Tuesday 21 November 2006

Paddington, Goldhawk Road & St. Cuthbert's

Woe to every sinful liar.          
        Who hears the signs of Allah recited and then haughtily persists in his denial as though he heard them not.  So give him tidings of a painful chastisement.
          The Holy Quran.  al-Jathiyah [The Kneeling].  8, 9.
Your life's all shattered into smithereens.           
Back in our silences and sullen looks,
for all the Scotch we drink, what's still between's
not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.
       Tony Harrison, ‘Book Ends’.
Stopping off at Paddington for Goldhawk Road station, arriving by the underground, along the way are giant posters with photographs of scenes that the trains cut through on their way to the West Country.  Goldhawk Road's an unusual little station with classical music playing on the radio and a little flower shop and café just outside which looks old by today's standards:
Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!  
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies. 
        Omar Khayyám. The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Tr. Edward Fitzgerald. (1859, 1868, 1872, 1879, 1889).
After lunch I got off at Earl's Court and walked down Philbeach Gardens.  A winding street looking like something out of 'The Great Good Place' at the end of which lies the locked and time-blackened church of St. Cuthbert's: 
The tall imposing tower
Imposing.  Yes, but locked.
              W. H. Auden, 'As He Is'.
Betjeman wrote somewhere: 'This week I went straight from St.  Cuthbert's, Philbeach Gardens, round the corner to the motor show.  One lives by contrasts’. I walked into the nearby hall to ask if the workmen knew when the church was open, they didn't.  It really is an awe-inspiring giant church like a T-Rex looming in the middle of a strange and eerie Regency street, a castle in the clouds.  It was dark by this time but I rang a buzzer in an apartment block where on the first floor was a Victorian sitting room with an old man hunched over a large desk looking at a map and I thought of Milton who had gone blind as a result of too much reading by candlelight as a child! I gave up and walked off as a voice on one of the buttons I’d pressed answered:
"Hullo, hullo, hullo, hullo … Major Maxton-Weir? 
I've trussed your missing paratroop.  He's waiting for you here.

       John Betjeman, 'Invasion Exercise on the Poultry Farm'.

Saturday 11 November 2006

The Borders: Pie & Mash, Bunhill Fields, Cinderella Plath & Romford

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter --- And the Bird is on the Wing.
    Omar Khayyam.  The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.  Translated by Edward Fitzgerald.  (1859, 1868, 1872,          1879, 1889).

I set out to visit G Kelly's pie and mash shop on the Bethnal Green road which someone had once recommended as the best pie shop.  On the way there I meet the father of one of my closest childhood friends at the station who I mentioned in my review of the 'Women & War' exhibition at the Imperial War Museum a few years ago.[1]  He is still around and working as a bus driver in Stratford.  Somebody at the shop mentions the very Victorian looking one on Tower Bridge Road which I endeavour to visit! As I walk out the pie shop lady is talking to the pieman about someone and says "He's Indian but a very nice man."  
I have become very apprehensive and complacent.  An early sign of depression but I believe I am not that weak-willed: I feel all looking forward to going out but in the event do not and regretting it later.  It is more than sheer laziness.  For example that happened in the case of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Open Day which I had anticipated greatly and to which I should have gone if only to photograph the grave of the only known poet buried there for my project.  I could in all probability have gone either to Nunhead (I'd've enjoyed it thoroughly judging by the photos on the internet), to Brookwood (where some friends were heading for the day) – I Didn't.  Such a pity.
Thankfully I forced myself (which I am told is the only way to beat out of this) to the Pie & Mash shop in Clerkenwell - On the way I stopped to peek into St James' Clerkenwell – An extremely beautiful twelfth century church (rebuilt in the eighteenth century) but ruined by unnecessary renovation and re-allocation to charities.  Thankfully, it still has its small churchyard intact though turned into a small park.  Auden writes that:
The church as a whole seems to me loath to admit this.  For instance, to build modern Church buildings with cheerful light, a complete falsification of what we really feel; our hearts are not cheerful, and our heads are not clear.
        Arthur Kirsch.  Auden & Christianity.  (Yale University Press, 2005).  xviii.
I popped into the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer – Bursting with incense – "From last night" said the verger.  A Victorian church built in the Italian Renaissance style, the site was previously occupied by the Spitalfields Chapel (head office of the Countess of Huntingdon who lived in an adjoining house).  The foundation stone was laid by William Gladstone in 1887 and the church was consecrated by Fredrick Temple, Bishop of London, in 1888.

I also visited Nathan’s Pie & Mash shop in East Ham, the pies had an aftertaste of blood in the mouth.  The quality must have diminished, I was told that the shop had been at its present venue for 30 years and that before that they used to be across the road. Next I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and visit the shop on Tower Bridge Road as well.  I went up and down Tower Bridge Road but couldn't find the shop anywhere.  In the end I ended up somewhere in Norwood and found myself putting off the thought of visiting the cemetery where I have only been once before and is one of the Magnificent Seven and just went to Nandos instead.  On the way I got off the bus when it had gone too far down Tower Bridge Road (and I saw no pie shop) to wander round the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey.  The church is ancient and probably worth visiting but was closed. The gravestones have been piled into a heap at the end of the churchyard by the wall of a high-windowed office.  Some of the bigger tombstones from the nineteenth century have escaped developer’s doom!

