Trevelyan and the ‘Chube
What is an English accountant to do when an Underground subway station appears and disappears at random intervals? He gets off to explore Ophney. But will Ophney station be there when he wants to leave?
Trevelyan always took advantage of London Transport’s marvelous Underground rail system to get him from his home in Bayswater to his place of employment in St. James’s Park.
Were he a motorist, he could have driven.
Were he a pilot, he could have flown.
Were he an equestrian, he could have galloped from the Northwest corner of Kensington Gardens, diagonally across Hyde Park, and then across Green Park, then across St. James’s Park, then walked the last two blocks to work, after finding suitable accommodations for his horse. Which was not an issue since he did not have a horse. Nor was he an equestrian.
Trevelyan was an accountant. So he took the Underground. Referred to by the locals as ‘the tube’ (pronounced ‘chube).
(This is typical of the English custom of making a hash out of pronouncing the language they lay claim to: for example, Thames (pronounced Tems); St John (Sinjin); spotted dick (never mentioned by people who attended public schools [which is another misused term, but I fear I’m beginning to drift]).)
Trevelyan took the Circle Line from Bayswater Station, past Notting Hill Gate Station, past High Street Kensington Station, past Gloucester Road, South Kensington, Sloane Square and Victoria Stations, arriving in fifteen minutes at St James’s Park Station.
It is not my purpose in reciting these stations to impress you with my knowledge of London’s subterranean topography. Nor is my aim to encourage you to take the same trip someday, although that would be a pleasant outing.
No, I mention these stops because that is how are listed on every map of Central London. In that order; no more, no less. None in between . And every day tens, I daresay hundreds, of thousands of Londoners look up from their Times or Evening Standard or Daily Mirror and see, for example, South Kensington Station, and know precisely where you were in God’s great universe. One would know he was, in Trevelyan’s case, three stops from where he’s going and five stops from where he’s been. And, of course, vice versa on the return.
Should a Londoner pass Charing Cross and find himself next at Great Missenden or Ickenham or Ongar Station, he would keep cool and check his London A to Z, and would know immediately where he was, and the discrepancy could be resolved forthwith.
I do not wish to dwell on this complication. Actually it could never happen. Now while we have a Tory government.
But what did happen, and in fact is the point of my brief, is that on a Monday evening, Trevelyan looked up from his Evening Standard at the stop past St. James’s Park expecting to find Victoria Station.
But it wasn’t Victoria Station. It was, as plain as he could see in the familiar bold, red, blue and white lettering: Ophney Station.
Hello, thought Trevelyan. Ophney? He reached for his A to Z to sort this out. But, as he suspected, there was no Ophney in the latest edition. And it was quite unlike London Transport to drop a new station on a line without some public notice. At least as long as the Tories remain in office. There had been no Ophney this morning; by rights there should be no Ophney this evening.
But when the doors opened, the people for Ophney got off and the people from Ophney got on. And when the doors closed, the train went on its customary way through the underground tunnel (hence, when capitalized, the name of the system), to Victoria Station, as one would expect.
Aha! thought Trevelyan, there’s been another balls up. And under a Tory government no less, which is highly unusual. No, I merely imagined it. I must have drifted off, he thought, and added, rather wittily, Well, off with Ophney. But that line was too similar to the slogans of the French rabble after their Revolution, so he resolved not to repeat it ever again.
Tuesday, morning and evening, brought no Ophney, which prompted Trevelyan, to express a sly smile of satisfaction. Mind you, such whimsey is seldom seen on the Circle Line, known for its sober, no-nonsense passengers.
But this will not for a moment fool any of you world-savvy readers. Hence, the truism, No Ophney on Tuesday doesn’t always mean No Ophney on Wednesday.
Well, in fact, there was no Ophney on Wednesday either.
But there was an Ophney on Thursday. Not Thursday morning, which would have disturbed his entire day at work. But on Thursday evening. Trevelyan was beside himself, but unlike some yobbo who might have yelled, bludy ‘el, he merely whimpered. His imagination and his indignation had been stirred. A letter to the Times was certainly in order.
His distress was not so much on the metaphysical level. But if this appearance and disappearance of ‘chube stops were allowed to go unchecked, would any station be free of uncertainty for London’s many commuters and visitors? What if he were to find no Bayswater Station of an evening, and he was forced to go on to Paddington. He could not bear the thought. And even going beyond Greater London, could he be sure that when he went to visit mum on weekends at Royal Tunbridge Wells, London itself might not be there upon his return?
