Category Archives: Suburbia

Great balls of fire!

The midweek post comes a little early this time around, chums. Allow me to explain.

You see, once again, Yr. Humble Chronicler is doing a show. But no ordinary show. This time, Youth Action Theatre is spreading its wings somewhat and going for an all out, high-camp, rock ‘n’ roll musical, Return to the Forbidden Planet! Wooo!

If you don’t know the show, it’s… well, how can I describe it? It’s a spoof of sci-fi B-movies which is based loosely on The Tempest, set to a track of classic tunes from the 1950s and ’60s. It owes more than a little to Forbidden Planet, as you might imagine from the title, but also borrows liberally from just about every terrible science fiction film of that era. As well as pretty much everything Shakespeare ever wrote. It’s complicated.

The basic story is that the spaceship Albatross, under the command of the heroic Captain Tempest, makes the mistake of going on a routine survey expedition. As you know if you’ve watched any episode of Star Trek, in the future the word “routine” means exactly the opposite of what it does now, and the ship gets diverted to the mysterious planet of D’Illyria. There, they are greeted by the mad Doctor Prospero, his beautiful daughter Miranda and their camp robot Ariel. And then things start to go wrong. What is the terrible secret of D’Illyria? Who is the enigmatic new science officer? Where did Prospero get that outfit? All this and more will be revealed…

(By the way, I’m playing Doctor Prospero. Yeah, I do have to sing. Yeah, I am slightly bricking it.)

If science fiction campiness is not to your taste, I should mention once again our extremely rocking soundtrack. Good Vibrations, Shakin’ All Over, All Shook Up and Shake, Rattle and Roll are in there, along with a variety of songs that aren’t about vibrating at all, like Teenager in Love, Mr Spaceman, Great Balls of Fire, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Wipeout, The Monster Mash, The Young Ones… and that’s just the ones you’ve heard of. All live, performed by an awesomely talented cast, and also me.

Our production is going pretty all-out. We’ve got the Mill doing our special effects – that’s the Mill, as in, the people who do Doctor Who and Torchwood. I know, right? We’re going to have a live band on stage. We’re transforming the Hampton Hill Playhouse into a spaceship (not literally). It’s all going to need a lot of work, so Yr. Humble Chronicler intends to be mucking in tomorrow evening.

Anyway, if you’re looking for something fun to do next week, something that’ll put a spring in your step, the show runs 9th-12th November inclusive at the Hampton Hill Playhouse in West London. To book tickets, kindly click on this link. Blast off!

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Beneath the Grave – Ghosts of the Central Line

Good evening, fright-fans, it is I, Tom, your extravagantly-cleavaged Master of the Dark [picture inadmissable]. As Halloween approaches with the inevitability of death, I thought an appropriately-themed entry might be in order. As last year’s entry on the ghosts haunting the Northern Line was so popular, I figured I might continue the theme with the hauntings on the old Central London Railway or, as the kids call it nowadays, the Central Line. Mind the gap…

Northolt

You’ve all heard of the Beast of Bodmin, but did you know there was a Beast of Northolt? In the early 1990s, there were several sightings of a big cat alongside the Central Line between Northolt and Greenford. Accounts vary as to the species of cat, although most seem to settle on “puma.” Whence it came and how it got to Northolt without being noticed remain to be explained.

Marble Arch

If you should find yourself leaving Marble Arch late at night, when the station is quiet, you may find yourself being followed up the escalator. Several people have reported a sinister man in 1940s clothing who they sense close behind them on the escalator and see out of the corner of their eye. Upon turning around completely, the man vanishes. Again, no explanation has been offered as to who this restless spirit might be.

