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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Richard Cooper's 2003 Hoban Adventure 9/28

From Doria Road, I walked back down Parsons Green Lane to the Tube station and waited on the platform with miscellaneous commuters attired to varying degrees of formality, and, in a mysterious black outfit, one Father Marek Sujkowski. I know that was his name because he was wearing a sandwich board saying FATHER MAREK SUJKOWKSI – MEDICAL AID FOR BLIND, DEAF AND HANDICAPPED CHILDREN. The sandwich board had photos of some of the children and he had a collection box in his hands. He was a short man in his fifties, a sliver of white dog-collar showing at his throat. I gave him 50p; he didn’t smile but looked me in the eye and said “Thank you” in a voice that was as dark as his robes. Ahead of him three very well made-up women sat on a bench squinting as the bright winter sun shone in their eyes. The sign said the next train due was for UPMINSTER. After a couple of minutes a train with the destination EDGWARE ROAD arrived. A middle-aged lady with a cherry-red overcoat, bronze hair and loopy gold earrings looked from the sign on the platform to the sign on the train and back again and said as if she was thinking aloud, “I want a train to bloody Upminster.” The train was packed to the gills in any case and neither of us could get on it. We both sat down on the bench that the well-made-up women had now vacated, and shielded our eyes from the sun with our hands. After a few more minutes an Upminster train arrived. I got on, sitting opposite a woman reading a Penguin paperback of Far From the Madding Crowd. “If only,” said her face. In fact, she spent the nextfew minutes reading the newspaper of the man sitting next to her. Fans of the great little book The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd will recognise this particular behavioural oddity as a variety of corfeism. Whenever this happens, I always expect the person whose paper is being read by their neighbour to turn round to them and say, “Would you mind not reading my paper, please?” or words to that effect, but it never happens, and this was no exception.

I got off at Earls Court, went under the underpass for the second time and caught another train back to Hammersmith. At one point Hammersmith station had been a station on its own like all the others but at some time in recent years an enormous shopping centre has grown up around it. I walked past rows of familiar franchises, a jittery man in a chair collecting for a charity and a bloke in a Next suit wrestling with a display for a bank promotion, and paid 20p to go to the toilet. Above the row of urinals were adverts for a specialist vehicle registration firm: WHY SETTLE FOR THE 7-CHARACTER PLATES WHEN YOU CAN HAVE A 5-DIGIT NEW REG FOR LESS MONEY? said one, while another listed a hundred examples of pre-fabricated personalised number plates. If I had the money (or even a car), which would I choose? ORPH 1, perhaps? SA4QE2? Neither was available.

Outside I fumbled in the wind with my sheafs of photocopied maps, the areas of my journey highlighted in yellow, failed to see the sign I needed and worked out that I should head to the right for Dimes Place. I got a little way up Hammersmith Broadway, realised I was going in the wrong direction, doubled back and walked past another jittery man towards King Street, crossing a road where a lot of traffic was creeping round two vans which had pulled over, apparently having crashed into one another. There was no visible damage but it was obvious there had been some kind of vehicular altercation because two blokes in fleecy jackets were standing by their vehicles in the tell-tale attitude of all English drivers when exchanging their insurance details, i.e. trying to write on a piece of paper supported on a vertical surface, all the while maintaining a blank-faced, blokey silence designed to hide any complicity in the incident. (In fact, this entire crash could have been a complete figment of my Bat Tattoo-fired imagination; the blokes could just have been pulling over to keep in touch for any number of reasons that were nothing to do with me.)

King Street is one of west London’s less desirable areas, a long, grimy road filled with cheap shops. Dimes Place was a narrow right-hand turning between a building society and a fast-food restaurant. I followed a sign pointing towards the timber yard; there didn’t seem to be anybody about, so I wandered in. A great shed rose up to the right containing planks of timber of various lengths and woods. Blackboards hung at the front of the shed denoting the woods inside and their cuts, such as:

Iroko, 1”, 1½”, 2”

Mahogany, 1¼”, 1½”

Mahogany 63mm, 38mm

Prepared Russian Redwood, 25x150 par, 25x150 T&G

Russian Redwood 75x225, 50x100 V Sawn; 50x55 V Sawn

The European lime that Roswell Clark buys in honour of Tilman Riemenschneider was at the bottom of the yard, in its own shed as if it was too precious to mix with mere mahogany. The wood was visibly and tangibly different from the others, of a smooth, perhaps slightly feminine pale green compared with the robust, masculine coarse Russian red. The names of the woods, the colours of them, and the strong, earthy smell of the yard mingled with the clear morning sunlight into a whole atmosphere of a rich yellow warmth which I inhaled deeply. A young bloke in a woolly hat popped out of an office up by the entrance to the yard to see what I was doing: I obviously wasn’t a serious customer, and it’d be hard for anyone to sneak off with a length of timber without being noticed, so he went back in again.

View an image of Tilman Riemenschneider's Noli me tangere

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