget.
The WP, oblivious, continues. Unsurprisingly – it’s our ‘home line’ and has stations strung out across the Tube map, from Watford to West Croydon, Wanstead Park to Wandsworth Road – we have travelled 2,000 kilometres, or 24% of the total distance, on the Overground. On the Jubilee, with its quick connections to other lines, we have travelled almost 1,400 kilometres, or 17% of the total …
My turn, yells The Inner Curmudgeon. Let’s get down to the meat and potatoes!
With a flourish, he produces a soap-box from behind his back, jumps onto it, puffs out his chest. The first thing you lot have to understand, he shouts, is you need to forget all that mealy-mouthed twallop about Commandments and Principles and Doing the Washing-Up. It’s Dog Eat Manger out there! Habits! Habits! Habits are what count! Right then, here they are. But remember – you’ve got to work on them until they become habits.
1: Be True To Your Inner Curmudgeon
2: End With The Beginning In Mind
3: SHOUT FIRST! SHOUT LOUDEST! THINK LATER
4: It’s Always A Good Time To Be Angry!
5: A Rant A Day Keeps The Doctor Away!
6: Sharpen Your Shouting
7: A Curmudgeon Is Always Right
He’s as pleased as punch with himself, though I don’t think anyone is listening to his harangue.
But the evening is drawing to its finale: The LOL-OSCARS, the Gala Awards. The full details of these – the short-lists, the winners, the rationale – are given in the LOL-OSCARS page. Here are the winners of the most popular categories:
• Winner of the Sorriest Parade of Shops: Headstone Lane
• Winner of the Snarliest Snarl-Up: Tooting Bec & Tooting Common
• Winner of Tedious Tubing: Harrow & Wealdstone to Headstone Lane
• Winner of Heaven in a Hanging Basket: Ealing Council
• Winner of Pretty in Pink, Gorgeous in Green: St Mary’s Secret Garden in Hoxton
• The Golden Panini Award for Most Lolastic Lunch-Stop: The Galicia in Westbourne Park
A little later, I overhear The IC and The WP. Come on, Proffie! The IC exhorts. See Craig over there with Fi and Andrew? He’s gone from stocious to maudlin. Let’s get him out of here.
The cheese is long since finished, agrees The WP. That Berkswell sheep’s cheese was toothsome. He checks his fob-watch. It’ll be a quarter past eleven before we get back to Forest Hill.
As the Overground gently blows me southerly, I am still rehearsing my farewell speech, my envoi –
“So, let me end by thanking you, Dear Readers and Followers, for sticking with me in my peregrinations and bearing with me through my hobby-horses and the many axes I periodically grind. Many thanks, too, to the many people I met in my travels – travelling is, after all, not primarily a means of getting from one place to another but of meeting people one would otherwise never have encountered. Thank you all.
“As I began this post, so will I finish – all things, whether for good or ill, must end …”
Hold it! Hold it right there! hollers The Inner Curmdugeon. You can’t end everything just like that. He looks at me fiercely.
I meet his stare. I continue: “In the words of Lord Byron, ‘So, we’ll go no more a-roving / So late into the night, / Though the heart be still as loving, / And the moon be still as bright. / For the sword outwears its sheath, / And the soul wears out the breast, / And the heart must pause to breathe, / And love itself have rest …’ ”
The IC stamps his foot. It’s alright for you! You’re not a fictional character! You’ve got a life ahead of you! BUT NOT US! Not The Wee Prof and me. You tell him Proffie. I DON’T WANT TO DIE!
The Wee Prof pulls the last Rocquefort, Walnut and Sauternes crisp out of its bag. He shrugs. Death in the morning, he says, birth in the evening. We are but flecks of foam on the surface of the pool. Whence came I? Whither do I go? I do not know. No-one knows. He folds up his crisp packet carefully, secretes it in one of his many pockets and turns back to his manual of statistics.
You’re no bloody help! mutters The IC.
I start walking away …
Come back, come back, Sandy. Please! The IC lets out a sob. I forgive you. I forgive you everything, all your dunderings. Come back, please. Don’t set down that full-stop … Please, please – not the full-stop!
The Wee Professor coughs. Would it be possible to delay a moment, Mr Craig? Only a moment. I’ve come across a really interesting least squares regression analysis of a Pearson product-moment correlation co-efficient.
I glance back. The Wee Professor is scrawling notes in the margin of his statistics manual. The Inner Curmudgeon is on his knees, wringing his hands. We’re a team, Sandy, he says, his mouth full of sobs. A team. You, me, The Wee Prof. A team …
I continue walking down that long corridor with the door at the far end with the light flooding in around it.
The last I hear is The Inner Curmudgeon asking The Wee Professor, Where’s he going, Proffie?
He’s walking down the train to the door nearest the exit at Forest Hill.
The monster! He’s leaving us here! On an Overground train! To Crystal Palace!
It could be worse, replies The Wee Professor. At least it’s not going to Clapham Junction. Or Watford Junction. Or Blackhorse Road. Or Leyton Midlands Road. Or Finchley Road & Frognal. Or Headstone Lane …