I took the bus down to the other end of the road where I thought the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children of fond memory used to be but there was nothing there and I cannot recognize the place.  Back down the other end I took a quick look at the Museum of Childhood which I also have very fond childhood memories of visiting but that is being refurbished (I hope for the better).  Next to it the church of St. John's, Bethnal Green looks worth paying a visit but closed (I walk round the other end to make sure) although a sign at its front gate says 'This church is open daily for worship.'  God alone knows how long that has been there.  There was also an old pub opposite the station entrance called The Ship (identifiable only by its hanging sign), now an estate agent's.  It closed sometime around 2000.

So off to Old Street and St. Luke's parish church with its imposing spire I follow.  It has a pleasant garden surviving with the odd tombstone still in it but unfortunately a posh gentleman with an earpiece wouldn't let me in to peruse the church because there is a conference going on inside.  It was built in 1733 and designed by Hawksmoor so worth seeing if only for that reason alone.  

Then to Wesley's Methodist Chapel which is very well kept with an attendant for the very interesting museum in the crypt (though I am somewhat taken aback by groups of tourists having their photographs taken standing on Wesley's pulpit – Bible in hand).  The church itself smacks of being artificially buffed up by being mostly new-built though a few old tombstones remain in its churchyard.
Across the road then to Bunhill Fields.  There is a lot of building work going on around the site as well as within the area including a recording of monuments which I don't know how they'll manage because some of them now lie on the pavement and one can only make out a few odd letters and in some places there are up to 3 headstones piled together.  In some cases, half a surname or year, which is better for the purpose.  There is a lady sitting on one of the benches at the far end feeding nuts to a squirrel who'd take them from her and go away and eat or stash them somewhere and then bravely come back for more, unabashed.  I see the squirrel do this about 8 times – Though earlier this year a group of Blake-ites identified the actual location of his burial here and convened with members of the Blake Society.  It was identified as being in the school playground on the other side of the wall the noise from which very inconveniently booms over to the burial ground itself.  I sit on the bench near to Blake's tombstone and wonder how many ignorants/unignorants must walk past this tombstone daily without a glance, as one lady did, shuffling hurriedly through, to the post-lunch return to the office.  As I leave, I see to my left, a large granite column to Thomas Hardy (not that one)! No mention of him may be found on the column any longer neither is he mentioned in the great book of Bunhill Fields inscriptions by Alfred Light, I found this in an older book:
In passing up a street called "City Road," we had often noticed a burial-yard which juts closely upon the street, so that we lingered sometimes to read the inscriptions on the tombstones.  We were first attracted toward it by seeing a granite column in memory of "Thomas Hardy," who, a century ago (so says the granite column), was a great radical, and befriended the cause of the people to such an extent that he was thrown into the Tower on a charge of high-treason, where he lay separated from his family for six months, when he had his trial, which resulted in his triumphant acquittal by an honest English jury.  One Sunday afternoon, seeing for the first time in all our walks past it, the yard-gate open, we dropped into "Bunhill Fields." A friend was with us, and we turned in at the little gate to decipher the quaint inscriptions upon the timeworn stones.  The yard is of considerable extent, and is very thickly strewn with stones. Almost all of them, too, we noticed, were old, some of them extremely old.  Upon some the inscriptions were entirely worn away, and not a trace remained to tell the stranger whose ashes were beneath his feet. 
                       Bartlet, David W.  London by Day & Night.  (1852).

Bunyan, Defoe and Isaac Watts are also buried here.  Thomas Hardy certainly knew the place, I wonder if he himself ever came across this column!
Then as per tradition I flick through many a good book over coffees.  Billy Bragg who was born in Barking has written a good book about British patriotism in which I read this verse of Kipling:   
And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek
         Rudyard Kipling, 'The River's Tale'.
Gripped by a sudden impulse at the station on my way home to toddle on to Chalk Farm and humbly stand outside the house of Sylvia Plath – Something dark and serious drives me to that place.
On one such occasion as I was outside, I had with me a copy of the Twickenham edition of Pope's poems, (Pope, incidentally, is my second most favourite poet after Auden, Plath my third - Though she would've always wanted to be second or first and in that order too)!!! I dropped the book right outside her home and damaged it, it was ironic as Sylvia had ravaged Ted Hughes' copy of the works of Shakespeare.
Another time I hopped along out of respect to Chalk Farm on the tube, the tube paused for ages one stop before as if bracing itself for the ordeal of Chalk Farm's burgundy brick-tiles and its faint embraces, where anything that comes is sacred. Then was the room where Hope was abandoned and Given Up to life's rising guise - And another wife.  As I was boarding the train back a buxom bride accompanied me all the way. I wondered if she thought I was following her. As she boarded the tube she was in front and one of her shoes fell off in the act a-la-Cinderella - She cried at the doors "Oh don't close."  I picked up the shoe - Gave it to her and she said "It has happened to me before." It had happened to me before too. O Muse! Had I lived at your feet I could've written poetry as fast as school-kids once yo-yoed. Hark a world of freebies - Pope comes somewhere, living unacknowledged of money. At night I went to Tesco which is the only place remaining that sells Craven A. Even they are now being discontinued there.           

