Sometimes darkness is the best light.
A walk round Kew Gardens as night fell, very literally putting Chihuly’s glass sculptures in a different light, blending in with and standing out from their surroundings.
Some random reflections from a visit to Israel. They have all the depth and insight you might expect from a tourist flitting round the country for a week.
Adapting your needs to your environment is ecology. Adapting your environment to your needs is power Some of that is power in a geopolitical sense. Some of it is the power from influencing what stories get told, whose history dominates. And some of it is the power to make the environment comply with your preferences and needs. It is the power not to compromise your identity. It is the power of having lifts which can be used by the observant on the Sabbath. It is the power of having a place to be at home. And sometimes it is the power to make other people feel – or be – not at home.
Trying to do things in a country where you don’t speak or read the language is one thing. Trying to do things in a country where you can’t read the script is something else again. Mostly the frustration is superficial – there are plenty of multilingual signs and plenty of people who speak at least some English, though both have an unnerving habit of fading away when they are most needed. But it’s real enough to bring home how hard the world is to navigate for those who are actually illiterate and how often the apparent modernisation and simplification of services can add to the problem, rather than reducing it.
Petrol pumps, it turns out, are an unhelpfully great example both of that and of the extent to which it is possible to spend time and energy trying to solve completely the wrong problem. We were on our second hire car, the first having broken down, and the second showing all the stresses of the 65,000 km it had already clocked up. Confidence was not high. But petrol needed to be bought, so off we went. The first pump at the first petrol station refused to start. The attendant motioned us to a second pump. That wouldn’t give us any petrol either. The attendant indicated that the problem must be with the car, some kind of blockage in the pipe to the tank. That seemed unlikely – the car was well worn, but the tank had been full when it was delivered to us, and the petrol must have got in somehow. So we tried another petrol station. Same result. That did seem to suggest that it was the car rather than the pumps which was the common factor. The prospect of needing a third hire car in three days loomed.
But the problem wasn’t the car at all. It was the fact that Israeli petrol pumps only like Israeli payment cards, combined with the fact that Israeli petrol pumps are both highly sophisticated and have instructions only in Hebrew. The answer, it turned out, was to pay in a different way. That’s probably more than enough wearisome detail (though that’s the simplified form of the story), but there is a moral. A small error in initial diagnosis led to the search for solutions being completely misguided; a bit more initial thinking about the set of things which might have gone wrong (and their relative plausibility and probability) might well have got to the right problem and the right solution much more quickly. And that wasn’t caused by stupidity (I like to think) but by a dangerous combination of over-weighting early indicators followed by the path dependence which came from them.
Back on the road, it was time to re-engage with Israeli traffic. I had read some fearsome warnings and there were indeed some slightly hair-raising practices. Drivers swap lanes with gay abandon, squeezing into gaps which don’t really exist, signalling their intention well after committing to the manoeuvre, if signalling at all. Bus stops – and stopped buses – appear without warning even on the fastest roads. Speed limits seem largely notional. The road signs are mostly tri-lingual, except at the occasional critical moment when they aren’t.
It could all have been terrifying. But it mostly wasn’t. That’s because although some of the behaviour seemed mad by sedate northern European standards, it was pretty systematically mad. Drivers had clear norms about how they drove and how they expected those around them to react. The fact that those norms were tacit and informal didn’t make them any the less real.
The trick wasn’t necessarily to drive in the style favoured by many of the locals. But it definitely was to learn to read the road through their eyes and so to have a sporting chance of anticipating what might be about to happen.
The battery in my camera was nearly flat. That was OK, I had a spare. The spare proved to be only half charged. That was OK, I had brought the charger. Except that it turned out that I had brought the charger for a different camera. So the challenge was to buy a new charger, or failing that a new battery. Initial googling was far from promising. The only realistic chance was going to be a fairly large and fairly specialised shop and there didn’t seem to be many of those at all, still less anywhere we were going. But there was a place listed as a dealer by Nikon, just a few minutes walk from the hotel we were to be staying at in Jerusalem.
Initial impressions were not good. What had looked like a small shopfront on a main street became a narrow passageway through an unprepossessing courtyard with a small room at the back, which contained a large photo printer, a friendly looking man, an air of general clutter – and no visible stock of camera equipment at all. There was no chance of such a place having the battery I needed. But the friendly man wanted to be helpful, so I told him what I was looking for. Without batting an eyelid, he turned to the shelf behind him and picked up the right battery – which as far as I could see was also the only battery.
