Greetings, you wonderful people. Hope you're keeping warm and dry. A hearty welcome to this, the third instalment of a series entitled The Boroughers, in which your intrepid correspondents gallivant around the UK's capital city throughout 2018 in pursuit of nice, educational fun.
Today - by which I mean the day I'm writing, also the day in which the experiences below happened, namely 21st January 2018 - we went to Harrow. It's our first venture north of the river, and the first borough of the year who couldn't even be bothered to bid for the Borough of Culture prize. Be there dragons up there?
Eagle-eyed Boroughers fans - that is, I estimate, zero of you - will have noticed a change to our "yet to visit" page over the preceding days. Originally this day was our designated visit to Bromley, putting off that river traversal even longer. But as our activities there will mostly be outdoors and the weather forecast was shit, we thought it more prudent to head somewhere further and more difficult to reach: time spent on trains and tubes feels less wasted when it's raining. Furthermore our Harrow plans mostly involved staying indoors anyway. With that backstory, we set off - though not before collecting our by now habitual 3 bits of trivia.
- In Harrow borough there is a 62% chance that any two random residents are not of the same religion
- The borough, and Pinner in particular, is remarkable for the number of famous people born, resident, or educated there, the most auspicious being Peter Andre
- The first fatal automobile accident in which the driver died occurred here
First, the picnic. Today's ham and cheese sandwiches involve Wiltshire ham, spreadable brie, and small bread with all bits 'n that in it. Made immediately prior to leaving for the train, Buster the cat only tried to get involved three times.
The forecast stayed poor. Really bastard cold, with heavy rain but an increasing temperature. As is their wont, the BBC take their data from the Met Office and then ignore it; the latter were predicting snow.
It's not like it was very nice in Thames Ditton to be honest. Helen had shoved on about 5 base layers, none of which seemed to be doing much good. Is this train coming or what?
Yes, it is. Time to get cracking on the sandwiches as we trundle to Waterloo. Past the cutely named "traincare depot" just north of Wimbledon, and I'm trying to convince her that we should visit our two scheduled attractions in reverse order, but my appeal falls on deaf ears. Anyway she's more interested in taking my nascent idea for a 2019 resolution (I like to plan ahead) and derailing it somewhat, though her idea would be a bit more pleasant. That's it for teases and spoilers, as if you're bothered. We've got another 30 of these to get through first.
An offline map app told us there was a zoo in Pinner, but the rest of the internet disagreed. How disappointing. At Waterloo there is vaping and the purchase of caffeine, and a well timed Jubilee line tube to Baker Street.
CityMapper had told us to carry on to Finchley Road but frankly I didn't trust it, and was right not to. At Baker Street a busker played olde-timey film score style music, speeding up at the exact moment we realised we needed to hurry up the stairs because our Metropolitan line was leaving in the next minute or so. It felt like he was our personal soundtrack.
Good job I'm not wearing anything remotely waterproof except my watch. The station is nondescript and it's really bloody cold and hilarious.
It's really good. I thought I would like it, but didn't accurately predict how much. Everything seemed familiar, through a mix of actual (albeit cursory) familiarity plus the obvious extent of his influence. Specifically I have a "oh, right!" moment as I realise just how Heath Robinson-y the Viz strip "Gilbert Ratchet" is.
There isn't a great deal of machinery, but what there is is fun.
Leaving the park at the opposite end from where we entered, we head away from Pinner and through a bunch of residential side streets. The pavements are slippery, because the snow hasn't really settled properly but rather mixed in with the rain to form an immediate slush. It's unpleasant.
We're not heading for another venue, at least not yet. No, we're heading for a street sign. On our way this morning we'd figured out that we really weren't far from the borough's border, so fuck it - let's go see what kind of welcome they're laying on, shall we?
It's a grim, loud, cold, and wet welcome. It's a busy main road, next to a bus stop without a shelter, served only by a single service which is of no use to us. Brilliant. So we walk through ever colder rain - the snow has now stopped - for 15 minutes until another unsheltered stop, near some giant puddles, and wait for an H11. It's time to judge Harrow's intra-borough transportation.
15 minutes or so later and a single decker bus comes along. It's about a quarter full and everyone looks miserable. We wind through residential streets, each less salubrious than the last, and get off just past a large junction. Doubling back, we take our place next to another stop opposite some grim flats and on an even busier mainer road, though mercifully sheltered. It's shit, this. While waiting here our Lewisham ambassador texts me about a fake fried chicken shop, and expresses his hope that we're not out and about in this weekend's shitty weather. I send him a photo of a decidedly unimpressed Helen at a bus stop.
A single-decker H10 arrives and we're warm again, briefly. We pass North Harrow station and a crossroads full of takeaways and hairdressers, but seemingly no pub. Then back to solidly residential streets and at Pinner View we're off, to head down a dead end street to our second centrepiece.
