I don't normally travel home via Stratford station, but I did yesterday (hi Mum, I've pre-bought my train ticket, I'll see you later). The Central line platforms were the usual mass of scurrying humanity, the subway was a typically frenetic scrum, and the queues at the ticket barriers were as nightmarish as ever. Up on the DLR/Jubilee overbridge, however, I managed to time my arrival for one of the quieter interludes between outpouring trains. And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the station's upper concourse has been transformed, for a few months only, into a very local museum.
The Stratford Hoard is a series of collections of ordinary objects, such as picture postcards or milk bottles, each contributed by somebody who works at the station or lives nearby. The objects are presented with due reverence in museum-quality cases, elevating what could be a mundane assortment of items to a position of perceived importance. Imagine if you will the highlights of Elizabeth Parker's collection of sugar sachets, pinned out across four separate display cases like an array of mounted butterflies. Or Kacey Young's collection of souvenir teaspoons, comprising ornate silvery-plated treasures from various locations around the world. Or the scarily-oversaturated world of Martin Kingdom's picture postcard graphic wall, reliving the long-gone era when holiday messages took even longer to travel home that you did.
Or teapots. Susan Langford collects tiny red-spouted Manorware teapots inscribed with the names of British tourist towns. They're usually kept at home and brushed occasionally with a duster, but for the next few weeks they're in pride of place in a glass cabinet beside the entrance to the DLR platforms, just behind a row of late 20th century printed milk bottles. It's a great idea, this exhibition, celebrating the way that ordinary people celebrate the ordinary by collecting it.
I'm almost sorry not to have contacted the curator myself and offered him the loan of my collection of early-1980s chocolate biscuit wrappers. I'm sure the good people of Stratford would have enjoyed remembering what a shiny-coated blue Penguin looked like, and ogling a pristine Trio, and gawping at a pair of long-gone Uniteds (original and orange). Ah yes, sssh, there's a collector in many of us.
As part of the project's official launch yesterday, an additional freesheet newspaper was being handed out to passing commuters. This was Issue 1 of The Stratford Grapevine, an arts-sponsored community newspaper 'by and about the people of Stratford'. Yes, I know, it sounds awfully worthy and dull, but the reality is far better than that. Pride of place is given to a series of articles about the Newham Striders, a well-established healthy walking group, who recommend a few non-standard strolls around the local area. There are reports about the West Ham Allotment Society (Nina recommends them too), the imminent retirement of Stratford's favourite independent tailor and the disappearance of Robert the steam engine. Throw in a Forest Gate Punjabi radio station, a Gerard Manley Hopkins plaque (in a supermarket car park) and a competition to try to find the perfect match for Olympic Fence Blue, and you have a surprisingly interesting package. Issue 2 is due out in September, and Issue 3 in November.
As another DLR train arrived and disgorged its Docklands cargo, I stood back to let the Essex hordes storm through. It was reassuring to see many of them accepting a Grapevine in preference to a London Lite (I know which I'd pick, given the choice), and then sitting reading about E15 rather than W1 on the train journey home. The 20-page tabloid can still be picked up from Stratford station for the next few weeks, or else you can download the pdf and read it at home. But for the sugar sachets and teaspoons you'll have to turn up in person.