The history of Israel is complicated, to put it mildly, More perhaps than anywhere else in the world, religions and empires are piled up one on another, with patterns of dominance shifting, sometimes over centuries and sometimes over days. I can offer nothing on the unravelling of that. But it does prompt a couple of more general thoughts.
The lesser one is the value of rules as a way of sustaining a system which nobody really likes but which is better not disturbed. The distribution of authority over the holy places of Jerusalem is determined by the status quo of 1757, but is further complicated by the fact that that status quo is not determinate. That is tricky in turn because the League of Nations mandate given to the United Kingdom for the administration of Palestine included an obligation to preserve existing rights in the holy places. And so it fell to a British civil servant in 1929 to document what they actually were. The intersection of civil service prose, religious division and several centuries of assorted bickering is something to behold. A few sentences give a good sense both of the document and of the rivalries it captures:
The pavement and the two external doors are the common property of the three Patriarchates. The Orthodox sweep the Courtyard and keep it clean and hold the keys of the external doors, but all repairs are to be conducted at the joint expense of the three Patriarchates concerned, or failing that, by the local authorities. […]
The steps leading up to the Chapel of St. Mary’s Agony are Latin property. The question as to who was to clean the lowest step, which is barely above the level of the Courtyard, was in 1901 the cause of a sanguinary encounter between the Latin and Orthodox monks. The position now is that the Latins brush it daily at dawn, and the Orthodox at times together with the rest of the Parvis.
This is all utterly bizarre, but – within limits – it works. And in a decidedly odd way, it says something about the ways in which governments can create value, which have echoes in more conventional areas.
The second and broader thought is about the power of story telling and the power to determine which stories get told. The latter is related to – but far from wholly determined by – wider political power. That is always true, but it’s more obvious in this part of the world than most, perhaps because it is more extreme.
One example is the excavation of a tunnel along the line of the western wall in Jerusalem – the famously visible part is only a small proportion of the whole; much of the rest is buried behind centuries of later development and specifically by the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. It is valuable archaeology, but it is not neutral: it is an assertion of the deep-rooted Jewishness of the Temple Mount against the counter position that those same walls are an intrinsic part of the Haram esh-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. And it’s a quiet demonstration of who has the power to tell the story.
Another is the museum at Yad Vashem. It is a memorial to the victims of the holocaust, but it is also more than that. There is nothing in the facts of the story told there which is different from other accounts. What is unique and uniquely powerful is the perspective from which the story is told and its expression in the very fabric of the building. In quiet, remorseless detail, the message is not just that the suffering was appalling and incomprehensible and that every death was murder, but that nobody came to help. And that is, fundamentally, the case advanced for the foundation of the state of Israel: not just the return to an ancient homeland, but the necessary creation of a place of sanctuary. Both physically and metaphorically,that is the end point of the museum, the place where there is new light. It matters who tells the story.
The north Kent coast is a strange place at the best of times. Walking in thick mist makes it stranger still. Arriving at Herne Bay, the stub of a pier points to the pier head isolated a thousand metres out to sea – and barely visible as an unevenness of grey in a wholly grey seascape. The path along the coast is wide concrete slabs, leading into apparent nothingness. A little later, crossing a meadow, the towers of Reculver church suddenly emerge from the wider greyness, from invisible to apparent in a few steps.
Beyond Reculver, more miles of concrete slabs, first forming a sea wall a few feet above the flat marshes, then protecting low chalk cliffs from the beat of the sea. Above on the cliffs, Birchington goes by almost invisibly. The path and what passes for a beach are not welcoming. Nothing breaks the relentlessness of the concrete. Increasingly the cliffs themselves become artificial, bolstered by stone infills and then by entire brick retaining walls intended to keep the houses and gardens above from collapse. Some have passages apparently intended to give access to the beach below, including one with a balcony half way down, with half the protective railings missing and the stairs below long fallen away.
Walking in the endless bubble of mist with the beat of breaking waves is mesmeric. As the path follows bends in the cliff, there are no landmarks, no easy way to establish location. I am almost past Westgate before realising it is there at all.
