The Romford Ringroad

LX can often be found hanging out on the Underworld forums.

One of the recent topics there is (understandably) Oblivion with Bells, the new album by Romford's finest, which includes a track called "Ring Road", in which Karl Hyde recounts his experiences walking round a town. This town which is never actually named, but can reasonably be assumed to be Romford, given that the band have a close connection to Romford - even going so far as to include a page of photographs taken around the town in their tour programme, captioned with almost PetShopBoysian irony "Romford Mon Amour".

When LX mentioned on the forum that he knew the town well, as he lives in a sleepy suburb of Romford, someone replied that they would like to see what Romford was actually like... which is why sometime around a month later, LX set about recreating Karl's walk, clutching his shiny new iPhone and firing off photos along the way.

Underworld are famous for not writing down their lyrics, but forum member BrotherLovesDub took the time to transcribe them for the forums. Armed with this transcription, LX set out to see if he could track down the locations mentioned in the song...

One of the signs found on the journey was a large map, provided as a service by the caring sharing people at Havering Brough Council, which helpfully highlights the ring road.

To put this in context, here's the big picture showing all the suburbs. LX lives near Gallows Corner, which is actually one of the nicer parts of town.

LX's journey begins at The Mall on Mercury Gardens, which, despite it's singular name is just one of many shopping Malls that make up the Romford Town Centre.

Already, here's a lyrical reference:

...I see the suits sunning themselves on the steps
of the supermarket
...

...well, unlike the song's sorching heat, it's a cold day, but we've certainly got steps outside the ASDA supermarket and even someone in a reasonable approximation of a suit demonstrating how one might sun themselves in this very location. An auspicious start. LX begins to wonder how much artistic licence has been taken with the locations in the song. Will the song turn out to be entirely factual or not?

LX set off round the town, following the RIngroad clockwise

Over the road from the mall, we see our first multi-story carpark, the Liberty.

It's a busy shopping day, so the Liberty is full. Luckily Romford has a wide assortment of multi-story carparks. Here we see one of the helpful illuminated carpark signs, and in the background, our first roundabout.

The sun glints off the wire mesh that stops you jumping off the carpark's upper levels. I love this city, low grade buildings, architecture for the blind... but that's a different song. Moving on...

Past the roundabout, nondescript office buildings, we are about to pass under the railway for the first time...

...and here we are under the railway, where later on the midnight train to Romford will pass by on it's long drunken trip to Southend on Sea... but again I'm switching songs.

The council seem obsessed with benches. This one is cleverly situated to give a view of the gloom under the railway bridge, and seem to never have been used for any purpose other than litter receptacle.

It's not all bad, it's a sunny day, the traffic isn't yet too heavy.

Local artists Slye, Skin-vert Jake, Rehon, Crbp (possibly), Ywn (I think?), Abuse and Sicko have done their bit for the environment.

The ring road itself is a fairly new addition to the town, scything it's way through suburban streets, turning terraces into semis.

Our next roundabout. The big building in the middle is the HQ of Universal Music (formerly Polydor).

A load of bollards.

Our first glimpse of The Brewery, one of the contenders for 'top mall', having lured Sainsburys away from The Mall (which used to be Liberty 2), which has fallen out of favour in recent years.

At the next roundabout, we catch our first glimpse of our glorious new hospital, with it's famously impractical and confusing cloverleaf layout. If we were to head left, we'd go towards the ice-rink, where Karl's favourite team play... or possibly played, it looks rather derelict these days.

Beneath the roundabout is an oasis of calm.

Squalid calm, admittedly, but calm none the less.

Here, LX deviates from the ringroad, heading up Oldchurch Road to take in a site of special interest to Underworld fans. The new Hospital's smokestack gleams in the bright sunlight.

...at the table in the cafe
offering homemade dinners
it's good food
but your clothes come out smelling of grease
...

Maybe not this particular cafe, but probably one just like it.

Past the old hospital site...

...to the gas station, and our site of special Underworldian interest:

Can you tell what it is yet?

Ok, I'll spell it out...

Having seen the sign and suitably cropped it, it's time for LX to turn back to the ringroad...

...past the Architects who didn't build the top floor the right size to fit the bottom...

...in a place where ball games are strictly forbidden
luxury 2-bedroomed apartments
overlook the traffic lights
next to the rails
...

Again, this might not be the exact place, but it gives you the flavour of the town.

Not just ballgames are forbidden.

Under the ringroad again

Doubling back towards the railway again.

More new 2-bedroom apartments.

A view of a train. This one fits the line 'Everything's going East, Nothing's going West' from an earlier Underworld album, but for Ring Road, we actually need:

...sit back and watch it all slide by
it's a view from a train
pay somebody else to drive
...

Luckily, LX had to go to London a few days ago, and snapped the necessary views from a train:

Those nondescrpit office buildings again.

Into Romford Station...

...and out again over this bridge

....I got my back to the rail at the end of the alley...

It's a grim sight. But once you are through it:

Behold! The corrugated majesty of The Brewery!

It's got balls...

...and facilities for youth culture.

mmm, futuristic... and yet strangely still corrugated.

Once the chimney of an actual Brewery, this is one of Romford's very few listed buildings, meaning it has special architectural interest, and is to be preserved for all eternity, despite being a terrible eyesore. Now, it proudly proclaims the location of the Brewery that isn't a brewery anymore, and can be seen from miles around. To get into the Brewery's multi-story car park, you have to navigate a spiral ramp that loops round the chimney. Cute if you are an architect, but as the multi-coloured paint scrapes all the way up it attest, shit if you drive anything bigger than a golf.

