So – London again! It is very hot and humid and I have stupidly boarded the Piccadilly (which the WordPress gremlins endearingly keep changing to Piccalilli) Line with neither a bottle of water nor a book. I was rather hoping for some lovely #PoemsontheUnderground but alas I can only see betting ads from my narrow seat. Which leaves me with only the perusal of the Piccadilly Line linear map for entertainment over the next hour.
Heathrow. I remember the sheer devil-may-care thrill (and expense) of flying to London from Inverness with my mother for the first time circa 1974 en route for South Africa where my sister then lived, my only ever exotic childhood holiday. Before that, our travel between the Capital of the Highlands and the Capital of the Other Bits was via a rattly and unreliable overnight sleeper service with an all night bar – cheap (then) and enormous fun. You could perch on the cover of the wash-hand basin in your tiny bunk berth, fling open the window and stick your head out to smell either the mountains or the motorways, depending on direction of travel.
When I worked (or rather slaved) for the National Trust in the 1990s, Osterley Park was a regular haunt. I was responsible for events in the region which included thumping great music and firework events for thousands to the backdrop of music by the Glenn Miller Band or the Bootleg Beatles at Osterley. The property manager there at the time was a witty chap named Barry who had a nice line in withering put-downs.
Lovely parkland – but the house itself always left me cold, possibly just as its original owner and architect intended. It shouts ‘I have piles of money and influence and a classical education to boot and you can just tug your forelock and scurry back to your dingy hamlet, serf.’ Good thing NT owns it inalienably, otherwise it might have been acquired by one of the new cabinet as a summerhouse.
I grew to know Gloucester Road and South Kensington well in the mid-1980s when I worked as an educational walking tour guide with a company who had better remain nameless. I would don a bright beret and stride forth with my brolly aloft, leading my hapless charges from their arrival station to their very inexpensive hotel in the vicinity of these two underground stations.
One day two lads came back up out of the basement with an aggrieved expression and after repeatedly telling them not to make such a fuss, I investigated to find their room was ankle deep in water and plaster from the ceiling above.
Although the role had its frustrations I became very fit, walking all over London, learned its history and in particular navigated its museums, which was to lead to my first ‘proper job’ with the Imperial War Museum.
Then, approaching the other end of the Piccadilly Line, Wood Green. Neither wooded nor green but a better bet than East Finchley, its Northern line counterpart. Why these two stations? Well, we had bought a flat in Muswell Hill, which is a nice part of the burbs but has no underground station of its own (the clue is in the name). I therefore used to board a W7 (or was it the W3?) bus for Alexandra Palace and then duck back into Dukes Avenue under the old railway bridge.
And finally, Cockfosters. I have never actually been there but my mother once shared a joke of her father’s with me (which is how I knew he had a sense of the ridiculous when I came to write #MajorTomsWar). It may possibly have come from a Punch cartoon.
First man standing to a second man in a very crowded Piccadilly Line train:
‘Excuse me, Sir, is this Cockfosters?’
‘Good Lord, Sir, no – it’s mine.’