Travel Writing

NEVER HURRY A MURRAY (HIGH STREET, HORNCHURCH – PART 1)

Havering-20131210-00190

HIGH STREET, HORNCHURCH (LEFT-HAND SIDE TOWARDS UPMINSTER)

As I reach the top of the hill that is Hornchurch Road, where numerous red traffic lights urge cars to stop so the drivers and their passengers can mock me and others walking up this hill, I know now that I am in money losing territory. At the top there is a patch of grass with a silver bench on the pavement in front of it – the pavement I am walking on.

A round blue sign says, All plants and trees are indigenous to Europe. 2012 Legacy. This is designed to reassure me that all is well here despite the chorus of shops that are about to pester me with their offers, slogans, images, and ‘come-to-the-boiling-pot eyes’ etc… etc…. If the shops had faces they would look like ghouls speaking their words in croaky voices (or like Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’). It’s the equivalent of a homeless person being escorted to a house for somewhere to stay before being ruthlessly mugged for his or her green hooded jacket and two cans of Skol Super Strong Beer. Mind you, before experiencing this, I must first avoid death for it is here where one of the gravest dangers lies.

Six foot or so on from the aforementioned bench is where the high street PROPER begins. The pavement stretches out so the businesses to my left are 10-12 yards away to form space where vehicles can come and go unallocated in order to create their own version of destruction derby. Try strolling past the upcoming KFC when you have hungry carnivores behind the wheel of a white van salivating and sweating profusely having just purchased a Family Bucket from the place, inpatient to tuck into their prize. They’ll be reversing, turning and screeching to get to the edge of the pavement to wait for traffic to subside, so he or she can get on the road nearer to home where they can stuff their face with ‘pigeon’ meat.[28] After this you will know what I mean by avoiding death.


[28] More on takeaway ‘chicken’ coming up.

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The beginning of the High Street. Looks very idyllic here.

 

No, 1-3 – houses.

No, 5, RJ Pollard & Co – accountants.

No, 7, Hornchurch Fine Art – sells pictures. Blue sign with white letters.

No, 9, Chop Sticks – Chinese restaurant. Always has what look like Christmas lights in their front window.

No, 11, KFC – Rolf Harris is still the face of this takeaway monster. Whether this will continue after the recent allegations against him I don’t know. People should not be named if they have not yet been found guilty, but paedophilia is the last thing someone wants to think about when eating ‘chicken’ and chips.  

No, 13-15, Lodge Court – flats.

No, 17, Uraswamy’s – Indian restaurant. Like many Indian and Southeast Asian establishments, its windows are very dark.

Just past Uraswamy’s is a pathway for vehicles to go down should anyone want to park then have their brain rinsed and scrubbed of logical reasoning at the Methodist church next door. Despite hardly ever seeing a vehicle go down there I still look right, left and right again (as that’s where one will come from). I was obviously taught the Green Cross Code many times as a kid, but I must thank a lady with the surname of Aldham (think that’s how you spell it – can’t remember her first name) for it was her advice I most remember as a kid as she escorted me across a mini zebra crossing at the nearby SPORTCENTRE.

The church has three grey pebble dashed steps then a path leading to it with a patch of grass to its front left and what look like classrooms connected to it. With A4 paper exhibiting creative work on the windows it looks more like a nursery or church hall than an actual church. The pavements are still stretched out here as I approach the next batch of residences.

No, 19, Hornchurch Methodist Church Jesus: Harder than Nails (what is this, ‘Danny Dyer’s Hardest Prophets’?) – Our Saviour I am the Resurrection and I am the blah blah… JESUS WELCOMES ALL. I take it that includes homosexuals too. The real Jesus may well have done, but not the Pope, whoever that is now. I’ve heard that it’s former ‘Bullseye’ presenter, Jim Bowen.

No, 21-27, The Harrow Dental Practice – apparently, the address is 23-27, but the space this now occupies that consisted of a row of shops that had been left untouched from around 2000 until January 2012 was 21-27. There was A. Ellis (No. 21, an old off licence), Hair Design, (a hairdressers that was recognised as being the ‘bitch’ of many pigeons), Hornchurch Supplies (who dealt in car spares and DIY equipment), and some carpentry shop. The latter is now Porters Beautique, which, as you can tell, is something to do with beauty. When it comes to the latter kind of establishments, Hornchurch and many other towns’ idea of ‘beauty’ is looking like a goldfish with opposable thumbs. A dental surgery has come in and taken up the other three residences here. It’s painted all white – get it? Not much change from before when all those pigeons were hanging about.

No, 29, Porters Beautique – the puns just keep on coming. Looks like a place where you’d get your palms read.

