CATCHING THE LAST TRAIN HOME

If you look closely at this picture, you will see a vertical-ish line of green curving to the right of the two trains (just lower-left of centre). This is what remains of the platform of the station from which coffins and mourners set out for Brookwood cemetery in Surrey where there was a corresponding station to receive them. It was bombed in the second world war and never rebuilt but the station building still stands on Westminster Bridge Road as you can see in the photograph below.

On Saturday, I sneaked around the back of it, climbed up a flight of steps, found a gate left providentially open and managed to get out onto the area adjacent to the line. It is strange up there - a wide brick tundra three storeys above street level with trains and signals clanking and flashing and nobody to see them.

The train was operated by The Necropolis Railway Company (really) and first, second and third class carriages were available although I have never been able to find out whether this was implemented on a purely financial basis or enforced according to the social standing of the mourners - or corpse.

Way to go.

When I am in charge, I shall I re-instate it.

UNREAL CITY

Here are post-it note prayers of propitiation in St Mary's Woolnoth a city church. One of them just says "Dear God, please help me today" - a simple sentiment I can sympathise with. Like many converts to atheism, I sometimes wish I still had faith.

St Mary Woolnoth is my favourite London church. Designed by the mysterious Nicholas Hawksmoor, it is an expert lesson in how to make a small thing seem grand and of course looms large in T S Eliot's Wasteland:

"And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine."


I followed this route on Sunday with David after we saw a wonderful recitation of the poem by Fiona Shaw at the equally remarkable Wilton's music hall in Limehouse. If you ever have chance to visit either of these buildings, do - they pin the two ends of English culture down rather well I think.

And on the subject of wastelands, yesterday to see 'The Road' with Glen. I've rarely been affected by a film so much but then I have rarely been so affected by a book as when I read it a couple of years ago. Very reassuring that such a subtle take on what morality and humanity actually mean in a godless world has managed to make the mainstream - but a very sad way to learn it of course.

Bless us all.

RIVER CROSSING




The Thames has seen many, many strange things in its long journey - even in recent times, we have had headless bodies, a giant statue of Michael Jackson and a whale. Whenever I am at Vauxhall cross - a large busy intersection of railway lines, an underground station, a bus terminus and the home of the English secret service - I always remember that this is a place of some prehistoric significance. Take the ramp next to MI5 down to the relative peace of the river foreshore at low tide and you may see why.

In 1999, following the discovery of neolithic axe heads, the remains of a bronze age timber structure were revealed by the eroding river bank. It is considered to either be an early bridge across the river or possibly a jetty intended to connect the shore with an island which is now lost. Bronze spears were also discovered - apparently intentionally placed into the river bed.

This location is significant - it is the point where the tidal Thames turns - where salt water meets fresh and the place where the rivers Effra, on the south bank and Tyburn, on the north, (both now subterranean) empty into the greater river. These outfalls can also be seen at low tide.

As these rivers were once navigable, it is likely that the area was a focus of some activity and it appears that several ancient routes converged upon it - as their contemporary equivalents still do. A southern projection of the Roman Watling street reaches the river on the north bank and Kennington Lane, thought to be the route of a raised pre-roman trackwa, joins on the south bank. The timber bridge / jetty would be a continuation of this route - linking the Kennington settlement either with the 'holy' island or the north bank of the Thames.

There are two rows of about twenty stumps - leaning inwards and giving an estimated jetty width of about four meters. They may soon be gone because now exposed,they are subject to erosion. The mystery to me is how they survived for thousands of years at all - particularly in a situation like this.

It is a new year and that reminds me, I must soon write about a very odd thing - the time machine hidden in a secret location in a very posh part of town..