Sylvia's my muse & needs to be conjured up!
The dream started that was no dream.
I stared and you ignored me.
Your part in the dream was to ignore me.
Mine was to be invisible — helplessly
Unable to manifest myself.
Simply a blank, bodiless gaze — I rested
The whole weight of my unbelieving stare
On your face, impossibly real and there.
Not much changed, unchanging under my pressure.
You only shuddered slightly as the carriage
Bored through the earth Northward.
You seemed older — death had aged you a little.
As if the unspooling track and shudder of the journey
Were the film of your life that occupied you.
Just as in the dream that insists
On the plainly impossible, and lasts
Second after second after second,
Growing more and more incredible —-
I would follow you home. I would speak.
I would make some effort to seize
This offer, this saddened substitute
Returned to me by death, revealed to me
There in the Underground — surely as if
For my examination and approval.
Chalk Farm came. I got up. You stayed.
It was the testing moment.

   Ted Hughes, 'The Offers'.
But instead of staying on the tube – This time you actually got up and out onto a separate lift, disappearing for a bit but then reappearing, I followed and turned right outside Chalk Farm station, you turned left as I resisted the temptation to follow you to your new home.

I walked back from Gloucester Road.  There were 2 people who had parted from the group chatting by the junction of the square so I walked down Fitzroy Road and back up – They were still there.  I walked down again right up to Gloucester Road and down to Edis Street (the place most appropriately named Utopia Village with its houses for the super rich) – They were still there.  I walked to the square, up Berkley Road and back – They were still there.  I sat in the square on the benches and waited for them to go.  I didn't want to cause any trouble.  My defense would've been that people living in the vicinity ought to be aware of the burden they bear! Since they must pay (or have had to) their landlords that bit extra for having the privilege to bear it! So back down Fitzroy Road, back up Chalcot Square and back home. 

The small, imposing but locked chapel at Romford Cemetery
There was a sign at the entrance to Romford Cemetery saying that 'Cemeteries are potentially dangerous places' and that deaths occur in them at a rate of 6 per year on average due to things such as fallen headstones and railings.  Nobody seemed to be in the cemetery so I thought to myself that instead of walking all the way back up the road I should just jump over the railings.  I caught my trousers on one of the pikes and had to spend the rest of the day walking around Romford with a huge rip down my right trouser leg! One of the tombstone inscriptions was from a wife saying that her husband had 'Suddenly called home on –' Past Brannigans nightclub and into the shopping centre which is now all one huge complex so that I couldn't recognise where I was.  The coffee stall where Jennie worked was still there but no longer her.  Paid a visit to the library to which I return in my dreams, luckily unchanged yet.  Out of all the libraries I know, this one is by far the best because they select the best books on all subjects and any book you can't find elsewhere you'll find here or they'll help you to it, a task made so much easier now with the coming of the internet.

The parish church of St. Edward's which has been standing 'In the Market Place' since 1410.

I took some photos in the dilapidated churchyard with building work going on in it and has cabins lined up against its back wall.

The church itself is one of my favourite with memorials still intact from the original fifteenth century church.  It is very heartening to look at it and I'm glad it remains open.  The Baptistery Window by artist Alison McCaffery is stunning and the font is good to look at.

Off then to one of my favourite pie and mash shops in which I truly enjoyed pie and mash of such quality and standard for the first time in many years.   

Romford and Hornchurch too are my Great Good Places of fond memory and I walked around for a bit.  One thing I noted was that although many things had gone with the rebuilding and extension of the shopping mall/exchange - The empty footpath running parallel to the railway line down which there had been at least one murder and countless opportunist assaults, where we filmed for Media Studies when I was at college is now a busy road – All that remains of that are the railway arches, which is for the better, the spirit has not gone out of Romford like it has from Barking. The Labour government’s so-called regeneration tactics have done nothing to take the heart out of Romford.  The old library, too, remains yet.  Another dream p(a)lace.  The bus stop yet remains where Martine McCutcheon shared her first visceral kiss which she describes in her autobiography.[2] Incidentally another one of those otherworldly nights (with the singer Mick Hucknall: a real gentleman) which happen to be zipping through time and space is described in chapter 13 of the same book.

[1]  See 'Women At War' in Prose 1997 - 2008.
[2] Martine McCutcheonWho Does She Think She Is? (Arrow, 2000).