I have always liked maps. And I have always been a little sorry for people who had the misfortune to live in places mapped by lesser agencies than the Ordnance Survey. OS maps have always felt almost more real than the reality they represented. Had anybody asked me whether I thought they were completely free of error, of course I would have said no – a moment’s thought about the complexity and level of detail involved shows that it could not be otherwise – but nobody ever did ask, and it never crossed my mind that reality would have the temerity to diverge from the stipulations of the map.
Until, that is, I found two very clear cartographic mistakes while walking the London Loop. The second was the more amusing, with paths confidently leading straight out across a lake. Before I got there, I assumed that there must be some kind of causeway not clearly marked. But there wasn’t, there was just water. I wrote at the time about how that must have come about. What’s interesting now is that OS have – sort of – fixed it.
The first map is as it was a year ago, with the paths careering across the lake. The second is as it now shows on the OS website. It’s a pretty minimal change, with the bits actually over the water tippexed out, but still with odd stubs pointing to the long-vanished bridge over the long-diverted river, and with one path still overshooting the bank. But in doing that, the continuity of the right of way has been broken and that of the Loop with it. Maybe that’s an accurate reflection of a failure formally to divert the rights of way when the lake was created, maybe it’s just an oversight. And in practice it doesn’t matter in the slightest, since this is all in the uninspiringly named Roding Valley Recreation Ground, so nobody is going to build a fence.
Meanwhile, the removal of the green dashes reveals more clearly the black dots marking the boundary between the civil parishes of Loughton, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill – still following the course of the River Roding as it was before the lake was there at all. In some small ways the reality of the map really does take precedence over the reality of what is mapped.
Our past dwells within our algorithms.
— Stefan Czerniawski (@pubstrat) May 28, 2017
My tweets don’t go viral. They get the odd reply, a few retweets here and there, the occasional favourite, but almost always from first order readers – the decay rate on successive propagations is enormous. That’s not a problem – twitter is at its best for me as conversation rather than as broadcast. On rare occasions, something takes on a life of its own, and I almost wonder whether a threshold number of likes and retweets is itself a signal people use, perhaps unconsciously, in deciding whether to send it further.
For no obvious reason, this one was different. Those six words, which are of course not my six words, say a lot. And the tweet rattled around the UK for a while before crossing the Atlantic to skip across US academia, popping up in New Zealand as the time zones moved before looping back to Britain.
And all of that happened with two glaring typos in the ten words I had added from a mobile keyword, which I am powerless to correct. All I can do instead is codify a corollary to Muphry’s law:
The probability of an entity containing obvious errors will increase in proportion to the distribution of the entity
It all started when Paul Clarke went to Sheppey.
Been a bit busy of late, so took this afternoon off to make some stuff for me. And you, if you like. https://t.co/14iSTCiXd2
— Paul Clarke (@paul_clarke) October 3, 2016
Actually, it didn’t quite start there, because Paul had been responding to a tweet from somebody else a day or so earlier, which had caught my eye too, but didn’t react to with quite Paul’s alacrity (and can’t now remember whose tweet it was).
Anyway, Paul went to Sheppey, and took some photographs, as he does. That in turn prompted a bit of twitter chat about the minor islands of Great Britain, including an arresting assertion from Tom Loosemore.
— Tom Loosemore (@tomskitomski) October 3, 2016
It had never occurred to me that I might ever want to go to Canvey Island. I had vague associations with oil refineries, flooding, and distant cousins, last heard of decades past. As is often the way with islands, it’s impossible to go there by accident, it’s not on the way to anywhere else (unless you have a predilection to hitch a ride on an LPG tanker to Russia). Against all that, ‘unmissable’ seemed a sufficiently unlikely endorsement to be well worth investigating.
So yesterday I took advantage of perfect weather, cold, still and clear, to look for myself. In the absence of any greater attraction, the obvious thing to do with an island is to walk round it. So I did – though on a short January day and a not very early start, 15 miles began to feel a bit like a competition with the fading daylight.
But before that, it was glorious. Strong, low sunshine. An absolutely clear sky, broken only by the vapour trails of planes stacking and converging on Heathrow. Walking on the sea wall – more of an earth rampart most of the way round – a few precious feet higher than the surrounding land. The Ordnance Survey does not grace Canvey Island with a single contour line – so impressive chutzpah to whoever got away with naming Canvey Heights Country Park.