And then, opening out before us, a huge car park and a vaguely ostentatious sign welcoming us to Headstone Manor and Museum. Look, a moat with ducks 'n stuff!
We are freezing cold. The journey from Heath Robinson to here has been hilariously shit, at least if you're me and can find some hilarity in it. Thankfully the cafe, into which we enter first, is very warm. We order paninis and drinks (no booze, bah) and sit down. I dump onto paper the memories of everything since I was last able to feel the pen in my hand.
The paninis arrive. My cranberry and brie is very cold, the bread itself a bit tepid. Helen's is apparently much better. Bah, again. We pre-plan our escape from the borough later in the day and then debate, again, whether to pay a fiver to do the guided tour at 2.30pm. I win - which is to say, we don't bother. Rather, at around 2.10pm or so we head into the museum by ourselves, map leaflet in hand. I carry my coat because it's still soaking wet, hoping there's somewhere I can hang it up.
First, a big barn showing a video. We can't be bothered sitting or listening to it, and anyway it's even bloody colder in there than it is outside. Why don't barns built in like 1300 or whatever have any heating?
Across the moat and into the main house, a man opens the door for us and welcomes us - with only one L - to Headstone Museum and Manor. Do we have a map? Yes, yes we do. Are we aware that there's no heating in the house in order to help preserve it, so this might not be the best time visit and I might want to think about putting my coat back on? Ah god damn it.
As if to take the piss even further, several rooms show off their fireplaces. LIGHT SOME DAMN FIRES YOU COLD BASTARDS.
In the first room upstairs I jump out of my skin as a holographic* woman appears next to me and pipes up about how she's just moved in with her fella and they're doing the place up. She's very loud and sudden and once I've calmed down I look around for R2-D2 who might be projecting her. "Help me Obi-Darren, you're my only hope".
Similar, though less startling after the first time, experiences occur elsewhere. In one room the bloke gives his spiel twice, which is very annoying. Then there are train station signs and a recreation of part of a carriage.
A photo op arrives, where I'm meant to shove my head through a hole like one of them seaside "shove your head through a hole" scenes. But my head is massive and doesn't remotely fit.
Kodak have been one of the largest, if not the largest, employers in Harrow for the last 100+ years and accordingly there's a display of old cameras. According to Helen these cameras aren't actually any good.
Also painting paraphernalia, of both the artwork and decorative variety. Of particular interest is the comedy giant paintbrush which seems ludicrously impractical.
That big barn, though... is it shut? It looks, through a gap in the wood, like there might be a light on. We try one of the doors at the far end and, oh, it's open - but there's fuck all museum-y here. A sign had said you could hire this for events, and that seems to be the only thing you can do. As we close the door, Helen spots people from the manor glaring at us. Yeah, whatever. It's not like we went inside is it?
The glares turn to scowls, I'm told, when we dick around with the stocks.
And that's it, we're done. Better weather would have helped, much as it would the whole day, but even so it was not all that. Some slightly interesting stuff but nothing to really grab us. By now, contrary to both the BBC and the Met Office, temperatures seem to be dropping. Back up past the death-risking electricity substation(?) and to the bus stop we got off at earlier, it's desperately unpleasant.
I am full of schadenforeman (taking pleasure in my own displeasure), singing songs about how shit the weather is and doing a tap dance to try and keep the blood flowing around my legs - which themselves are now wet, as my jeans have started to spread water upwards to my knees via capillary action. Helen feels a bit less sanguine about our situation.
Nonetheless, I convince her we should go for a pint. I really don't want to leave any of the boroughs without having a pint. On the bus towards Harrow & Wealdstone station, in Wealdstone, I hunt for local pubs. There are basically none. That can't be right, can it? Apparently so. This town looks shit, so shit that nice weather wouldn't do it any favours. There's a train to Clapham Junction - south of the river, and most of the way home - in 4 minutes. That's just long enough to take a photo of a boozer that's shut, and looks like it was horrific when it was open anyway.
It's time to channel Tina Turner: we don't need another Harrow, we just need to know the way home, ...
Next to the platform is a disused little part of the line which is one of the oldest in London and the UK. Yeah yeah whatever. It's 1528, a mere 4 hours after we got off the tube in Pinner, and here's the Southern service to Clapham Junction. It's a lovely warm train with plug sockets and tables and barely anyone on it and ewww, when I put my cold wet hands on the table tops everything feels slimy and nasty. Ewww, I said!
The most remarkable positive of the day is that all our road transport was complete bollocks, but our rail transport was comfortable, fast, and with exceedingly well-timed connections. At Clapham we have basically the exact amount spare for a vape and caffeine break before a train back to the glory of Surbiton. The pub next to the station serves a wide range of espresso based drinks - well, two: espresso martini and an espresso stout please barman - and finally there's a smile facing me. Harrow was, indeed, Harrowing. Let us never speak of it again.