British Museum

Perhaps the most unlikely ghost out of the many on the Underground was sighted at this now-closed station. The ghost would, so the story goes, appear at one end of the platform and walk to the other, wailing mournfully. What marked this particular spectre out, however, was the fact that he was dressed in the clobber of an Ancient Egyptian. Being the intelligent and probably very sexy reader that you are, you’ve no doubt figured out why there might be an Ancient Egyptian haunting British Museum Station. To be more specific, the Egyptian is said to have some sort of link to the so-called Unlucky Mummy (pictured right), a sarcophagus lid in the Museum that is said to be cursed. This is just one of many legends attached to it, the most interesting of which says that it was responsible for sinking the Titanic.

Even bearing in mind that I’m a sceptic, I’m inclined to take this one with a pinch of salt. The accounts are lacking in detail and only emerged shortly before the station was closed down. I’m inclined to believe it was the invention of a journalist looking for a spooky story. Nevertheless, the story persists, albeit with the ghost now haunting Holborn. Why Holborn and not the closer Russell Square or Tottenham Court Road stations? It is a mystery.

Chancery Lane

Chancery Lane has plenty of secrets of its own, but in the tunnels between here and Holborn, there’s said to be one more surprise. During the 1960s,drivers stopping at signals here would often be freaked out by the appearance of a man standing next to them in the cab. Apparently some sort of fellow crewman, he would be staring straight ahead, and would vanish as soon as the train pulled away.

Bank

I covered the manife-stations (see what I did there) at this stop in last year’s entry, but I thought I’d mention that it’s a haunted station on the Central Line for those pedants who’ll leave comments if I don’t.

Liverpool Street

This terminus is built on the site of a plague pit and one of the several incarnations of the notorious Bedlam. The building of this and neighbouring Broad Street Station involved the disturbance of many final resting places, so really it would be surprising if there were no hauntings here. Sure enough, Liverpool Street and environs are said to be haunted by the ghastly screams of a woman.

The most popular suggestion for the screamer is one Rebecca Griffiths, an inmate at Bedlam in the late 18th century whose illness included a compulsive need to hold on to a particular coin. Upon her death, one of the staff (who were not known for their selflessness) stole it from her lifeless fingers and Rebecca’s inconsolable spirit searches for it still.

More recently, in 2000, the Line Controller sighted a man in white overalls in the tunnels who should not have been there. He sent the Station Supervisor to investigate, who found nothing. What made this particularly peculiar was that the Supervisor found no man down there – even though the Controller could see the man on the CCTV screen right next to him.

Bethnal Green

I’ll finish with the Easternmost of the haunted Central Line stations that I’m aware of, and one of the most frightening hauntings. This one is traceable to a specific incident that took place on 3rd March 1943. As often happened in the East End at that time, when the air raid siren sounded, the local people made for the Tube station. Unfortunately, on this night it had been decided to carry out a test-firing of an experimental new type of rocket in nearby Victoria Park. Panicked by what sounded like a very nearby explosion, the crowds surged forward. A woman on the stairs lost her footing and fell, taking several others with her and causing further panic, which in turn worsened the stampede and the crush inside the station. 173 people were killed in the disaster, crushed or asphyxiated. For reasons of morale, the Bethnal Green incident was covered up until 1946.

From 1981 onwards, however, there were reports of an extremely unnerving nature from the station. Staff working late at night spoke of hearing screams – at first one or two, then more and more, clearly identifiable as women and children. These screams would go on for up to fifteen minutes before dying down.

There you have it, readers. I hope you enjoy your Halloween this year and whatever you do, don’t have nightmares…

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, 20th Century, Bloomsbury, Disasters, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Hackney, History, London, London Underground, Museums, Occult, Paranormal, Suburbia, The City, Transport, West End

Welcome to Tooting

I’ve been off work this past weekandahalf, and I’ll be honest, it’s getting a little dull being stuck at home all the time. I never thought I’d miss being in an office.

On the other hand, it’s given me an opportunity to experience my local area during the day. To see the neighbourhood in a new light. It’s like one of those movies where everyone learns a very important lesson and in the space of a week becomes a whole new person. Except this time it’s set in Tooting.