For the first couple of hours, I didn’t see another person – except a couple of children with their dog over on the mainland, a hundred yards and an hour’s walk away. Towards Holehaven Point, the first few dog walkers appeared, before reaching metropolitan Canvey a couple of miles further on. This is where the flood defences get really serious – the length of what in any other riparian town would be the promenade, consists of a concrete path with an eight foot wall completely blocking off the town. There are occasional glimpses of nothing very interesting looking through the heavily-gated gaps in the upper part of the wall which allow access, but were it not for the dozens of benches memorialising deceased Canveyites and a greater incidence of dog walkers, the town might as well not have been there at all. The one structure which braves the seaward side of the wall is the Labworth Cafe, which I might have been more tempted to stop at had I realised that it is the only building designed by Ove Arup, when he was an architect not an engineering company.
Round the corner and out of the sun, the temperature drops to a sudden chill. The last third of the walk, back round the north side of the island is less dramatic and the low sun is starting to get even lower. A lone small cloud appears – the inverse of a sailor’s trousers – as the bridge to the rest of the world finally comes into sight and the sun sets over the oil refinery.
Click on any of the pictures to see full size versions. Or see the full set.
In a big, spawling city, you take your green spaces where you can find them. Some of them are parks. A few are the routes of long-closed railways. And some are cemeteries, high-density housing for the dead.
A pleasant weekend stroll from Crystal Palace to Nunhead takes in three parks, three cemeteries, and two nature reserves, one of which is a stretch of the abandoned railway which once connected Crystal Palace to Nunhead without the trouble of walking at all. It’s over sixty years since this line last saw trains, and it would be hard to guess that the path was once the track bed. It’s an odd thought that the last time I was walking in this neck of the woods, it was probably closer in time to when the trains were running than that time is to now.
The first of the cemeteries is Camberwell Old Cemetery, which is neither all that old, nor in Camberwell, but is part of the Victorian need for burial grounds beyond the capacity of churchyards. The layout of the graves is slightly chaotic and the ground uneven; faded, but with little sense of much past grandeur. It all feels quite enclosed until, in one corner, a vista opens across to St Paul’s and the shard, and the grey of the tombstones merges into the grey of the clouds and of those distant buildings.
Nunhead Cemetery is the oldest and grandest – and most faded – of the the three. Most of the memorials are in poor shape, some leaning on one another for support, others collapsing into the encroaching undergrowth. But there are two plots, a little apart from one another, bounded by neat hedges and with pristine gravestones, where order is preserved. They are graves from the first world war, the first of Australian soldiers, the second mainly Canadian. There is no indication of how death brought them to Nunhead – perhaps they died of wounds having been brought back across the channel for treatment.
In all three cemeteries, but more among the newer graves than the older ones, I was struck by how many of those lying there were described as being asleep. Death, of course, has many euphemisms. In American English, though not yet in British English, it seems hardly possible to speak of somebody having died with so harsh a verb. I have made no scientific study – indeed I have made no study at all – of the language of tombstones, but my impression is that the prevalence of the language of sleep was much higher in the Camberwell cemeteries than in others I have been to. It’s entirely possible that there is no real difference, and so nothing to explain, but I wondered idly whether something as simple as a stonemason’s pattern book might affect the words chosen by the grieving. It might have been Mr Henry Daniel, Mason, whose fine memorial stands prominently in Nunhead Cemetery and who was, it seems, ‘for many years connected with the Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries’. But more likely not, since he departed this life, rather than falling asleep.
Between the two Camberwell cemeteries, One Tree Hill would offer a panoramic view across London, were it not for the fact that there are many more trees than one. The one true tree is an oak under which Queen Elizabeth is said to have rested in 1602 – though the present tree was planted only in 1905 by the leading lights of the splendidly-named Enclosure of Honor Oak Hill Protest Committee, and in any case it’s not clear what on earth she would have been doing there in the last year of her life. Perhaps she fell asleep there, but she did not then depart this life.
The last sections of the Loop feel more manufactured than much of what has gone before. For most of their fifteen miles the paths have hard surfaces, including a long continuous mile besides roads. Soon after leaving Harold Wood (which is not a wood at all), the path goes through Pages Wood. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s a very tidy landscape, perhaps not surprising when it turns out that the whole thing is a new creation, with 100,000 trees planted since 2001.
