At Leytonstone, as you’re heading east, London Underground’s Central Line splits in two. This neck of the woods, reader, is where I grew up. From Leytonstone, one branch takes you towards Woodford, Buckhurst Hill and Theydon Bois. Here be bankers, actuaries, and people who “handle buying” for a major, international corporation. Now, I am told, it’s a world of couples hosting murder mystery parties, white Landrover Discoveries and unreconstructed views on gender as a binary category. (My sources of information on this are very limited these days. Don’t judge me.)
If you stay on the train to the very end of that branch you find yourself in Epping. Epping is forest like John Nettles is Bergerac. Epping is also dog walking (possibly also dogging), and firewood by the one ton handy sack. Wikipedia tells us that, “Epping, as it stands today, has grown as a favoured town of residence for those who work in London.”
“As it stands today”; it sounds like Corinth. The author of that wiki entry then goes on to a nimbyish rant about how the rural idyll is under threat from redevelopment. That’s right, redevelopment – specifically converting an old hospital into key worker residences!? Epping, as it stands today, glimpses the future of affordable housing like Carthage faced Manius Manilius.
When I was growing up the line used to extend to Ongar, North Weald and Blake Hall. Blake Hall… imagine. I have never been to Blake Hall but that’s not saying much because, as historical records may eventually reveal, I am not even sure I have ever been to me. I have been to Ongar though. Or, to give it its proper title, Chipping Ongar As It Stands Today. I was a regular visitor for a couple of seminal months when I was 17, but that’s ancient history now.
The other branch of the Central Line takes you to Hainault. Hainault, as it stands today, sounds French. It isn’t. Although, to be fair, if you live there it is de rigeur to drop the “h”. ‘Ainault ain’t no Epping. That branch also took you via Gants Hill, Barkingside, and Fairlop. God did not bless Gants Hill with forest or, if she, he, or ze once did, that blessing was exhaustively revoked by the 1980s leaving only Valentine’s Park. Valentine’s Park is worthy of a blog post in its own right, so we’ll leave that for another day. Let’s just say, for now, that it delivers on the name (i.e., it’s certainly a park).
Mostly, you get to Hainault via Newbury Park. There is a line that connects Hainault and Woodford but only lunatics and people who got the wrong train, drunk, would take that line. My friends and I took it once after a cricket game… this branch’s claim to fame is Grange Hill station which will mean little to anyone under 30, but much to anyone of a certain age. Fame is such a fickle mistress… and Grange Hill is where you start paying, not in sweat but in wakeful coma. DNR.
Many people living along the Central Line commute to work in London. But there the similarities end because, speaking generally, the circumstances of those travelling on the two branches run on very different tracks. The northern, verdant branch up to Epping and the other (it’s not even southern, just the other) branch to Hainault. When future archaeologists dig down, through the lone and level sands of the ocean floor, they’ll find the ossified remnants of white Landrover Discoveries and corian island worktops on the one part and evidence welded door panels of Toyota Starlets, Mazda Carols, and formica on the other. Maybe they’ll reconstruct something of everyday life in Epping, Ongar, Fairlop, and Hainault as they stand today, and maybe they’ll wonder why the nurses started living in the colossal wreck of Epping hospital along with teachers, fireworkers and probation officers. Heaven knows what they’ll make of Chigwell!