Not much gets set in Tooting. The only thing that springs immediately to mind is Citizen Smith. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways it’s a pretty cool place, particularly once you get up towards Tooting Bec, but in many ways it’s also… not. At least, not on a weekday.

For instance, one thing you notice is a certain type of triumvirate. Two members of the triumvirate will be male humans, very fat, clipper haircuts all over, swigging from cans of lager even though it’s ten in the goddamn morning, and the third will be a ratty dog. So common is this combination that I’m starting to think maybe we should think of all three as part of a single colonial organism, like the Portuguese Man O’ War. Seriously, you see them everywhere. I’ve even had one or two of them attempt to half-arsedly start a fight with me, even though the merest attempt at physical exertion by any of them would result in a massive heart attack. You know that feeling you get when every snobbish thought you’ve ever had suddenly feels justified? Yeah.

I’ve also been trying to get in shape a bit. There’s been a lot of beer recently, and I was starting to feel guilty. Fortunately, on the intriguingly-named Figges Marsh, they’ve installed one of those new outdoor gyms. This is great if you’re me – I can’t be arsed with joining a gym. The concept apparently originates in China, and it’s one of those things the government likes because it helps to Improve the Health of the Nation. God knows it’s not just me who needs that. I mean, can you imagine? 2012 comes along and we’re all, “Oh hey man, I know I live just around the corner, but I’m going to take the bus.” What will the other countries think of us then?

Where was I? Yes, outdoor gyms. The one on Figges Marsh seems to be pretty popular. Every time I’ve been there, there have always been plenty of other users. I also found it pretty easy to use. It turns out my upper body strength lags significantly behind my lower body strength, which is lame. Must be all that running from the police.

It also turns out that the bank gets very busy, but that’s not interesting. Although seriously, what was with the guy behind me who felt the need to sigh and tut every thirty seconds? I know bank queues are boring. This is not a new thing.

As for tomorrow? Well, who knows, my friends. Who knows.

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Fairies, schizophrenia and other distractions

The other day I found myself at a loose end and so, as I’d been meaning to do for quite some time, I went with Hurricane Jack to the Richard Dadd exhibition at Orleans House in Twickenham, which as it happened was in its final week.

Richard Dadd is primarily famous for two things – fairy paintings and being insane. Outsider art, particularly that produced by the mentally ill, holds a strange fascination for me. I suppose it’s because art, perhaps more effectively than any other form of expression, offers a view into the mind. Art is heavily reliant on emotion and imagination, and as such is an ideal gauge of the mind. I’m not the first one to suggest this, of course, and art therapy is these days a popular form of psychiatric treatment.

In the 19th century, of course, there was no such thing as art therapy. Hell, there was hardly anything you’d even call therapy in the modern sense. However, during Richard Dadd’s periods in Bedlam and Broadmoor, he produced a number of works of art that are these days regarded as classics of outsider art – although given that he was an established and respected mainstream painter, it’s debatable whether you could really call him an “outsider artist.”

Come Unto These Yellow Sands, 1842

I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Dadd was born in 1817 and, from a young age, was considered a highly talented artist. A number of his works were put on show at the Royal Academy and he received several commissions from wealthy patrons. Unfortunately, he also exhibited a number of unusual personality traits which were amplified during a trip to the Middle East. He became violent and deluded, hearing voices and developing the belief that he was descended from Osiris and obliged to fight the Devil. The Devil, he believed, was capable of taking human form, and one of the forms he took was that of Dadd’s own father. Therefore, on 28th August 1843, he murdered his father and fled to France. He was arrested and put in Bedlam. Among his personal effects were a number of sketches of friends and family members with their throats cut and a list of people who he felt had to die. The general consensus now seems to be that he was afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia.