No, 31, Mecca Bingo – still says TOWERS at the top of the building, which is a reminder of its cinematic roots.

Next to the bingo hall is a reasonably sized car park that not many people use. Mainly because why pay when you can park in the Sainsbury’s one for free less than a minute’s drive away? If you turn left from the bingo hall, the first junction is the entrance point of the car park with a stretch of pavement 10 yards long separating it from the exit. On this pavement there are three trees, a few concrete sculptures designed to stop nut cases mounting it with their vehicle, along with a phone box more or less on top of the exit junction.

The top half of the phone box window is completely gone, and has been for some time. It was always getting smashed presumably by late-night revellers. I say ‘‘late’’; the latest a club ‘SLASH’ bar stays open in Hornchurch is one or two in the morning. The glass would always be replaced, but it has been empty for a few years now. I assume that the people who ordered for it to be replaced time and time again have just given up on it. 

bird poo salon

Outside the ”bird poo salon” during its long closure.

'BIRD POO SALON' IS NO MORE

January 2012: The builders finally come in to evict the pigeons while the stubborn little sods hold a protest on the roof.

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And how it all looks now – clean and pigeon free. The Methodist church is to its right while little Porter’s Beautique is connected to its left.

No, 33, Explore Learning: Maths & English Tuition – formerly a manual vehicle shop that sold non-engine[29] bikes, scooters and things. Was boarded up for a few years at least before it became this. Surprised it didn’t become a Costa Coffee considering the nearest one is a staggering 170 yards away AND on the OTHER side of the road would you believe. So you have to CROSS THE ROAD before you can even get to it! An absolute MISSION it is.

No, 35-37, William Hill – men walking in and out wearing white overalls coupled with the windows being smeared in white paint indicated that there was work going on inside. Just days after this scene unfolded, everything it seemed – from the sign to the interior – was finished. Despite my opposition to ANOTHER place targeting desperate and gullible people, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the speed in which it took to carry this work out.

No, 39-45 – was a Waitrose for two or three years until late 2012. Why they thought an expensive supermarket like this would thrive in a town like Hornchurch when there’s a Sainsbury’s just a minute or two walk away is not BEYOND me, but it was still a bit silly putting it there. A Waitrose themed board that covers its exterior informs us where we can go to our nearest one, which is a short bus ride up the road to St. Mary’s Lane in Upminster town centre.

No, 47, GADGET EXCHANGE Buy & Sell Trade STORE – Trade-In- STORE. WE PAY MORE! This opened in March 2013. Before, it was Essex Stationary Supplies Ltd. for a good – or bad depending on your view of stationary from Essex – number of years.

No, 49, Welcome Inn – Chinese restaurant dealing specifically in Peking and Szechuan cuisine.

No, 51, Tarantinos – has a terrace out front. Italian restaurant that was burnt down, but has now made a full recovery. Like most Italian places it has many framed pictures of their native heroes on the walls.

No, 53, Stunning Nails – Yes, ‘STUNNING NAILS’! First thing I look for in a woman: ‘‘Cor, look at the nails on ‘er!’’


[29] I THINK they didn’t have engines.

No, 55, Zarana – has a terrace out front and is probably the best priced Indian restaurant in town:[30] £12.95 for any starters, a main course, vegetable side dish, rice, naan bread & coffee with a King prawn, lamb chop, mix grill & fish costing £1.95 extra (available from Sunday to Thursday from 12:00 to 23:00).

No, 57, Best Of Curry – was called Red Pepper until recently. Swear it used to look smaller than it does now. Dunno if they’re mates with Zarana, but a cheap restaurant like that would surely be bad for this sort of place.

No, 59, News Plus – off licence.

No, 61, Granite Transformations – you get the drill.

And when I was writing this I meant quite literally ‘‘get the drill’’ as this was the point where Hornchurch’s annual road works began.[31] On all the tarpaulin notices that were on the metal fences that repeated themselves to the end of the road it said:

 

Major investment in your town centre.

Hornchurch is open for business.

Improvements to traffic flow, creating better pedestrian and cycle access.

Installing more lighting to improve safety.

Planting more trees.

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Granite Transformations is out of the picture on the left. There’s the phone box. A bus on diversion because of the road works. Sainsbury’s and the open corridor are to the left of the works. Hornchurch may be getting too much for the man standing by the edge of the road as it would appear that he’s contemplating jumping in front of a bus. Looks like a scene (minus the buses) from the film, ‘The Road’.

