After Jackie delivered me to Southampton Parkway for my trip to visit Norman, my train journey was almost uneventful. No doubt taking the Quiet zone notices literally, a taciturn young man opposite me, sporting an attenuated Mohican that had recently been mown, said nothing and did not take his eyes off the screen of his DELL laptop, even when I asked him to allow me to place my book on the table. Spread all over the surface, he drew the device about two centimetres towards himself. For form’s sake, and in order not to lose face, I positioned my book half way on to the table’s edge under the forward-leaning p.c.’s seemingly invertebrate lid, and read a page or two before shifting my seat from the aisle to the window where there was no-one opposite. I was not being difficult sitting opposite the man. I don’t have leg room on the inside seats if someone does come and sit opposite, whereas, as long as I pull them in when someone passes I can stick them in the gangway. Of the three laptop users sharing the table on the return journey, two were asleep before we reached Winchester, and the other’s DELL was not spineless.
From the terminal station, keeping an Eye on Big Ben, I crossed Waterloo Bridge, skirted Covent Garden, and wandered into Bloomsbury, passing James Smith’s magnificent umbrella shop where I had bought the brolly stolen from the stairs of our flat in Horse & Dolphin Yard mentioned on 9th February this year.
Incidentally, Becky, who has many memories of that Soho residence, on 30th June 2008 sent me a photograph of Flo taken beneath the yard’s street sign during a nostalgic visit.
From Bloomsbury I returned via Tottenham Court Road to Oxford Street, the New version of which I had crossed, and weaved in and out among the whole world’s populace to Bond Street tube station where I boarded a train to Neasden. The main difference between Westminster Bridge and Oxford Street, in terms of the crush of people, is that Westminster Bridge is shorter. Perhaps that is the better route after all.
Shortly before I reached Neasden, as an elderly man wearing a cross put his bible away in preparation for departure, a young woman, carrying a comatose child dangling from a sling like a puppet on a string, walked the length of the carriage placing a printed notice on each of the many vacant seats. She then retraced her steps in a not very enthusiastic effort to collect the money the message claimed she needed. Empty handed, she gathered up all her slips of paper and moved on to the next compartment. My fellow passenger, clearly a kind man, said how difficult it was to determine genuine need. I offered the observation that the infant was probably not hers, but agreed that it was very problematic and not a very comfortable way for the woman to make a living. This, however, is a scam I have seen so much of in the London Underground that I have become sadly cynical. I also experience some guilt when I do not offer help. Finsbury Park’s station entrance described in my post of 14th June 2012 was notorious when I frequented it in the ’80s and ’90s. The apparently sleeping three year old flopping in a buggy had a different mother each day.
A display on South Bank for the amusement of those crossing the bridge enabled me to pay lip service to the week’s gardening theme. A roof was being swept by a woman in curlers and a rather short hoodie, seemingly created from grass cuttings. A winding string of coloured wheelbarrows containing floral baskets could been seen below.
For lunch Norman provided duck in plum sauce followed by bread and butter pudding. We shared a bottle of excellent Rioja.
I finished reading John Guy’s ‘The Tudor Age’ section of The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, and began John S. Morrill’s ‘The Stuarts’ before arriving back at Southampton where my driver was waiting.
Interesting one Derrick. There have been a couple programmes on the TV about this and what you quite rightly call a scam. I have actually witnessed this type of begging myself on one of my very few visits to London, and the lady at that time – an Eastern European woman, scruffy and dirty, but quite plump and well-looking, with a very scrawny child – was just finishing what must have been her shift and she walked round the corner and got into a car driven by a man, with a posh baby seat and the car, the type of model I would never be able to afford. Slightly off track, but also, in the last 6 months we have had a lorry come down our road a couple of times ringing a bell, just like Steptoe and Son, asking for old scrap metal. I hadn’t seen such open begging or a rag and bone man since I was a child in the 50’s. But, unlike you, I don’t feel any guilt about not helping them, I actually felt very uncomfortable, even anger, having to witness this step back in time. Funnily enough, there is a little guilt in my putting this in writing, but I’m reassuring myself what’s a blog without a response and a rant sometimes? You’ll curse that first scrabble day wont you?
Thanks, Barbara. Very good stuff. My guilt is more about the babies – they are most certainly drugged. As you know, I do have an occasional rant, usually about technology.
Thank you so much for pointing me to this, Derrick. It’s a quite dreadful thing when scammers turn to drugging tots and passing them round as a convenient ruse. You mention guilt. That bolt that shoots through us as we bravely turn away or walk past. With so many in genuine need, it is dreadful that decent people, kind people are subjected to this. I hope more of my readers will follow your link because this piece deserves an airing.
Very many thanks, Osyth