The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke, 1855-64

During his period in Bedlam he produced his most famous works, including the intricate fairy painting, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke. This is commonly regarded as his masterpiece, inspiring a song by Queen and the Terry Pratchett novel The Wee Free Men. The intense detail in this and his other fairy paintings tends to be seen as a sign of an obsessive mind (although you might also argue that it’s a sign of someone with a lot of time and very little to do, but then, I’m not an art critic or therapist).

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke wasn’t in the exhibition, nor were any of Dadd’s other fairy paintings. Actually, the exhibition seemed almost apologetic about this fact. I think this was unnecessary – it’s very often the case with artists, particularly notorious ones, that a particular work or type of work they did has been allowed to eclipse other, equally worthy works.

Sketch to Illustrate the Passions: Agony – Raving Madness

So what we have in this exhibition is, basically, The Rest. A selection of Dadd’s art from before his arrest and throughout his time at Bedlam and Broadmoor. Quite a lot of it is, I’ll be honest, rather pretty. If you didn’t know its origins, you wouldn’t be able to tell it was the work of a schizophrenic. I rather liked his stained glass work. However, there were a number of works seemingly produced as a deliberate expression of his mental state – the evocative “Passions” series stood out for me, which features allegorical figures representing various negative qualities. Some of these appear to have been painted from life, including a couple of representations of the architecture of Bedlam.

 
I wouldn’t have described the exhibition as what I was expecting from a Richard Dadd show, and that actually doesn’t bother me at all. I came away with what I felt was a fuller understanding of a very complex artist. Frankly, the chap deserves better than to be known simply as a mad artist.
 
Oh hey, look at this
Izzi has a new blog devoted to art. Take a look at it, do.

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Filed under 19th century, Arts, Crime, Current events, History, Medicine, Museums, Notable Londoners, Suburbia

The Infernal Tower

There have been some interesting proposals for London buildings over the years, from the Pyramid of Death to the scheme to rebuild the Crystal Palace so that it stood on its end. Perhaps the most significant landmark-that-never-was was the Wembley Tower.

It all started with the old Metropolitan Railway. Being a commercial enterprise, the directors of this company were naturally keen to make as much money as humanly possible. In the 1880s, though, they were already making quite a lot of money. What is a railway tycoon to do under such circumstances? If you were Edward Watkin, Chairman of the company, you simply create more traffic by making London bigger.

The idea was simple. Buy land out in the sticks where it’s cheap, miles away from London. Build a railway to it, build some houses on it and bam! You got yourself a suburb, mister. Sell the houses, there’s a goldmine for ya. You’d be amazed how much of London basically didn’t exist until people did this. Put it this way – until the 1860s, Kensington was considered to be a rural village.

Watkin was a man who liked to think big. For instance, his ultimate plan for the Metropolitan was to run trains up to Manchester and down to Paris (I forget how that one turned out). When he looked upon the route of his railway, he decided that what his grand plan needed was a selling point. Some sort of focus that would draw people to the area (and, let’s not forget, drive up the land values).

In 1889, the latest wonder of the world was the Eiffel Tower. Watkin came to the conclusion that what we needed in London was something similarly troubling to Freud, only more so. Possible sites included High Street Kensington and Gloucester Road, but eventually it was decided to purchase a 280-acre site at Wembley and develop that. Former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone asked questions in Parliament on behalf of Watkin and was told by the committee that “although the atmosphere of London may not be so favourable to extensive views as Paris, the view would be incomparably superior.” Suck-ups.

Having been given the go-ahead, the Metropolitan Tower Committee was formed in 1890 to decide on the form this tower would take. Many exciting designs were proposed. I think my favourite was one based on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’m no structural engineer, but I can’t help wondering how wise it would have been to build something like the Leaning Tower, only much taller. I also like the one about the “colony of aerial vegetarians.” Gustave Eiffel himself was even approached and did initially show some interest, only to decline later on patriotic grounds (he probably heard that dis about the views in Paris).