They forgot to mention that ambulances and police cars will now have to mount the ‘pavement’ that separates the two sides of traffic in order to reach someone in time. Seeing as the council’s favourite hobby is digging up concrete, they will no doubt be doing this again soon when they get enough complaints about the absurdity of their latest road work venture. Wouldn’t surprise me if they did it on purpose KNOWING that people would kick up a stink about the farce; just so they can carry on their hobby of having the town dug up and smelling of petrol.

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This is the result from the latest batch of road works. Imagine an ambulance trying to get past this lot in an emergency. Potential deaths will be on the heads of the people who let this ridiculous road planning come to fruition.


[30] At the time of typing (May 2013). I’ve updated other stuff to the present day (see date above), but I can’t be bothered looking up the current prices at Zarana. Look ‘em up yourself yer lazy bastard.

[31] Having road works going on in the town every year clearly demonstrates that the local council(s) do not know what to spend their money on. It really is ridiculous and an outrage that they can disrupt people’s way of life like this for months on end. Local councillor, John Mylod, sums it up perfectly when he says that it ‘‘seems an awful waste of money and is, in my view, cosmetic not remedial.’’ WANkers!

Quite an abrupt end to proceedings there although it doesn’t feel like it as the tarpaulin seemingly never ends. It becomes a mantra rather than a story. I have to say that I don’t see many trees around nor in the pictures that were depicting this vision of Utopia. If you come out of Granite Transformations you will be confronted with crossings both to the right of you and in front of you along with a phone box, a London Borough themed bin, a flower bed that looks like it’s been planted in a GIANT bin, and an orange takeaway chicken box with the word ‘chicken’ printed in yellow letters – surrounded by the usual array of meatless chicken bones.[32] Or are they pigeon bones? You hear rumours of these places…

In nearby Elm Park I was told by a friend that years ago a group of pigeons that used to regularly hang out in the town centre went missing. It was rumoured (by kids as usual although I wouldn’t bet against there being something in it) that the people who were working in fast-food chicken places caught the pigeons and killed them. They can fly[33] so they could very well have migrated. I digress.

The address numbers 63-99 go missing from …Transformations. Strange. You walk straight ahead (or jog – especially if you’re part of the Tuesday running club in Hornchurch) over the crossing where you encounter Sainsbury’s. When I reach the other side I walk straight ahead down an outside corridor that is under cover with only the glass between me and the till workers in Sainsbury’s on the left while to my right there are plant beds elevated to the top of the two foot walls they are within all the way to its entrance with the pavement and road further on.       

 

No, 101-105, Sainsbury’s – you know what they’re like.

No, 107, A pathway in between Sainsbury’s and the pub next to it I guess – confronted by a woman dressed up as a penguin, all for the cause of charity. She’s smiling and doesn’t ask for money, but if she carries on, this penguin could end up in someone’s burger.


[32] The meat had been eaten.

[33] The pigeons, not the people working in takeaway food joints although, going by some of the things that are said to be put in some of the food, it wouldn’t really shock me if one could form wings living on a diet of the stuff. It doesn’t stop me from occasionally eating it though.

No, 109, Fatling & Hornchurch – a very popular brown looking pub – from its sign outside to the wooden confines inside – that has bands on most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and used to be called The Bull. (Was Fatling & Firkin immediately prior to its current name and The Bull before that I believe – I suppose they added ‘Hornchurch’ into the mix in order to differentiate it from others of the same name when typing it into Google.) Live music is let down by the poor sound system and the low ceiling. I like pubs with low ceilings, but it probably doesn’t do amplified sounds any good. The bands don’t help themselves by playing virtually the same set-list as each other despite having a wealth of material to choose from throughout human history. These are just some of the usual suspects:

Mr Brightside by The Killers

Last Nite by The Strokes

Dakota by Stereophonics

Delilah by Tom Jones

Sweet Child O’Mine by Guns N’ Roses

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry

Sex On Fire by Kings of Leon

Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen

Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams

My Generation by The Who

Valerie by either The Zutons (who wrote it) or Amy Winehouse

Set-lists won’t be EXACTLY the same ALL the time – there’ll be the odd tune that not everyone else does – but why not mix it up and play Someday by The Strokes, Bartender and the Thief by Stereophonics, She’s a Lady by Tom Jones, Carol by Chuck Berry, King of the Rodeo by Kings of Leon, One Vision by Queen, Run to You by Bryan Adams, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere by The Who, You Will, You Won’t by The Zutons or Back to Black by Amy Winehouse if you will insist on covering songs/singles by those artists? Every band has the same sound with the same songs, so virtually no Friday or Saturday is different to the other.

 

No, 111-113a, Nando’s – THAT chicken place. It’s where the people who hang in and out of takeaways for hours with their Staffordshire bull-terriers go on pay-day.

