Skip to main content


Tottenham Court Road Tube Station – A Romance With Intrigue

tottenham court photo 300

London in January. An unforgiving place for a young fellow from
Melbourne on his own.

You can ignore, living in our paradise in the south, how hard and disinterested the world can be, especially with the sun setting on dark and dreary days in London at 4pm or thereabouts.

Of course, it’s the greatest place with a little spare change in the pocket, which I didn’t have.

It is Saturday morning in Russell Square, and Chelsea is playing Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

Football, the beautiful game, on which I was reared by a migrant father who had thrown up the shutters on all the Australian games - which were either too violent or too boring, or too many rules or not enough.

There are two fellows ahead wearing Chelsea colours - royal blue.

“When’s kick off?” I asked.

“Eh? Kick off? We’ve already kicked off.” The reply comes in a thick Irish accent.

Two wayward and mutually unintelligible accents, separated by 15000 kilometres, meet in a London street.

“I was thinking about going to the game,” I said.

“We’ll take you to the game alright.”

“I would be indebted.”

“We’ve come from Dublin for the game, the overnight boat.”

“I’ve come from Melbourne, the overnight plane.”

“Long way from home pretty boy. We’ll fix up you up. But you have to get good and full. They’re the rules. First you get good and full and then you beat the crap out of anybody you can find.”

“Sounds pretty straight forward.”

“That’s my man. I knew you would follow it. You look the type. Then you meet us at the King’s pub, next to the ground, 12 noon. We’ll get you to the game ...  Whether you see anything, who knows?”

“What time’s the game start?”

“Oh, three. But you’ll need plenty of preparation time. We don’t like to rush. And they never start until we’re ready. We give the ref. a little signal.”

“Sounds great.”

“See you there my good man.”

“Sure, see you there.”

Good. See you there.

I bought the morning newspaper and returned to my shoe box which masqueraded as a hotel room, and which I was assured by a brochure at the front desk constituted opulent luxury for the budget traveller.

Arms and legs were unscrewed on entry, and placed neatly in the limb cupboard by the side of the door.

11.30 arrived.

Time to head toward my uncertain future kicking heads with the forsaken Irish, whom I assumed brought a lot of experience to this endeavour. Getting arrested. Redressing wrongs done centuries ago, involving potatoes and the like.        

The end of a brilliant career in the back of a police van.

Rotting in maximum security, in earshot of the chilling howls of the Guildford Four.

I was in London. Nobody knew who I was and cared even less.

I would be freed ten years later, emaciated but a hero nevertheless, paraded before the tabloid media on the steps of the Old Bailey as I am rushed to a waiting cab, giving little V-signs as I am whisked into the seat, all brightly lit by the flash of cameras.

I walked down to Tottenham Court tube station, amidst the hurly burly of the Saturday morning Oxford Street shoppers. I pushed my way to the platform en route to mindless oblivion.

A woman approached.

“Excuse me. Don’t I know you?” An Australian accent.

“Excuse me?”

“From Melbourne. Aren’t you from Melbourne?”


“Of course. How amazing? What are you doing here? I thought you were ...”

“I was. I am. I am visiting with my parents. This is my mum.”

“Oh hi. I can’t have seen you for ...”

“It would be about two years. Do you remember? The dance? You and Mark.”

“Yeh, of course. The dance. How could you remember? Here’s a train. You getting on this train?

“I think so. Yeh we are. We’re just going to change some theatre tickets. Where you going?

“I think I’m going to a soccer game.”

The train paused at the platform.

“Getting on?”

“This is my mum  …”

“What have you been doing?”

“Lot’s of things. There’s no shortage of things to do. What about you?”

“I’ve only just come. I arrived yesterday.”

“Where are you staying?”

“I’m in Russell Square. In the biggest dump you’ve ever seen. What about you?”

“I’m with mum and dad in Oxford Street. The Stratford.”

Her mum and dad? Bad.

“Stratford? Why don’t I give you a call?”

“Sure. I’m not sure if I’ve got the number.”

“No. I can look it up. Stratford. Oxford Street.”

“I can’t believe seeing you here.”

For myself, I wouldn’t have put money on it. At least, not my own money. I would have put other people’s money on it, just not my own.