And while I don’t want to belabour this point, Trevelyan had a room reserved in Malta for the last week of July. Might it be better to travel by boat instead of train. What if Europe itself should decide to take the month off. Hoho, rather jolly that hypothesis, he thought. A veritable reductio ad absurdum.
But enough! I keep losing my train of thought. (Oh, dear, that one just snuck in.) Enough! Trev thought. I must focus carefully here on the Ophney Conundrum, as he imagined the exchange of letters in The Times would be called.
There was no Ophney on Friday morning, but there was on Friday afternoon. And it was then that Trevelyan did something very out of character. He jumped off the train and attacked an Underground station. He kicked the platform with alternating stomps, then began jumping up and down. Finally, he got on his knees and began to pummel the platform.
Needless to say this is most unusual, at least in Central London during commute hours. Then he got back on his feet and used his elbows to smash the familiar red, blue and white Underground sign, with the dratted Ophney imprinted on it.
Finally he approached the station guard and said, very firmly, “To hell with you, sir!” Then jumped back on the train just as the doors started to close.
That, he thought, should give Ophney some idea of who it was muddling with.
A letter to his MP was in order, as was a telephone call to mum in Tunbridge Wells. And so, perhaps, was a double whiskey. Seeing it was a Friday afternoon. (I should stress that Trevelyan was a moderate tippler. Be assured, Ophney was not a suburb of delirium tremens.)
Before he called mum, though, he had to figure out his plan of attack. What if Tunbridge Wells was not where he last saw it? Or London not there upon his return.
The deuce of it all was that no one else seemed to be bothered or bewildered by this turn of events. No one else would whistle Rule Britannia with feigned nonchalance through clenched teeth, in the presence of this Schrödinger’s Cat of a ‘chube stop. A letter to the Home Office was in order.
Trev stayed home that weekend, much to mum’s consternation. And when he awoke Sunday morning at his flat in Bayswater, a bold plan began to take shape in the deepest recesses of his mind. An act of raw courage; brilliant! Are you sure, he asked himself, though he knew the answer. Yes! Stout fellow, he replied.
Trevelyan would get off at Ophney.
But wait, what if there’s not Ophney to get back on at? Twaddle, he replied. Then I shall walk back to St James’s Park or ahead to Victoria.
So the die was cast. Trevelyan went to the ticket counter at Bayswater that Sunday morning, and asked for a return to Ophney.
To where? Asked the ticket vendor.
A primordial fear shook Trevelyan’s whole frame and his countenance began to turn a whiter shade of pale. He left the station, trembled home, and put himself to bed for the rest of the day of rest.
Allow me to explain for those of you who have never traveled on the Underground or any other of the world’s subway systems. There are windows on both sides of every car, running the length of the car, enabling riders to see which station stop they are at. Yet looking out with hawk-like intensity on every trip he took now he saw nothing but sooty, black brink walls on the ride between Victoria and St. James’s Park.
Except on those days when a well-lit, busy and seemingly well-worn Ophney Station was on the line.
Trev’s nerves got bolder with each passage on the Central Line when no Ophney appeared. Until one Wednesday morning when his train did stop at Ophney and the door opened, and Trevelyan jumped off, and the door closed, and the train went on, and Trevelyan was uncharacteristically furious with himself.
He couldn’t explore Ophney now. He’d be late for work. It had never been on the line in the morning before.
Not to worry. He’d merely go up to the street level and walk to St. James’s Park. It couldn’t be that far. He’d already passed Victoria and still had a few minutes left.
As Trev went up the escalator, he swore he smelled lilacs in the air, unusual for London this time of year. And when he got to the top and handed his ticket to the lady in the sarong, he began to sense some things were out of the ordinary. The sign ahead pointed to two exits: Ophney Common to the left, and Ophney High Street to the right.
Trevelyan was about to pull out his A to Z, but dash it all, he’d left it at home that day. Left to his own devices, he walked slowly to the exit marked Ophney Common. And a bit of his old humor returned as he thought, “More like uncommon Ophney, I should say.”
The look of rye bemusement that was so familiar to colleagues at the office Christmas party, was on full display as he forged ahead to meet his destiny.
To the best of his memory there had never been an Ophney Common or Ophney High Street in the West End of London before. And as he stepped out of the station and beheld all that green, he figured it could only be Green Park or St. James’s Park. But it wasn’t, for he knew those parks very well.