As it happened, the final design was very similar to the Eiffel Tower, only 320 metres taller. Work started in 189e and in 1896 the park around the tower’s base was opened to the public. The tower had only reached its first stage, but hopes were high even if the structure wasn’t.

Yet already problems were being encountered – the year before, the new Chairman of the Metropolitan, John Bell, had already been convinced the whole thing was a white elephant. It turned out that the foundations couldn’t quite support all that weight on just four legs (the original design called for eight). The biggest issue of all, though, was money. It turned out that not everyone was as enthusiastic as the Parliamentary committee, and very few were willing to invest. The park itself was not the major tourist attraction Watkin had hoped for, and work ground to a halt.

In fact, the tower ended up having a detrimental effect on the Metropolitan Railway. At this time, the Great Central Railway used the Met lines to get into London, a costly move. With the construction of the Tower, the Great Central was able to say (and I’m paraphrasing here y’understand), “Oh hey, that’s cool, with all that extra traffic you’ll be getting from the Tower you won’t be able to run our little trains so we’rebuildingourownlineintoLondonbyenow,” and promptly rushed off to Marylebone.

The Tower also had something of a domino effect on Watkin’s other schemes – it was very clear, as the mostly-incomplete tower rusted away, that Watkin had maybe lost his golden touch, and so investment in his grand scheme to run trains to Paris dried up as well. The ugly monument gained such unflattering nicknames as “the London Stump” and, the name by which it is perhaps best known today, “Watkin’s Folly.”

The enterprise went bust in 1899, in 1901 Watkin himself passed away and in 1902 the whole thing was declared a health and safety hazard and closed down. In 1907 the remains were blown up and sold for scrap. Yet Watkin’s scheme was not entirely in vain – in the 1920s, when the organisers of the British Empire Exhibition were looking for somewhere to build their stadium, they discovered there was a perfectly peachy-keen area of flat ground at Wembley…

… and the rest, they say, is history.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Geography, History, London, London Underground, Parks and gardens, Politics, Sports and Recreation, Suburbia, tourism, Transport

Coke en Stock(well)

Don't explain the joke, you idiot.

I thought I’d elaborate a little on a small adventure that happened on the way back from the Carnival, as described in the last entry, for ’twas quite the strangest thing that happened that day. Well, not quite the strangest. Probably in the top ten. Or twenty. It was certainly strange.

You see, the problem with being very drunk and very tired and altogether in quite a state is that it can be quite difficult to stay awake. And the problem with getting from Bayswater to Colliers Wood is that it’s quite a complicated route by night bus. End result was that I kept ending up in completely the wrong place by virtue of falling asleep on the bus. Eventually, when I ended up in Vauxhall, I decided to give it up as a bad job and walk as far as I could.

Now, it took me quite a while to figure out that Vauxhall is close to Stockwell, and a night bus to Colliers Wood goes that way. It is a testament to how very mashed up I was that it took me this long – I’ve worked in Stockwell and Waterloo, and several times I’ve walked from one to the other by way of Vauxhall.

Nevertheless, after much trial and error, I arrived in Stockwell. All in all, I was feeling pretty invincible. Which is good, because as places go, Stockwell sucks.

[PARENTHESIS: I’ve noticed something odd about London. My decadent and sinful lifestyle takes me through many different parts of the city. Yet in places like Hackney, Elephant & Castle, Battersea, Brixton, Tooting, Feltham and Stockwell, I rarely have any trouble. Meanwhile, in supposedly affluent, middle-class places like Richmond, Kingston and Wimbledon, I’ve had far more trouble with lairy drunks trying to start fights – to the extent that I actually try to avoid Kingston and Wimbledon late on a Friday or Saturday.]

Stockwell is famous mostly for the notorious case of the Stockwell Strangler back in 1986 and in 2005, for the shooting by police of Jean Charles de Menezes during the 7/7 attacks. Apparently it’s on the up these days due to the fact that it is literally within walking distance of Central London. At the moment, though, it’s still pretty sketchy. This I mused upon as I waited for the good old N155.

