Friday, March 02, 2007

Docklands Light Rumination

Had the Speed franchise ended some two and a half hours earlier, not only would we have been spared the torments of Speed 2: Cruise Control – a film so damned that not even Willem Dafoe’s leech-obsessed terrorist could salvage anything from it – but we’d also have been exempt from witnessing Speed’s senseless postscript. As you’ll remember, following an afternoon driving around in Dennis Hopper’s bomb-bus, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock find themselves on the subway, nonchalantly gawking at the advertising boards zooming past. Then, the aforementioned villain pops in for a final showdown – a concluding kafuffle that ends up moving to the roof of the train carriage in a spectacular bout of stupidity, fraying the edges of the recollection of the preceding entertainment with its negating odour.

Were Speed to have taken place in London, that superfluous appendix, had it survived the cutting process, would probably not have taken place on the Docklands Light Railway. Hurrying along from The City down to the bourgeois sticks of Lewisham, Hopper would have undoubtedly been flung from its carapace long before the sneers of Tower Hamlets met his jowls – the metropolitan gusts circulating the boxes of transit so strong that not even the archetypal bad guy himself would have been able to withstand its force. As for Keanu: soon as the train exited the burrows of Bank, he would have been a goner, swept away to the spew-laden cobbles of Old Street, never to be seen or heard from again.

A veteran of the DLR, it had become long-shunned by my frequent commutes in favour of the joys of London’s National Rail overground service, with its bookish inhabitants and appealingly brief travel time. But, alas, today was going to provide a chance for a nostalgic journey on that once-cherished transportation.

Cannon Street, residing somewhere east of Fleet Street and, as far as I can make out, fairly bereft of canons, had become the preferred hub of journeys in and out of central London. However, unbeknownst to me, today its tube was in a state of lockdown. When the District Line train came sliding in, the cavity was but drenched in darkness. So on to Monument it was. A short walk through the subterranean tunnels linking Monument with its sister station Bank, and the prospect of being thrust southbound on the DLR presented itself. Potential options involving a trip back along the Thames to eventually hop on the Jubilee Line were discarded and the DLR was embraced.

As I told a friendly chap with an interview pad in his mitts, “well, I don’t tend to come this way all too often these days, infrequently you might say! Were it not for Cannon Street languishing in a state darker than a thousand Crow sequels, I’d be elsewhere right now, by fuck.” But his demeanour truncated the bitterness of my expletives, his gesticulations paving the way for a glimmer of enthusiasm to birth during the minutes I stood waiting for the train to arrive at the platform. Then it bounded in.

The frown of the girl sitting beside me never let-up its disapproval, her brows furrowing unremittingly – the black of night turned the window opposite into a mirror. My cohabitants sat comfortably on the DLR’s budget seating, the covers of which seemed to have been rejects from the latest mid-sized Boeing to get here from Seattle, perhaps purloined from the skips behind British Airways HQ. A good sticky floor, sweaty railings and a Hello Magazine reader led to the conclusion that this was indeed the classic train service that ushered me around London back in my formative days, back when I first began calling this city Domicile.

The DLR floats over the shacks of east London like an overbearing chieftain, stopping intermittently at such dank locales as Shadwell and Westferry, each time defecating some passengers and consuming a few more. Then there’s the slow trawl up to Canary Wharf, home to Britain’s three tallest buildings. The glass perpendicularity of the trio of towers never fails to provoke awe, especially at night. Yet, the aesthetic beauty belies the horrible profit-driven capitalistic enterprises that linger under the surface. But, before one has even time to meditate on how this juxtaposition is so apt for an analogy with capitalism itself, the train has shuttled forth out the mons of Heron Quays and down the trunk of the London Docklands.

Over waterways and sand mounds, through minor station after minor station, tumbling along towards the Thames. The tired fumes of office toil drifted from passenger to passenger, the lady sitting opposite drowsily nodding her head forward, a slight wave of fringe descending down over a partially-closed eye, whilst a suited man armed with a vendetta against temporality stood primed at the double-doors, eagerly awaiting their partition.

A dip in the track and we were rammed under the Thames. Commercial boats and nocturnal windsurfers glided above, their horns and screams inaudible with that river of insulation dwelling in-between. The Cutty Sark came up on the horizon – as did my time to depart. Motioning up the escalator, posters of West End shows and popular cinematic fare braided the walls.

The twosome of escalators over with, one emerges into the centre of Greenwich – unfortunately met with the banality of a Subway and a McDonalds. A rounding of the corner, a shift past a Wetherspoons, and a straight walk on ahead. A five-minute stroll up Creek Road, the whispers of the DLR dispersing amongst the trickles of Deptford Creek, and only the memory, as it were, remains.


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