“You’ve been in Israel,” I said.

“Yeh. I moved there.”

“I remember.” Complicated.

“The dance was just before I left.”

The dance. My friend Mark and I danced with this girl, and then we took her home. She was going to Israel in a few days time to live the Zionist dream. We needed to find someone else to dance with the next week. We retreated to our homes empty handed, and no spare change. Not a good look.

“Maybe it was the reason you left.”

“How did you know?”

“Thanks. I remember now that you were going to change the world.”

“What did you say you were doing?”

I was hoping she wouldn’t ask.

“It’s a bit complicated. I’m going to a soccer game. You see … I met these Irish guys just walking down the street. They said I should meet them at a pub before the game. It all seems very embarrassing. I hope it doesn’t end in tears, but it sounded like fun at the time. It is probably the worst idea. They’re from Dublin. Can you believe it?  I just met them on the street. Just like that. And they said, because they couldn’t care less about anything - and they’d obviously been drinking all night anyway – ‘Come for a drink before the game’. And here I am. I could’ve looked away, or said ....”

The train pulled into the station.

“I think I am meant to change trains here.”

“Oh OK.”

“I think survival is the objective.”

“See ya then.”

“Yeh, see ya. I’ll give you a ring. At that hotel ....”

“Sure. Bye.”


I think I had my run of unexpected meetings for the day, but it was still before lunchtime. Anything was possible. I was keeping an open mind, and the streets were full of lots of people with whom I could have chance meetings. Why stop at two?

I found the pub. It was already packed with football supporters - genuine drinkers, and hangers on from the four corners of the world like myself, collected in the street during the course of the morning - like a gathering of the forlorn by a kind of Salvation Army for drinkers, adherents to the temple of very idle times and loutish fun.

“Fuckin’ Liverpool. They’re fuckin’ finished. Ten nil. Before fuckin’ half time.”

The conversation was impassioned, and focused. Alternative themes were not likely to be entertained, or at least given much consideration.

“I hate them in their fuckin’ red costumes. Look like fuckin’ tomatoes. Fuckin’ stuck up Liverpool tomatoes. Talk like fuckin’ pansies, and dress like vegetables.”

“You don’t like Liverpool?” I inquired.

“They’re OK.” A hothead reflected privately in a hushed voice.

“Everyone hates them. Give me the fuckin’ blue boys anytime. They run on the field in their royal blue strip, and we give ‘em a big cheer. Go the lads.”


“You’re not cheering mate,” my new Irish friend observed.

“I don’t know the words.”

“Nothing to it. CHELSEA - CHELSEA - CHELSEA. You’ll pick it up.”


“Hey, old mate,” my Irish friend said, drawing me to his ample and alcohol sodden bosom. “You know what they say?”

“No what do they say?” I inquired, as a big hairy Irish paw plonked itself on one of my shoulders like a dead weight.

“I will tell you a little secret, as long as you promise…” He was moved to a whisper by the importance of the little secret.

“I promise.”

He drew me tightly to his chin. The smell from his mouth with its blackened teeth was not a good smell. It was frightening to think what had passed through that orifice, and dental hygiene was not one of his strong points. There were doubts about whether his toothbrush had made the trip over from Dublin – or that he had a toothbrush, or if he had one whether it was prepared to enter his mouth.

“Good people are hard to find,” he said to me in a low and grave voice. “That’s what they say. And it’s fuckin’ true. I swear by my granny’s hairy pink bottom. And don’t you forget it.”

“Forget what?”

“I said good people are hard to find. There’s not enough of them. Were you even listening?” He pushed me away sharply with a deep sigh, having imparted the great secret.

“Very true.” I was on my best behaviour. Images flashed through my mind of the great majesty of the pink bottom, packed into a pair of over-size Irish bloomers - a fine coating of fluff covering the surface of plump splotchy and very wrinkled cellulite fatty buttocks.

“I tell you what. One other thing.” He drew me close again - I wasn’t sure how long I could hold my breath. This was going to be important. I could tell by the moment of silence and the tight clutching, ripping grip of my shirt. “They hate your lot as much as they hate us, probably even more. With your fuckin’ beaches and fuckin’ sunshine. Good looking blond babes. They hate you.” He was speaking in hushed tones.