No, 115, Betfred – hmm, I wonder.

No, 117, Michaels of Hornchurch – butchers.

No, 119, The Carphone Warehouse – mobile phone place/thingy.

No, 121, Wimpy – scene of me nearly kicking to death a man dressed in some sort of wacky outfit at a five year olds’ birthday party. I was also five.

No, 123-125, The Vanilla Room – hair and beauty place *yawn*.

No, 127-129, Post Office – due to many other Post Offices being closed down, there are often queues spilling out onto the high street because everyone in the area is coming to just this one as opposed to being spread out amongst three or four others. The place is quite wide and the door is on the side of the next establishment (Boots), but sometimes the queues come out of the door and stretch to The Vanilla Room.

No, 131, Boots Opticians – need I say more?

No, 133A, Douglas Allen – estate agents.

No, 127-133, Starbucks – was Burton Menswear until the summer of 2013, but obviously, the 217 step walk[34] between the two Costa Coffee outlets was too much. Nearest Costa Coffee is 79 steps from here in case you’re wondering. Why this address is 127-133 when there are three other residences in between those numbers IS beyond me.[35]

No, 127-133, Knights Snooker Hall – same address again. Reach the junction at Starbucks, turn left and this is there slightly hidden under a tree. Looks dingy especially as the first thing you have to do is walk up some sinister looking stairs before seeing what it’s like inside. But I used to go there nearly every Saturday as a teenager. Coca-Cola and a Kit Kat or Mars Bar were an absolute treat.

No, 135, Beresfords – estate agents.

No, 135, Paddy Power – no indication of whether this or Beresfords is address a or b. I asked people in both establishments and they didn’t know either.

No, 137, Say Cheese – develops photos. Striking red sign with white letters.

No, 139, Specsavers Opticians – eyes, eyes, eyes…

No, 141, Utopia Spa: Utopian Beauty & Spa – didn’t have enough time to think of anything to put here as I fell asleep as I finished typing ‘spa’.

No, 143, Age Concern – charity shop. One should be concerned about the driving abilities of aging drivers. They seem to be either very slow dangerous drivers or very fast dangerous drivers. Slow can be dangerous too you know.

No, 145, Glynn’s Amusements – arcade. The numbers round here got a bit confusing so I went inside and enquired. A man and woman (probably in their early forties) were sitting having a chat. She had to go into what looked like a reception booth to check the address. As I walked out I heard her say ‘‘as you do.’’ I suspect this was in reference to my explanation of what I was doing.

No, 145, The Wallpaper Shop – if I have to tell you what these sell then don’t bother reading anymore.

No, 147, Thomson – holidays an’ that.

No, 149, a flat.


[34] Was 217 yards for me at least.

[35] The emphasis on the word ‘is’ is in relation to my earlier comment about the idea of a Waitrose in Hornchurch being NOT beyond me – although it still seems silly to have put it so close to the equally respected and much cheaper Sainsbury’s.

No, 151, Boots Opticians – for information on the company see the one above that’s above the one above that etc… Tiny little space (go in with a backpack at your peril). Went in and asked for the address and had what seemed to be a mini-stroke as the words got stuck in my throat when trying to explain what I was doing. A middle-aged woman with glasses was very courteous, but another in her 20s (I’d say) looked at me as if I was nuts.

No, 153, Fleur Couture Florist – many people are under the impression that a good deal of florists are run by football hooligans as a cover for selling drugs. Not sure it applies to the little old lady working in this one though.

No, 155, Sukhothai – can take your own drink in. I haven’t been there since March 2005 when I was UNDER 18.

No, 157, Hornchurch Minicabs – handy to have if you need to take a cab to the nearest Costa Coffee or Boots whose closest branches are an astounding 47 and 26 yards away respectively.

No, 159, Sense – a charity shop designed to raise money for deaf and blind people. Bought a brown corduroy suit-like jacket for a cool three quid from here.

No, 161, Hallmark & Thornton Card Shop – betting shops and card shops play a big part in this town.

No, 163, empty – WAS an estate agents called Bromley Estates. Sign has been torn off. They ain’t coming it seems. A SIGN that someone else is ready to come in orrrrrrrr…?

No, 165, Barber Shop/Bits N Bobs – you know what a barber shop does. Bits N Bobs sells sponges, footballs, sandcastle kits, some hoops and much more. Alladin’s Cave (as the WHOLE place used to be known) sold the same stuff.

