Stationed at Slough

Is there anything better than a Victorian station with a stuffed dog?

I hate Slough. I love stations

However much I dislike Slough, it provides a fantastic train artery. If I am sitting on one of its station platforms I am either heading off on an adventure towards the countryside of the West, or East into my old friend Paddington, from where I can access the throng of London and the rest of the country

I love adventures, and this is a route steeped in fond memories. In the eighties I used to finish work at 8.30 on a Sunday night and frantically ‘tube it’ from Bond Street to Paddington to catch the 9.10 train to go home to Bath. One Sunday, a passenger called Solomon sat next to me. He spent the weekend with his family and then worked Monday to Friday in Penzance. We got on so well that it became our weekly routine to seek each other out, and sit together drinking gin and playing backgammon

One Wednesday, as my late-afternoon return train from Bath emptied onto a Paddington platform, an announcement came over the tannoy: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P Bear please go to the Lost Property Department’

On the repetition it was cut short: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P ….’

Must have been a new guy. Hundreds of passengers sniggered

But, I digress…

Last Sunday C and I headed to Olympia to visit a customer at a trade show. As we waited for our train to arrive at Slough, C asked if Station Jim was still around, and suggested we go and pay our respects

Station Jim was a sick stray, adopted in the 1890s by the station staff. Taught to cross the tracks only by the bridge, he apparently took the occasional train journey but was always spotted by staff at other stations and sent home. For the most part he was happy just to collect donations for local causes, and he seems to have led a pretty good (if short) life. Upon his sudden death at home one evening in 1896 the station staff and local residents paid for him to be ‘stuffed’ and mounted on display on Platform 5, where he remains, proudly dressed in his collection harness station jimHowever gruesome this Victorian behaviour sounds, he must have been very loved, don’t you think?

One hundred and twenty years on he’s still in pretty good nick and he looks very noble. He has a very prominent spot on the main platform to Paddington, so that new people still see him for the first time every day – not something that a simple plaque could have achieved

And those of us who have ‘known’ him for years continue to visit

 

 

Drifting in Islington

 

madonnasite2I am in danger of becoming old before my time. I’ve noticed recently that when anyone asks me if I still love London, I reply that I love it but that I also find it tiring. I don’t know where the habit crept in of adding the caveat. The truth is, I do still love London and still find its villages fascinating

We took Charlotte to a gig in Islington on Sunday.  The evening was too warm for mid-November so having enjoyed a meal at the Masala Zone, Baz and I wanted to walk it off. I used to spend a lot of time in the area and I lived a short walk from Upper Street, or ‘Supper Street’ as it is now nicknamed, during my twenties. There is a wealth of Georgian, Regency and Victorian buildings that remain, particularly noticeable at the top end of Upper Street and on the side-roads that run down towards Essex Road

Unfortunately we didn’t take our cameras (it was dark, to be fair), so we had to rely on Baz’s phone as mine had no charge. Hardly well-equipped, but we snapped the fabulous Madonna mural with the legend ‘Queen, Rebel, Icon’ as well as this charmingly observed mural

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As I looked in the windows of an interiors shop near the corner of Essex Road when Baz called me to say, ‘P, you have to see this’

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Predictably the shop is called ‘Get Stuffed’. Should I even call it a shop? I love animals so taxidermy is not my thing at all, but there is something so intimate and compelling here and it looks more like an animal sanctuary than a stuffers

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 It was hard to do it justice with the phone through the metal shutters but I think Baz captured how the creatures actually seem to engage with you and with each other, are almost living, a community. It was very affecting

There is something special to see on most streets in London. All its villages still have their own personalities after hundreds of years and their commerce and architecture is diverse. Even on a dark night when the shops are shut, you can never be bored