“Who does?”

“Them fuckin’ lot. Take a look at them. Fuckin’ Pommie cunts. Talk like fuckin’ pansies. Don’t trust ‘em mate. Not for a moment. Turn your back and you’re gone. Just ask the Scots. Ask them? Knife in the spine while you’re sipping tea. The very drop that you made for them out of the deepest goodness of your heart, and from the finest bushel in the pantry. You won’t feel a thing as the glistening Sheffield blade slashes your spinal cord. Don’t say you weren’t warned ... Watch the back. Hard to replace  - backs.”

“I will, I promise.”


The grip was released and I collapsed to the floor.

The game over. The lads retreated back to the pub.

There was a score, but no one could quite remember what it was. The word went round that Chelsea had won, or drawn. Something happened, but no one was sure what it was, and it did not matter.

I quietly departed the scene, never to set eyes on those drunken angels again. I wonder where they might be now. Running the Bank of Ireland. Behind bars - of the jail variety. They were very drunk when we parted company, and probably still are (assuming that the human body can absorb a lake or small sea of alcohol).

I had tickets to Covent Garden - very flash. I didn’t expect that the afternoon’s company would be all that inclined to join me for a little post match snobby, private school opera. My plan was to do and see everything in the shortest imaginable time, then return to dreaded isolation (in Melbourne) forever, never to think or feel again, but to harbour wonderful and indelible memories that would stay with me for a life time, and about which I would write in lucid prose many years later and win major literary prizes for vividness of imagery and other amazing qualities.

The opera was forgettable, except for my location at the highest level in the theatre. It was extraordinary to imagine that architects could devise seating so far away from a stage, and yet so close to the Creator Himself (and just under the grand roof, so far removed from the action far below).

It was said by the usher to be the music-lovers area. I knew something was astray when I was offered an oxygen mask, and a stupid chuckle. Down there somewhere, people were singing. You could just see them – little spots in the distance, warbling like tiny songbirds, beautiful canaries each one of them.

That girl. Here was trouble.

I looked up the telephone number of her hotel next morning.

I could’ve forgotten the name of the hotel. I didn’t. Stratford, Stratford, Stratford - I kept repeating the name of the hotel in my sleep, so I wouldn’t forget it - like Starport, Bradford, Bunbury Cross. Dorchester.

I dialled the telephone number on an idle chance of something. A friendly girl in a far off place.

“How was your soccer game?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.”

We talked for a while about nothing much, and planned to meet at the National Gallery.

Culture was all the go.

She came with a longish story. She had moved to Israel, at age 18, and turned her back forever on the comfortable life in Melbourne. She was principled and determined, dedicated to the future of the Jewish people in their own homeland. I had never met anyone like her.

She was spending a week with her parents in London, and then was headed to Paris for a few months, as part of a break from her university studies in Tel Aviv.

I was spending I didn’t know how long in London, and then going to some place I wasn’t sure, depending on what happened, as part of a break from my university studies.

The decision to go to Paris took about half a second - as long as it takes to say, “I was thinking of going to Paris too.” Maybe a full second. I pretended not to be cool or hasty.

This is, of course, a very dangerous thing to do at a certain age in life (or very likely any age) – that is to go to Paris with an attractive and essentially unknown woman, and especially when one has no care or responsibility, but sadly little money. I was sure even great Paris would somewhere have room in its great heart for the young and impecunious – even if it was a little squalid or in fact very squalid (and very tiny).

Such money as I had came from a peculiar source, which deserves to be acknowledged for posterity. During this enlightened time (the late 1970s - now recorded only in ancient cave pictures), university students in Australia received a tertiary allowance, which made possible much idleness and wonder, especially idleness etc. at rationed expense. The tertiary allowance was not handsome, but it was not ugly either, and was fondly received. This was a time when the Australian dollar was worth 20% more than its American counterpart. I keep a little incense candle burning slowly by an image of a trim and committed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who introduced this wonderful scheme, amongst a number of well-meaning but ultimately financially disastrous initiatives, which cost him government and meant that he would be remembered as a lovely man who did not understand economics and financial prudence. It was still a good way to be remembered as an Australian prime minister – rather than mean-spirited and hard to chuck out of office.