No, 167, Mr Simms[37] Olde Sweet Shop – PURVEYORS OF FINE CONFECTIONERY you don’t know how happy it makes me to have a place with ‘olde’ in the name. YE Olde would’ve been better, but still… Can’t have it all. This residence was empty for a bit with a couple of men in white overalls working inside when I went past it. Another time, a suited and booted middle-aged woman with strawberry blonde hair asked if I was a worker called Dave (THINK that was the name). Next time I went past (couple of weeks later) it was Olde Sweet Shoppe. Again, I’m impressed with the speed of the transformation. I could have had a field day putting cotton in people’s here in hair when it was Princess Textiles. Still had the sign up when it was being renovated.


[37] Or should that be Mr Simms’…? Really depends whether it’s part of the title or just pointing out that a Mr. Simms is something to do with it.

No, 169, Centre News – want to find out all the latest news on Hornchurch? Well, come here. Before the invention of newspapers, television and the internet, people would gather on the site of this shop and find out the latest happenings from a bloke with a rambling stick.

No, 171, Boots – they actually sell medicine in here.

No, 173, HSBC – a bank.

No, 175A, a flat.

No, 177, The Sandwich Shop – I am still dumb-struck by the sheer inventiveness of this name. A man wearing a dark blue Mac and green shorts with a beer belly and chicken legs was standing outside. He looked like a shaved chicken as they – shaved or feathered – have big stomachs and skinny legs.

No, 179, Alasya – a Turkish restaurant that was formerly a French one called Bonaparte. Wanted to go there at some point, so was disappointed when I found out it was gone.

No, 181, Marmaris: International Food And Wine – it’s not a SUPERmarket despite what it says on the sign. It says ‘off licence’ on it too, which is more accurate. I suggest they erase the ‘supermarket’ part before they get sued under the Trades Description Act. They have many stalls of fruit outside, but are forced in around 360 times a year by the road works as the fences take up much of the pavements, leaving a route where one human at a time can walk down. So much for creating better pedestrian and cycle access.

No, 183, Ladbrokes – ‘‘give us your money.’’

No, 185a, Akash – Indian restaurant.

No, 185b, Top Kebab – a misleading title as I know for a fact that the ‘top’ kebab to have is cold and has a plate over it in a takeaway somewhere in Strasbourg.

No, 187, Poundstretcher – it’ll stretch you back a pound! Laugh out giggle giggle!

This is where it gets a bit confusing. The building that makes up all these places up to Mandarin Palace is very ye olde looking. Much of it is wooden, black and white, and is on a slope that makes the pavement significantly narrower. Buildings like this just wouldn’t be constructed now as there’d always be a fear that, like many of its clients after a few drinks, it would eventually topple over; which for me makes it even more charming.

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A road that leads to the heart of Upminster. This picture was taken on a late Saturday afternoon. Looks quiet, but you still wouldn’t have been able to hear a pin drop because pins are tiny plus there were many cars going round the roundabout behind me, sounds of which would easily outweigh that of a pin hitting the concrete. A ROLLING pin MAYBE – although I still doubt it – but certainly not your average pin. 

No, 189, Prezzo – part of the King’s Head pub that used to trade here.

No, 191-195, Umberto’s Chalice – Italian restaurant.

No, 193, KMP Associates. – chartered certified accountants and book-keeping services.

No, 193A, BVR – a bar that is hidden away behind the businesses around it. There’s a number of pubs and bars on the main strip of the high street and Station Lane, but it was like discovering another world when encountering this. I expected to find a car park and a load of dust bins, but instead found bright lights and a lively atmosphere with people drinking and dancing on a terrace outside a noisy bar. I DID find a car park and a load of dust bins as well, but that’s not the point.

No, 197-201, Mandarin Palace – have a guess. I have said (typed) that comment in an easy going tone – not in one that sounds frustrated at there being another Chinese restaurant. I really like this place. Me and my sister took my nan and granddad here for the latter’s birthday, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it. And you can take the pipe literally or think of it as a euphemism if you want – doesn’t matter to me.

No, 203, house.

No, 205, The Royal British Legion – a place where people go to moan about the volume of music that bands play. And that goes for ALL British Legion clubs.

No, 207-219, houses.

No, 221, Dr. S. Pervez Medical Practice – a doctor’s surgery.

No, 223-231, houses.

No, 233, Robert Beard Centre – a youth centre where they have a five-a-side pitch outside and a sports hall inside.

No, 235, Havering Tuition Centre – an attractive middle-aged woman with long dark hair and glasses was very courteous when I was asking about the addresses of the places immediately around here while an older Irish woman gave me the short drift.

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This is looking down at Hornchurch as if I turned round to bid it farewell on my way to Upminster, like they do in the films (except not in Upminster).

TBC

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