Turning a corner, a line of pylons marches through adding a further blast of modernity.
The idea that pristine nature is to be found within the M25 is of course all romantic twaddle, a shadow of the pathetic fallacy. The landscape of Pages Wood was made by people – but so was this entire landscape, some of it centuries ago, some decades ago, and some (such as the huge landfill site at Rainham reached in the final section of the Loop) being created as we watch. Older is not the same as more natural, but it’s hard to shake the instinct that somehow it must be.
For most of the nine miles to Rainham, the path follows the River Ingrebourne, a narrow strip of woods and wetlands dropped between housing. It’s easy, fast and rather uninspiring walking, with only one stretch edging round field boundaries through long, wet grass. Once through Upminster, it’s even possible to see the river from time to time. More impressively, the path is uninterrupted by roads for almost three miles, underlining how much even a small river can form an impermeable barrier.
Rainham itself is distinguished mainly by Rainham Hall, an imposing Queen Anne house only opened to the public a few months ago, after long restoration. The Loop passes the front door, with railings bedecked with temptations to enter. Since this was the first, and quite possibly the last, time I have ever found myself in Rainham, perhaps I should have seized the opportunity. But I didn’t, preferring to keep to the rhythm of the walk.
My original plan had been to stop at Rainham and come back another day for the final section along the river to Purfleet. But the day was young and another five miles seemed entirely manageable, so I crossed the old railway on a level crossing and the new HS1 on a particularly convoluted footbridge and carried on across Rainham Marshes. As the path reaches the river, there is an area of newish industrial units, where the team which builds straight paths had done a fine job, but the team which does bendy connections had never quite caught up.
The modern industrial estate stands on older foundations. The 1897 6″ OS map records a pub, a chemical works and a fish manure works. Just beyond where the fish manure works once stood, there is a row of large tanks and a pervasive smell of boiled rice where Tilda Rice does whatever it is you do to process rice.
From then on, the path follows the river, past a vast area where marshland is being displaced by landfill at the rate of 1.5 million tonnes a year. Along the river there are odd structures in various stage of dilapidation harking back to a time when the river was more intensively used than it is now. One of them looks initially like industrial junk, but closer up resolves into a sculpture of a diver, placed it turns out to disappear with the tide.
Half way along is Coldharbour Point, a wholly unremarkable turn in the river – except that it is precisely opposite Erith where the London Loop begins. It is an odd feeling looking half a mile across the river to the stretch I walked three years ago and haven’t set eyes on since.
The weather was getting hotter and muggier. I had hoped that there would be a breeze when I reached the river, but the air was barely moving and there was not an inch of shade. The last couple of miles, past what were once the Purfleet rifle ranges and are now an RSPB reserve, were increasingly heavy going. Thunder started to rumble at a distance, gradually getting closer and bringing the relief of rain. I took refuge in the RSPB cafe, with the surreal sight of a row of birdwatchers, cameras and binoculars to hand, looking through a picture window from the comfort of a line of sofas. The only sign of movement was the occasional Eurostar hurtling through the middle distance.
And so finally to Purfleet, the wholly unremarkable and unmarked end of the Loop. It’s taken 17 walking days, unevenly spread over three years to do. It’s officially 152 miles long, though I have somehow managed to walk 164 miles without ever intentionally diverging from the route (except for the stretch made completely impassable by the flooding of the River Crane).
It’s an odd mixture – idyllic landscapes, canal towpaths, rolling farmland and innumerable parks giving way unpredictably to banal suburbia, light industrial grot and arterial roads. It’s taken me to parts of London I would never have got to for any other reason and given me a perspective on my home city I couldn’t have got any other way. But now it’s done. Time to move on.
Sunshine, buttercups, wildlife and panoramic views. On a glorious day, these two stages had much of what is best about the Loop, as well as a good dose of it in slightly desperate mood, trying to create the illusion of a rural idyll from distinctly unpromising raw material.
Even when the illusion is at its best, modernity intrudes unexpectedly. After a stretch of woods and meadows, with no sound except birdsong and passing aeroplanes, the curve of the path brings a sudden glimpse of Narnia, before dissolving into the more prosaic sight of the A1112.