We discussed the rules for our trip. I said yes to every rule, including in particular the rule about it being totally pointless to set rules, which came at the end of the discussion about what turned out to be possible rules only - by way of suggestions only.

We set sail after a few days in London. She farewelled her parents, and I farewelled them too.

In Paris, we found old university friends, from Australia, and in the great tradition of finding such people, slept with them in their bedroom - on the floor. We let them stay in their bed. We slept on the floor at the foot of their bed.

Accordingly, we commenced our romance (there being no rules), in Paris, on the floor, sleeping in the same room as two other people (male and female), whose romance was also in progress - but on a surer – and more comfortable - footing as they had a bed.

It was a very Paris thing to do, being such a romantic city.

It did not matter if more than two people were making love at more or less the same time in the same room.

There was no room or inclination for all four to join together. Two at a time was plenty, and then for reasons best known to the way of humans (as opposed to elephants or giraffes), each couple proceeded about its business quietly (so as not to overly disturb the other couple, who of course were totally enthralled by the fact of someone else having sex in their presence - a very arresting thing to happen).

While inconvenient for the people who let us crash on their bedroom floor, it was all done in the best tradition of Aussies helping each other out when the need arose - in the spirit of the Anzacs and Gallipoli and so on.

My parents also camped in Paris as refugees for two years after the war (between 1949 and 1951), probably on someone else’s floor, in the great tradition of unwelcome guests, trying to find a way out - not being cared for or wanted by a soul in the world save for some old pre-war time friends who were living in Melbourne and who called for them to come to Australia to be rid of the misery of the past years. Come to Melbourne, they said. You won’t be sorry. They weren’t.

I was visiting on the upward path of the J-curve (my parents having been in Paris in other circumstances – on a downward spiral going nowhere).

My parents talked endlessly about the Pigalle and Montmartre, as if they were restless get-abouts taking a short whirlwind break from Warsaw (though they were in the shadow of the trauma of having lost their entire families in the wartime which had just concluded). They were a couple in their 30s with a young child, themselves both children of large families, and not one immediate family member alive. They always talked of Paris with great joy, and it carried over to me whenever I would think of Paris. It was a city of frivolity, abandon and happiness, and escape. Here they were in the most beautiful of cities within two or three years of the end of their bitter misery – alive. In the relative scheme of things, they could not ask for much more.

Following the student uprising of 1968, Paris was the spiritual home of most recipients of Mr. Whitlam’s generous student allowance. It was a place to dream of uprisings and barricades, and revolution after revolution - all going no where in particular, and not seriously capable of changing anything much in particular.

We imagined the barricade just outside the cafe where we drank coffee, and rested weary legs. Little cars puffing fumes now streamed by where young blood was spilt in some apparently great cause, for no real benefit ultimately. The locale was surrounded by boutiques. Wealthy Parisians were doing what they knew to do best - shopping for clothes. The descendants of the brave young men and women who at various times in history kept soldiers and police at bay, and who paid with loss of life and liberty, were themselves now paying with cash and credit cards, no doubt mostly money they did not have at least at the time of some frivolous purchase.

There was much to discover by way of culturalisation.

Monet and the beauty of the change in light over a hay stack or lily pond as the sun crossed in the sky held its formidable and transfixing sway. Monet’s reputation had returned following a funk driven by the intellectualism of cubism and everything else which followed. Here he was in Paris very much back in the main game, supported by a rediscovery of the great beauty and serenity of his deeply personal commentary on light and his very accessible world of the immediate.

While great battles were being fought, in the case of the First World War just down the road, old myopic Monet thought about the cascades of light passing over his lily pond, trying to make out the fading outlines of water plants. There was great transfixing dignity or insanity in the image of the old man sketching his pond, as bullets flew down the street. Maybe, like Beethoven, he was deaf as well. Maybe nobody told him that there was a war in progress so as not to give fright and distraction. It was exceedingly beautiful to see Monet’s work in his locale, and in particular displayed by his son at the family’s own gallery – the Marmatton, a modest display of the family’s multi-trillion dollar collection. I wish my dad could paint. By seeing the work, in the form of the actual brushstrokes with their texture and sense of “the hand of the artist” which can never been properly reproduced in photographs, and taking in its serenity; one encountered the great humanity of something so heartfelt, losing oneself in those unstructured and outrageously pretty and trifling images.