Perhaps it was the Royal Gardens behind the high walls surrounding Buckingham Palace. But the chance of there being an Underground station — even one of intermittent appearance — in the Queen’s own private garden, struck him as remote at best.
For the first time in his life, Trevelyan felt pulled two ways. On one hand he’d be late for work for the first time ever in precisely six minutes. On the other hand, across from him on the Common lawn, a dozen young men and women were playing imaginary tennis. Unlike the game played further south in Wimbledon and elsewhere, Ophney tennis was played with no net and no ball. Obviating the need for line judges, allows up to six players on each side.
And what-ho but it looked like… yes it was… some of the young ladies and gents were beckoning him to join them. Trevelyan had never experienced that before: strangers (or even friends) inviting him to join them in some frolic. Rather clumsily, he waved back at them, but it was more of a wave-off.
Dash it all, I need to find a phone to call the office. And another what-ho, but just to his left was the Ophney Arms public house, and surely they’d have a telephone. And as he approached the establishment, the sound of a cheerful crowd inside helped quell his nerves.
He approached the publican and offered him a wrinkled ten shilling note he’d found in the crease of the pocket in his mac, to get change for the telephone. The guv handed him the right coins for the phone but an amount that totaled a pound, twice what Trev had handed over.
Before he could get out even a perfunctory now-see-here, the couple standing next to him at the bar smiled at him and each offered a most friendly hello. Aha, he thought, this is an opening to an Ophney conversation. And momentarily forgetting the office, he was most curious to know what locals talked about.
Especially as it was no longer daylight outside, and people entering the salon were shaking snow off their coats. The couple introduced themselves as Ian and Allison. Trevelyan introduced himself, as was his custom, as Trevelyan, and said he couldn’t stay very long as he had to be getting off to work.
“Work? Surely, a man of your obvious gentility doesn’t work in the evenings,” said Ian. And Trevelyan grew suddenly very agitated as he finally noticed the darkness outside and said, “Night?” “Why yes,” said Ian, “Every day at about this time.”
A glance at his watch showed Trevelyan the time was 9:06. But a.m. or p.m.? Ian spotted the time, too, and said it was about time to head home for the day. “Tell you what, old sport, come be our guest for the evening. Our palatial Tudor mansion is just at the top of the road.”
An hour and a half later, as they reached the top of the road, where Ian of the bushy moustache, and Allison of the long blonde hair, resided. “Just a jog to the left,” said Ian as he turned right into the main gate.
Before him, outlined by the occasional burst of lightning, framed in the broken and angular branches of dead trees, Trevelyan saw the tall stony turrets of a house not in any Tudor style he knew of. Rather, it was like something out of a Gothic novel. And except for the looming, brooding, forbidding mountain behind the house, and the remains of a once-thriving distant town five miles below at the bottom of the road, as far as Trevelyan could see in every other direction there was only a flat, marshy waste interrupted by the occasional wooden crucifix sticking twelve or fifteen feet into the air. The entire field gave off a lugubrious glow which was rather piquant against the jaundiced colored mist on the horizon.
“Allison’s garden,” Ian mentioned proudly, putting his arm around her shoulder. “She works here every spare minute.”
Work! Thought Trevelyan, wanting to be on the safe side of things on this most unusual day. “Have you a phone,” he asked Ian as they mounted the last step to the drawbridge. “Over the moat and into the drawing room,” said Ian, proffering is first and only pithy aphorism of the evening.
“Phone/abone/aroan/astone,” giggled Allison in her charming and disarming way, marred only by the inanity of what she said.
“May I please speak to Mr. Mogador,” said Trevelyan over the line to London. (And how he dearly would have loved to follow that land line to see how it got from this mountain top in Central London to St. James’s Park.)
“Mr. Mogador, I’m sorry to be calling so late in the evening. I know it has gone half-ten. Actually, I didn’t expect to find anyone at the office at this hour, actually. But I do so want to apologize for not being in the office at all day. Ah, thank you Ian, lovely sherry.”
“Late hour? P.M.? Didn’t expect to find anyone in the office? Where the devil did’ja think we’d be then? It’s ten thirty in the morning, you dithering id-jot, Trevelyan. Where are you? You’re drinking before the pubs even open, that’s where you are young man. Now, listen, I know you have given us great service here for the past six years, and we expect this fruitful relationship to go on for another sixty years, but don’t. press. your. luck. You get in here soon as you can. Shave and get out of the wrinkled suit you must be wearing.” Thus spake him, Mogador.
