Saturday, March 12, 2011

Are the London Docklands the new Homeward?

I don't usually go to the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference: too much travel, not enough conference. True, this year it is only up the line in Sheffield, but I am at busy at work and, as a pre-merger Liberal, I still regard it as an unsound SDP innovation.

So this morning I rose early and pushed my way through the crowd of urchins gathered to cheer famous Liberal Democrats as their trains passed through Market Harborough railway station. But I travelled south and went to the exhibition Churchill and the Anarchists at the London Docklands Museum.

It turned out to be a little smaller than I expected, but still fascinating. And the London Docklands Museum is well worth a visit in any case. (You have until 10 April, if you want to see the exhibition yourself.)

Some of the Docklands buildings now look like the worst of 1980s kitsch, but there is still an excitement to the area and in particular to the juxtaposition of old and new.

But something troubled me: where had I seen it all before? Then I remembered:
Uncle is an elephant. He's immensely rich, and he's a B.A. He dresses well, generally in a purple dressing-gown, and often rides about on a traction engine, which he prefers to a car.

He lives in a house called Homeward, which is hard to describe, but try to think of about a hundred skyscrapers all joined together and surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge over it, and you'll get some idea of it. The towers are of many, and there are bathing pools and gardens among them, also switchback railways running from tower to tower, and water-chutes from top to bottom.

Many dwarfs live in the top storeys. They pay rent to Uncle every Saturday. It's only a farthing a week, but it mounts up when there are thousands of dwarfs.
That is the opening of Uncle by the Revd J.P. Martin. When the Docklands Light Railway makes a sudden, unexpected turn and climb to reach the station at West India Quay, you really do feel as though you are in Homeward.

I also took the train out to Beckton. With its romantic-sounding intermediate stations like Gallions Reach, I hoped it would give good views of the river and have the atmosphere of the last chapters of Great Expectations - or at least show me a bit of London railway history. But the area has been redeveloped and the line completely rebuilt with cuttings and flyovers.

Perhaps the line to Woolwich Arsenal would have given me more of what I was seeking, but I doubt it. Anyway, there is more about the wonderful Uncle books elsewhere on this blog.


Dan Falchikov said...

Sadly Jonathan you were about four years too late. The journey you could then have taken was to North Woolwich on the old North London line. You got to see the old docks, Tate and Lyle's sugar factory along with the new and you ended up at the now preserved North Woolwich station.

Beckton's Asda doesn't really compete...

Mike said...

That would be Badfort ASDA - no?