We happened on the apartment of Victor Hugo in the Marais where the Jews of Paris quietly moved about, head down, trying not to draw too much attention to themselves. There was an unavoidable whiff of anti-semitism in the air, even if its source could not quite be pinned down.

At the time, I came upon a book which was out of print (at least in English) at Shakespeare’s bookshop on the Left Bank, Les Miserables, and thought it might make an excellent block-buster musical - young people singing about misery and dying in the battles of the Commune - but then how could it work? Not a hope. It was bound to fail. London would hate it. New York would be worse. Socialism was so out of favour. It would only attract hostility. Who could care less about the communards? Over a little espresso in a little bar, I ruminated with my companion about my idea – a musical based on Les Miserables with lots of good songs - but declared that it was a certain non-starter. Not a chance. You would blow all your money (and we did not have any as it was). A young French man overheard our conversation, and could be seen pencilling a note.

Ultimately and unavoidably, following many spilt croissant crumbs and the odd street crepe, there was a moment of deep crisis.

We were heading in different directions. We had university courses to complete, and careers and serious and important lives to pursue. Too much of beautiful Paris could not get in the way of our carefully planned and well-intended futures. After all, Paris was a figment of the mind’s eye. Melbourne – for me at least - was beckoning reality.

We said goodbye in the most romantic place to say farewell, at the bus station at Les Invalides, from where the bus departed to the airport, and from where the people of Paris said goodbye to the dead Napoleon.

We had resigned ourselves to never meeting again - tearful but somehow bearable. Romance and pragmatism - never easy partners.

And so life was to proceed, but for the intervention of the fallible and amazingly Gallic and unpredictable France Telecom.

My life’s story owes a debt to the failings of the French telephone service, and a little treachery and illegal conduct (only now confessed).

There was in Paris a holy grail, which many travellers to that great city sought out, but few, if any, were chosen to find - a public telephone from which calls could be made to any place in the world without paying (this was all well before mobile phones). Rumour had spread about the existence of such a telephone, if only it could be found amongst the thousands of public telephones scattered throughout the city – it was one phone amongst tens of thousands.

My beautiful girl found it. It worked in a special way, which was made possible only by the indifference of the French mind to spending time on the repair of things which did not work - which otherwise interfered with the enjoyment of the day (drinking Calvados and eating crusty croquet messieurs).

The caller would place coins in the telephone, dial the selected number (to anywhere in the world), the call would be answered (in some far off place - usually as far off as possible), and the coins would pass through the machine back into the caller’s hand. Every three minutes, it was necessary to repeat the exercise of placing coins in the machine, which would pass through the telephone device and back into the caller’s hand. It was a perfect invention for the impecunious traveller. Giving credit where credit was due, it could well have been a gesture of benevolence by the highly profitable French telco, and deliberate, rather than yet another instance of French incompetence or indifference. I apologise for any unkind remarks which I have made otherwise. All that was required was the careful positioning of the hand below the telephone to trap the coins as they fell out of the machine.

Once found, the secret of the location of the magical telephone was shared by only a special few, only those who could be trusted to withstand the cruel torture which would be inflicted by the investigating magistrate. Those in the know were subject to a special promise never to reveal the location of the telephone to the authorities, no matter how painful the consequences.

How she came to be informed of this extraordinary device is something never to have been revealed, and about which I was better off not knowing.

For all time, she respected the pact of the great society of illicit telephone callers, and kept the details of the location of the breathtaking device to herself. One of the special secrets of married life. These are the great secrets – the secrets that one lifelong partner keeps from another.

I have wondered what favour she gave in return for the news of the location of the free public telephone. I dared not take this subversive thought further, beyond the initial salacious wonder. It was too unbearably sensual.

The phone rang in the kitchen of my family’s Melbourne home.

This girl was calling from Paris. “But please,” I said. It was all so expensive. I appreciated the gesture, but we could not afford financial ruin in the vain and pointless hope of maintaining a relationship at such a distance.

“Don’t worry,” she intoned, in the ways of someone who knew with certainty that worry was not required.

I stopped worrying, and started talking.