At several points there are sweeping views. In this low lying country, even a little height provides a great vantage point. Fourteen or so miles away, beyond the green, the skyline of the City shimmers gently in the haze.
In the corner of a field there is a rusting gate post, which is apparently the last remaining trace of Pyrgo House, a royal palace where Mary and Elizabeth Tudor spent part of their childhood. This corner of Essex seems to be littered with vanished haunts of the Tudors. Havering Palace came just half a mile before and Elsynge Palace was back in stage 17. Between them just outside Chingford at the beginning of stage 19 was Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, the only one of the buildings to have survived, and the only one where there is no evidence that she ever set foot.
Walking along a field boundary, a woman accosts me from half way across it. It took a couple of goes to get the message across, but a combination of shouts and gestures tells me that there are five deer somewhere nearby. It’s unclear what she expects me to do with this information, so I press on. Unsurprisingly, there are no deer to be seen, though twenty minutes later three small deer emerge from a wheat field and race across the path in front of me to disappear into woodland. Along the way, there have also been a rabbit, a fox, several pheasants and innumerable waterfowl, which is probably more variety than the rest of the Loop put together.
‘Continue straight ahead, as the signpost in the corner of the wood reassures’, the directions instruct. But the signpost has almost completely vanished, with the finger pointing ahead quite impossible to read. It comes at a point where reassurance is not much needed, rather than at one of the many points where reassurance – and indeed a clear direction – would have been more useful. Along most of the route, the written directions compensate for lost or overgrown waymarking, with the Ordnance Survey as occasionally essential backup for both. Along this section, the directions seem vaguer, and include a passage where the route being described is clearly quite different not just from the waymarking, but also from the sketch map in those very directions.
The last forty five minutes are very different. The Loop designers have done their best, but they haven’t had much raw material to work with. The path follows a brook along what the route description calls a ‘steep sided sylvan dell’, where it is hard to imagine a greater mismatch between the floridity of the description and the dingy reality, before emerging to run in sedate order through parks and housing estates. The final obstacle is the A12, with stern instructions to walk 500m along it to a safe crossing point and then 500m back the other side. The prospect was depressing, the reality a pleasant surprise – not only was there no obstacle to walking straight across, there was a clear path and a central refuge, and even dropped kerbs to ease the way. The nanny state occasionally has a libertarian moment.
Teachers get ever younger, policemen get ever shorter – and so it seems do legs of the London Loop. As far as Enfield Lock, the average is seven miles; from Enfield Lock onwards, it drops to four and a half. So there’s a chance to accelerate the apparent pace, without actually going any faster at all.
There’s lots of water on this stretch, most of it artificial. It crosses the River Lee Navigation and the River Lea decidedly non-navigation. It looks over the vast King George V Reservoir. Much later, it wraps round a flooded gravel pit before a stretch beside the River Roding. And where there is water, there are water fowl – a pair of swans with their cygnets, herons standing in the shallows, geese demonstrating axes of symmetry. My ornithology is somewhere between basic and non-existent, though, so I might be mis-identifying almost everything.
The now-flooded gravel pit was apparently dug to provide material for building the M11, so presumably dates from the early 1970s. It seems that the Ordnance Survey has not yet caught up with this state of affairs, with rights of way continuing undeterred across the water. The lower map overlays the modern lake on the paths and river course on the OS 6″ map of 1897 (using the National Library of Scotland’s addictive tool) – from which it’s obvious that the paths converge on a foot bridge which vanished a generation ago.
Update: August 2017 – Ordnance Survey have now partially corrected the map – and I have added a short post on what has and hasn’t been fixed.
Comparing the maps also shows that the short stretch of the River Roding which the route follows is also a modern artefact – before the pit was dug, the river looped to the west of the lake. So the picture below is a completely artificial by-product of building a motorway. I wouldn’t have guessed.
There’s a circus on Chingford Plain. You can hear it long before you know what it might be, and long after it has become all too clear. Somewhere not far from there, there’s a barbecue, never seen but detectable over quite a distance. And then there is the building roar of the M11, which lasts so much longer than the few minutes spent walking across it. The illusion shimmers again.
The final stretch offers a view back towards the city. The Shard stands tall, a little over ten miles away. Chigwell station provides the means of getting there – the station with the second smallest number of passengers on the underground, at a point where the Central line seems as acute a misnomer as the Northern line at Mordern.