Of course, in Romford, you don't drive a golf, you drive a Dagenham Dustbin from Allen Ford, or if you can afford it, a Mercedes Benz from the dealer over the road. These two institutions represent the more honest end of the Romford Road, mentioned in the BBC's Top Gear as the street with more used car dealers than any other. The further up the road you go, the worse the cars. After you've passed the Dog Track (where once Pearl's Girl raced), you enter a shady world of clocking and ringing. Let's stick to the ringroad and press on...

Oh, look! A Roundabout!

For those people unsure why the ex-brewery is called The Brewery, the developers have helpfully built a large fake brewing vat at the carpark entrance. Thanks, I'd never have worked it out without that.

We are heading into the Churchy zone. The white building is the rather delapidated Secrets night club. Back when the Dirtyforum was the Dirtylist, the first Darren mentioned that Secrets tried to book Underworld to play a gig.

Another church.

Rest in Peace, Amy Oteng.

...blacktop and cracks...

The sports superstore didn't last long, and neither did PetWorld who were here before. LX thinks the Bootsale stands a better chance.

(insert witty caption to roundabout photo here)

The carwash is, apparently, open now.

...except, it's not. LX can't do hands either.

Well, you wouldn't pay much for it, would you?

The view along North Street.

Sounds Familiar used to be a goldmine of secondhand vinyl.

The Music shop.

Yamaha wisely advises the citizens of Romford to unleash their musical creativity. LX wisely advises his readers to shop elsewhere.

Rather a low-budget church, this one.

Luxury 2-bed apartments, anyone?

More building work. Now three quarters of the way round the ringroad, LX is feeling significantly less inspired than he expected. No lyrical references to report.

Buses, queues, building work.

Then, suddenly...

...I found a new door
I didn't know where it went
...

...

...I went through
I came out in this shopping mall
...

A perfect and genuinely unexpected match to the lyrics! This mall wasn't there last time LX visited, and was barely finished now, and it's pointlessness and cheerless christmas decorations certainly deserve the venom Karl gives to that line.

LX really did find a new door, didn't know where it went, and came out into a shopping mall! No sign of boys in England shirts, but this is a) a bloody cold day b) a school day and c) the day after England sacked it's manager following a humiliating defeat. Inspired, he returns to the ringroad insearch of more lyrical references.

Of course, if he'd been walking the other way round the ringroad he'd have known where the door went, thanks to dozens of signs like this one.

doubling back to finish off the ringroad loop, LX passes the grand municipal Library, where once his artwork was displayed in a sixth-form exhibition... mostly sculpture, thanks to the aforemetioned inability to do hands.

The last roundabout, where the path ends. A diversion leads to the right into the marketplace.

Founded as a sheep market in 1247, under the Royal Charter of the Liberty of Havering, granted by King Henry III, no other market is permitted to set up within a day's sheep drive (six and two-thirds miles) of Romford, assuming that bit of Wikipedia hasn't been vandalised.

The final countdown indeed, the circumnavigation of Romford is nearly complete, as we pass more luxury 2-bed apartments, this time built on the site of the ill-fated Dolphin Centre, a swimming pool and leisure complex built at great expense by the local council with a louvre-predating glass pyramid roof. Of orange glass. That couldn't be cleaned. And which fell into the pool.

Back round to the Mall once more. Time for reflection on the lyrics... arguably, LX has seen:

...all the old people smile
the young people look hungry
...

but other more specific sights remain unseen in the heart of the town. TIme to turn away from the ringroad and dive into the heart of Romford.

LX skips the

...abandoned trolley...

and

...a drunk stands in the door of a pub...

because they are so commonplace the brain fails to register them, but he has a destination in mind...

...there's a broken glass thing under my feet...

...looking for a new door...

...it's a rush job
it looks good for long enough
it's the short-term
the long-term can look after itself
unless you happen to be living here
...

Then suddenly, LX is in the warm, recently roofed and pseudo-marble-floored hustle and bustle of The Liberty. Suitably refreshed, it regains it's place as Romford's numero uno mall, having thrown off the stigma of it's ill concieved Liberty 2 annexe...

The shopper's holy grail. A promised land of sparkly trinkets to gladden any heart, complete and perfect in every way.

Well, maybe not yet complete in every way.

...and the boys from dagenham wear jackets
called harlem
...

Well, LX assumes they are from Dagenham. He didn't feel like asking, to be honest. But our lyrical destination beccons...

grinning at the door of the
Ann Summers sex shop
it's St. Georges day

Well, actually, it's not St. Georges day. It's not even (as planned) thanksgiving, work commitments meant it's actually the day after, but the principle's the same, right?

This was going to be the end of the journey, but LX was spurred on by his luck with the new door earlier. He vowed to search on, in hope of finding

...the back of the shops
where the purple wheelie bins are pushed against the doors that say
fire exit
...

...the suits...

...black and yellow tape covers the scene, of a break in...

It's not yellow, but it's close.


..it's been
tagged and fly posted
...

Suddenly...Wheely bins! Fire exits!

Not purple... but it's close.

LX didn't actually

...see a wall
i know it's gonna fall down
maybe hurt somebody...

Maybe it already did? As for

...West Ham shirts and Arsenal shirts...

West Ham and Arsenal beach towels are good enough. But what of

...the boys stop for a smoke in the sun
and watch girls cross from the job centre
to the station...

Here's the station...

...but where's the Job Centre?

Well, here's where it all falls down. The Job Centre is about a mile away, up Main Road. No girls cross from the job centre to the station here. Maybe Karl was talking about another faceless local town... or maybe the line just worked better that way.

... i've got to stop.