How would you feel if you lived in a London suburb that lies on a busy train route, but where the trains only stop once a day, and at 6.50 am, which is to say The Antisocial Crack of Dawn. And to add insult to injury, they don’t stop at your small Middlesex town at the weekends at all, meaning no one is going to go junketing in your pubs and restaurants of a Saturday night, or at least not unless they drive there, which means they cannot have a drink? You would probably feel neglected and shunned and let’s face it a bit paranoid at being a bit of a pariah, especially as the trains halt at the small towns either side of you with a partisan and unreasonable frequency. Such is the fate of the community of Brimsdown which is on the Greater Anglia train route heading for Bishops Stortford with connections further afield to Cambridge. I can speak with such authority, as yesterday Marta and I were headed for the same town where there is a massive plumbing warehouse, the only place in commuting distance of East London that could provide her immediately with replacement guttering sections of a special and distinctive kind. We arrived at Lea Valley Station to read a timetable that might have been designed by someone in a Samuel Beckett novel bent on illustrating the poetics of absolute futility. There were 5 different colours for the route overall, and the grey one and the black one both offered stops at Brimsdown. The problem was that the grey and black were hard enough to distinguish on the key code at the top, but on the timetable itself it was impossible to see any difference whatever in their finer hues. And as I said, the only unambiguous halt at Brimsdown was at daybreak weekdays only.

The station preceding Brimsdown was Ponders End, a smallish town famous for having an early 19th century flour mill (Wright’s) (the Enfield area’s oldest working industrial building) and little else (if it’s of interest a 2 bedroom flat there would cost you about half a million pounds, meaning an unrefusable bargain if you wished to commute into central London). Unfortunately, the next train didn’t stop there either, so to get at our specialist guttering part we would have to go as far as Enfield Lock, the station after Brimsdown. Once at Enfield, it looked about a half hour walk along the picturesque Lea Valley to get to the plumbing warehouse, and the easiest route was to turn right down a rather colourless row of villas shortly after leaving the station. Half way down that street, we suddenly noticed a gaunt and thoroughly improbable bus stop, which declared itself to be a stop, but also added emphatically, No Passengers Taken On Here

Shades of Brimsdown and Beckett already. After about half an hour’s intelligent debate, Marta and I decided that this obscure and unfriendly stop was a terminus of a kind and that likely Enfield Lock train station was too busy to have a bus stop nearby. The trouble was there was no polite explanation to that effect, and that this part of Middlesex which is principally one long industrial estate with no real demarcation between Ponders End, Brimsdown and Enfield Lock, would seem to operate by a combination of faceless anonymity and the principle of arbitrary and pointless frustration (indistinguishable colour codes and information that does not inform).

The plumbing warehouse was a horse of another colour, as the middle-aged male assistants were polite and kindly to a fault, and pointed us to an impressively complimentary refreshment machine whilst we waited for the pallet with our guttering segment to be unloaded. I had a cup of tomato soup (with minuscule doll’s house croutons) followed by hot chocolate which I would rate at 6 out 10 and 1 out of 10 respectively, but of course anything that is free is never to be despised. When at last we had our guttering adjunct, we could afford to walk onto Ponders End station for the return journey, and this took us by King George’s Reservoir, and a really handsome canal walk it proved to be. We met almost no one along the way, but in a field adjacent saw a massive flock of ducks with hooded beaks, as well as three brown horses, one of which cantered over to befriend us. The hair on his neck was covered in an enormous quantity of thistles, which didn’t seem to bother him at all, but as Marta said he looked like a Rastafarian, of which I imagine there are precious few in either Brimsdown or Ponders End…or even Enfield Lock.

But the highlight of that walk was what you might call an unexpected and uncanny vision, or no more accurately a perceptual miracle. On the canal itself, alongside the boats and barges, there were numerous moorhens with their plaintive little squeaks, and nearby were countless small gulls gently bobbing up and down. Fascinated by the tranquillity of those little gulls, I looked across the canal and was astonished by what I saw. A young man with long hair was stooped down and was tenderly stroking two of the gulls that were sat in the short grass next to the towpath. Of course, everyone has heard about robins consenting to sit on the hand of the gardeners that regularly feed them, but I had never heard of anyone patting and stroking a seagull before (not even in the wonderful Hebridean children’s stories of Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag). That means, I thought to myself, like Dr Dolittle or some mystical recluse or forest hermit, he must have some transspecies praeternatural power…and I even felt a good bit jealous as I would very much have liked to have stroked a seagull myself.

“Look,” I said to Marta in considerable excitement. “Look at that man over there stroking those two seagulls. How the hell has he got them to be so tame?”

Marta did not sneer, but with an acuity of vision superior to mine, put me straight in two seconds.

“Those aren’t two seagulls. It’s a white carrier bag he’s rummaging inside. He’s fishing out his sandwiches as far as I can see. Maybe he’ll feed the seagulls with them… and those moorhens too, no doubt.”

The next post will be on or before Thursday 17th October

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