At this point, a couple of gentlemen approached me. Well, I didn’t initially think they were approaching me – after all, it’s a bus stop, one of the things about public transport is that it’s for the public (though you wouldn’t think that judging by some of the people you mumble mumble mumble).

But then one of them spoke up. “I like your…” he began, and ran into difficulties. My scuffed jeans, chocolate-smeared T-shirt and worn out shoes didn’t exactly give him much to work with, and so he settled on “…glasses.”

“Thanks,” I said, uncertain how best to react. I mean, I like my glasses too. They stop me from being blind. They are, I must emphasise, nothing special. Fairly discreet with black wire frames. Basically, I use them to see with.

“You having a good night?” asked the fellow.

“Yeah, you know, long night, good night, complicated, going home now, bed,” I said incomprehensibly. All of which was true.  At this stage it was half past four and the fun part of being drunk was well and truly over. I just wanted to get home.

“Oh hey, that’s great,” said the chap. “Do you like Charlie?”

I was confused. Charlie? Was that his friend? Was I being propositioned? Solicited, even?

“Sorry?”

“Do you like Charlie?”

“Er?”

“Charlie?” He opened his bag and pulled out a couple of bags of white powder. “Charlie?” he repeared.

Ah yes, Charlie. Cocaine. Blow. Peruvian Lady. Bolivian marching powder. Aunt Nora. Witch and Zip. Foo-foo dust. The White Stuff. Alas, cocaine is not among my many vices, and I explained as much.

“Not at all?” asked the man, with palpable disappointment.

“Afraid not. I’m more of a booze man myself.”

“Not even to try?”

“Sorry. It’s just very late at night, I don’t want a buzz, I just want to go to bed.”

“Oh,” said the man sadly, and he and his friend trudged off.

I spoke the next day to Hurricane Jack and Succubusface, who opined that the guy was either not a very good drug dealer or the cocaine he had was fake, as discretion should really be your watchword when you’re out selling illegal substances in public. Indeed, it’s my own personal experience that normally when someone approaches you with the intent of selling drugs, what you get is a muttered “Skunk?” as they pass you. At least, I think that guy was selling skunk, it was fair to say that I’d woken up in the wrong part of London and not showered that morning.

And so I think we all learned an important lesson.

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Filed under Booze, Crime, Current events, London, Sports and Recreation, Suburbia

Mine eyes dazzle

Now, I’m afraid I’m going to be a bit rubbish over the next two weeks, chums. The reason for this is that, as I have previously said, I’m going to be in Youth Action Theatre’s production of The Duchess of Malfi, this week in London and next week at the Edinburgh Fringe. This will, I fear, make updates on this blog sporadic at best.

Of course, if you’d like to see this play yourself, you’d be most welcome to come along. This week – from Tuesday 9th to Thursday 11th August – we will be performing at the Hampton Hill Playhouse as part of a double-bill with a rather exciting devised piece called Lost and Found. It’s a world premiere sort of thing, so I must confess to not knowing a huge amount about it – however, I can vouch for the talent of the author, cast and director. It’s made extra-exciting by the fact that Yr. Humble Chronicler is supplying some of the props.

The Duchess of Malfi follows, and in accordance with the limitations of the Edinburgh Fringe, is pared down to an hour long. What this means is that you can tell everyone you’ve seen Webster’s masterpiece, but you haven’t had to sit through the full-length version which is like six weeks long or something.

If this all sounds like your kind of thing, and frankly why wouldn’t it, more info can be found here. Or if I’ve excited you sufficiently with this blog entry alone, you can book tickets here.

Of course, it might be that you’re in Edinburgh the following week, in which case why not come to see us up there? We’ll be at The Space (venue 36) from August 15th-20th, and you can book tickets here or here.

So there we are. I hope you’re as excited as I am, and I hope to see you there. Until next time, chums.

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