To which Trevelyan replied, “I’ll have to see if the nearest Underground station is available tonight.” To which the philistine Mogador replied, “I do not want you to come in tonight. I want you to get in here this instant. I don’t care if the Underground is running late.” And just to assure that he got the last word in, Mogador said no more and hung up in a fit of pique.
Ten-thirty in the morning, snickered Trevelyan to himself. Mr. Mogador is taxing himself too hard. That’s why he lost his temper with me. It’s ten-thirty in the evening according to my watch. Which is never wrong. And look at the darkness all around.
Just then, Ian stretched, yawned, finished his sherry, offered Trevelyan a cigar and matches, robe and slippers; poked the fire; bade the maid and butler to sleep well, petted the wolfhound, fired off a letter to the editor of The Times, and said good night.
He, Ian, said he would sleep in the guest room seeing as there was a guest that evening. So Trevelyan and Allison with the long blonde hair must need share the Master Bedroom.
Before Trevelyan could even got off a perfunctory, “See. Hear. Ian,” the major domo bounded bedward up the great staircase.
Allison lit the candelabra and put out the light. Then she reached behind her neck, under her signature long blonde hair, undid a clasp, and her silken, empire gown dropped smoothly to the floor. To reveal all and conceal nothing.
Suddenly, the room was filled with an ethereal incense, as if from an unseen choir of angels. Allison yawned as she picked up the candelabra and started for the stairs.
She was about to step onto the first landing when Trevelyan ran up behind her and asked her if she might allow him to take the light into the library so he could look for a book. Allison went with him.
And there, standing on the carpet, of the library, by candlelight, as the angels sang and the wind blew, Allison in all her blonde magnificence said, “Book/Book/aRook/Nook/Book. Then before Trevelyan’s very eyes, she shut down her unique communications style for the evening: locking her lips and throwing away the key.
Trevelyan decided to take two books, one for each hand. And off they went to the Master Bedroom.
Sitting in a big chair, near the fire, in a corner of the Master Bedroom, diagonally across from the Master Bed, Trevelyan read and much enjoyed the first book. For in it the author displayed a unique mastery of punctuation and indentation, not often found among the moderns any more.
Allison lay atop the bed, pulled her long blonde hair over herself and kept still as if in anticipation. “I’m waiting,” she explained, without moving her lips, “for on this eve of St Agnes a knight will come and carry me off… far away to a very strange land.”
This last comment struck Trevelyan as being in the “quitting work to look for a job” category, so he let it pass.
Instead he buttered his hot toast, offered some to Allison, who reclined, and then spread great gobs of luscious, shredded marmalade on his.
But this scene of domestic tranquility was not to last. For at midnight it was absolutely shattered by a woman’s scream. Trevelyan looked over at Allison to enquire if she was all right. Alas, Allison was not there to answer.
For at that very moment she was in the arms of her expected knight and each of them was trying to balance the other on their way down the trellis. And waiting for them below was the prancing steed, Daimler. As they mounted him, he lifted his front quarters into the air and the knight gave a lusty cry, “To Albingdon!”
But it was not Allison with the long blonde hair who had screamed. Indeed, halfway down the trellis, it was Allison whispering, “Scream/scream/adream/scene.” But that was Albingdon’s problem now.
Meanwhile there was the noise of the servants rushing in the halls, raising a ruckus, a hue and a cry. Little Janet, whose brother Hugh filed the water glasses, and who was herself the electrician, way lying on her mattress soaked in blood: her hands, feet, and head all severed from the truck of her body, and each a quarter-inch away from its usual connection,
Rupert, the wizened old chief steward, asked the assembled servants who had done this bloody deed. Little Janet interrupted the pantry butler just as he was about to begin one of his boring accounts. She told Rupert she had never seen the man before, but he wore a Tattersall vest and smoked Crushcart’s Blended Turkish. With this invaluable information delivered, she expired straightaway.
At that instant, Trevelyan entered the room smoking a pipe and wearing his Tattersall vet. The servants looked at him very suspiciously.
Fortunately for Trevelyan he was smoking Fitzgerald’s Irish Mist and not Crushcart’s Turkish. The servants accepted his innocence. Then Ian suddenly entered, smoking Crushcart’s Turkish, and the whiff of suspicion suddenly shifted to the lord of the manor. But underneath his purple velvet robe there was not a speck of Tattersall to be found.
Just then Police Inspector Rumbles arrived on the scene and told each and every one there, including Loop the wolfhound, that they were all under suspicions of murder and if his, Rumble’s, guess was not mistaken one of those present would hang in the next, say, year; eighteen months, tops. Maybe.
