Sunday, October 22, 2006

I need an excuse to visit North Woolwich; ah the changes thirty years have wrought!

In 1974 I collected my petrol rationing coupons from its Post Office. I’d sent a telegram to Brighton from there a few months before. And now the station is to close and I’d quite like to take a nostalgic ride to it before December.

It provided an occasional evening escape route after work, through the decaying docklands and East End, to the brighter lights ‘up west’. My petrol coupons were never needed but the nation came close to rationing the stuff during one of many supply crises as OPEC flexed its muscles to push up the price of oil. We sort of ‘solved’ it in a typically old-fashioned British way; long queues at petrol stations.

I was working at North Woolwich on the design of undersea telephone cables. State of the art technology in those pre fibre optic days allowed about a thousand simultaneous calls down one thick copper cable that was hugely expensive to manufacture and install. The telephone was also a fairly expensive luxury with fewer than half British homes having one. That’s why I had to send a telegram to the friends I was supposed to be taking to Taunton to tell them that my car had broken down.

The offices I worked in are long gone now. Because they were part of a factory complex with a ‘continuous manufacturing process’ we’d been allowed to run the generators and keep the lights on during the winter of daily power cuts and the three-day week. Britain seemed always in crisis then!

But I can’t think of a reason to go back to travel the line before it makes way for a new tunnel to take the DLR under the Thames. Any ideas?


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