Trevelyan told the inspector he had to leave. It was getting late he said, and he had to find his way home to Bayswater still.
“Go to Ophney take the Circle Line, if you haven’t missed the last one,” said everyone.
Trevelyan wished Rumbles a hearty “carry on,” and after saying a general good-bye to all he especially thanked Ian for the sherry, and was off.
As day broke Trevelyan made it to the bottom of the road, then set off for Ophney High Street, past the King’s Ophney, Ophney Mews, beyond Ophney-Primble Park, past Lower Ophney Road until he finally began to recognize some familiar landmarks near the Ophney Arms.
On Ophney Common he saw old men playing boules on the green near the duck pond, and close by were three young men tuning their auto harps.
Trevelyan, who would never think to do such a thing in Hyde Park, sat down next to one of the auto harpists and asked about his machine. “It’s a clean machine,” the harpist said.
Trev wasn’t sure if he was invited to laugh or not. Was he being made sport of? But then he thought that perhaps the whole evening had been a send up and he’d been able to laugh at that. So he let out a bemused sniggle.
Suddenly the harpists said they were off to Nigel’s place, and without inviting Trevelyan, but not actually uninviting him either, they all left.
One of the group, a girl, looked behind at lonesome Trevelyan sitting on a marshmallow toadstool and, without saying a word, signaled him to come along.
As he walked across the common lawn, the view seemed to change his very eyes. Instead of one continuous motion, twenty-four separate images flashed before him every second. With each flash, each item in the scene changed color from what it was before, and changed again with the new frame.
Nigel lived across the Common in a big house surrounded by woods and lawns and gnomes and lizards. Inside, the rooms were all white vinyl, chrome and glass, with carpeted undulations on the floor and walls that grew out of speakers. Fifteen people were there already.
Poor Trevelyan had never felt so out of place before, even at the Ophney Tube stop, and soon found himself seated next to a girl who was earnestly praying that the lead guitarist for the Albingdon Anarchists would come to sweep her away from the tedium of Ophney.
In his own way of trying to make Trev feel at home, a gentleman asked him to do what he does best, so Trev went out into the kitchen and put a kettle on the stove to make tea. Unfortunately, he flipped the wrong switch and instead of turning on the burner, he switched on the lights which bathed the interior with a purple light . The result of that gaff was that everyone else in the house disappeared. Just poof; gone.
Instantly, he switched the light off, and the company reappeared, running and jumping and skipping and hopping, and ever so glad to be alive and visible again.
For the first time in his life, Trev felt he needed fresh air more than a cuppa.
He went outside and found a little boy and girl playing in a sandbox. When he asked what they were building, the little boy said, “The future,” and jumped right in.
Trevelyan crouched down to look in the windows of one of the sand castles and saw the little girl cuddling an infant saying, “Coo-Coo-Coo-Choo, my little knight from Albingdon.”
It was time to be heading back to Bayswater, and he set off for the Ophney Station. “What if it’s not there?” he asked himself.
And the peculiar activity of the sun on the horizon soon caught his attention and made him forget the Station. The sun didn’t seem sure itself, if it was A.M. or P.M. One second it was above the common ground and seemingly rising. Then it began sinking behind the Georgian Crescent. But Trevelyan couldn’t be bothered with these solar shenanigans.
“There it is! Oh, there it is!!!” he exclaimed as he saw the Ophey Station before him. “Onward to Ophney!” he said to the fishmonger and green grocer who were puzzled that someone was so enraptured by their local Tube stop.
Trev bought a single, not a return, to Bayswater. And got on the Circle Line, westbound. “Oh, frabjous day. God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world,” he said aloud. “I knew the Tories would sort this out. Eventually.” Then he closed his eyes, set his internal time piece for fifteen minutes, and dozed off to sleep.
Trevelyan would the sleep of the just, the recently cured, and the very tired. He relished the oncoming sensation of nepenthe, as the waves of relaxation reached deeper into his soul.
His thoughts turned inward now. To his heritage. His future. Mr. Mogador. His mum. He smiled that all was well, and evermore it would remain.
It’s just as well his eyes were closed. For it may have caused him unnecessary consternation that the train made an unscheduled stop between South Kensington and Gloucester Road Stations. At Albingdon Station.
But for now, Trev needed to catch up on his rest.
c 1971, 2019, Tom Mahon
Copyright for all artwork remains with the copyright holders.