Thanks everyone for your wellwishes. Feeling better now!

It is a little known fact that moths are not the only creatures to pose a hazard to our special clothes in storage.

The silverfish has to moult three times before it develops those striking little silver scales. It grows to be up to 25mm long and it can live to munch matter for eight years.

What is their dream breakfast?

Starch. And to you, that means glue, book bindings, plaster, paints, paper, photos, sugar, coffee, hair, carpet, dandruff and clothing.

There is a way to ensure these small land-dwelling fish never get to anything, though.

Mothballs. Small balls filled with pesticide and deodorant which will keep your wedding dress as pristine as the day you wore it, and that graduation hat fissure-free.

Mothballs preserve the very essence of time: those artefacts which are so significant that they must be preserved as pristine as they day they were worn. Mothballs, for the flagship garments of our lives, pause time.

Of course, should the owner choose to wear the garment, day in, day out, to preserve the moment: mothballs would be utterly redundant.

How bizarre an experience for a little one to see such a person, one who has worn the clothes of a landmark day for decades: and how typical of Charles Dickens to dream up the situation in the first place.

I only read Great Expectations once, as a school text, but the moment Pip first saw Miss Havisham has stayed with me, mothballed for posterity in my mind.

The very idea of a woman who, jilted on her wedding day, should simply choose to mothball the moment, to bury it in an old twilight house, never to be changed or altered: it beggars belief. But Dickens can write it as if it really happened.

In Great Expectations, Pip encounters a room in disarray, with half-packed trunks. The bride wears only one shoe: the other is sitting on the table near her hand. Such details of immediacy! as if the bride is about to finish, get up and sit in a carriage on the way to church.

But there is something terribly wrong.

“Everything within my view which ought to have been white,” relates Pip, “…had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes.”

He compares her to a ghastly waxwork; to a corpse exhumed from the ground. This is the most grotesque form of preservation: a mind which has attempted to mothball reality.

Unlike Pip, we are permitted the luxury of backing out, horrified, from the room, and high tailing it down to the London Underground.

Because down there, mothballing times past, there are ghost stations, silent and dust-covered, preserved caverns waiting for rediscovery.

For at its zenith, the London Underground had more than 20 stations more than they have today.

And what do you do with a station which falls out of use? Fill it back in?

No, the usual course of action is to leave it: use it as a storage space, perhaps. The posters of long ago remain on the walls, the trappings of a station from the thirties or earlier are scattered around for all to see.

And the trains of the Underground still rattle past.

The Ministry of Defence owns quite a number of these places. Underground caverns in London can be useful, and have been used in times of national crises.

The old station in Brompton Road was a command centre for Winston Churchill during the war. Rudolf Hess was brought there was de-briefing when he was captured. There’s a strategic air map of South London pasted there: and back up to the platform and on the wall is a white screen where films used to be shown for the occupants.

Now, it is hoped the station – and many of its sister caverns – will be re-opened to the public, after entrepreneur Ajit Chambers began talks with the Ministry of Defence and Transport for London to mount a brand new tourist attraction.

If the plans are successful, then for a fee you will be able to dine in a roof garden restaurant, visit the main station tourist attraction, or do a little light inner city abseiling on climbing walls in the deep shafts.

When one sees something after it has been mothballed for so long, like Miss Havisham: it can cause a sharp intake of breath.

And I have a feeling this old station, when it finally opens its doors, will be no exception.

Take a look at the latest BBC London Report here


46 thoughts on “Mothballs

  1. Glad you’re feeling better, Kate. 🙂 The station idea sounds like an interesting one (although before I’d finished reading I must admit that I had started to imagine all sorts of wacky transformations for it!). I’ve wanted to read Great Expectations for ages, but now I want to read it even more!

      1. Ooh,I’ve read Tale Of Two Cities. I think that is brilliant! Such a window to history! I love how he managed to convey such very different cultures.

      2. If one has read Dickens from a young age, it doesn’t seem at all stylised. In fact, one finds that modern authors seem unduly abbreviated by comparison.

  2. That would be a must-visit for me, actually Kate.

    They could re-create the wartime atmosphere of the command centre with an animatronic Churchill presiding. I’d pay to go into a room and de-brief an animatronic Rudolf Hess 🙂

  3. Glad you are back to the old Kate again.
    Really interesting post, could make a great tourist attraction. It reminds me of a memorable visit made in Istanbul to the great Byzantine water cisterns under the city, built by Justinian 1 in the 6th century.

  4. what odd creatures we humans are. something is boring, no longer of use, so we mothball it. then the years pass and suddenly it has a new interest, a new glamour

    1. It is just the same when we find an old box of things we stored long ago, isn’t it, Sidey? Memories just tumble out. We used to stash some of Felix and Mad’s toys for a six month period: it was as if they were new when they came out again, they got so much play….

  5. I still remember that pungent smell which used to permeate stored clothing. There are also versions of Miss Haversham I have come across with mothballed rooms in memory of a loved one, or just frozen into trying to preserve a lifestyle of the past.
    I should have been able to visit those Underground areas to add authenticity to my Express Worms which provide fast transport in the Goblin City of Forest Circle!
    Your understudy should give the telly a rest and come in with another play, by the way!

    1. I keep trying to get him to start a blog, Col: but he writes all day and by the time he arrives back from the City he doesn’t want to look at another screen. We learnt our craft together on a local newspaper many moons ago and it’s a treat to watch him write for pleasure once again 🙂 But HMS Victory calls! One must get one’s priorities right!

  6. They really look like dinosaur age insect monsters and would make great sci-fi flick. I was astonished to learn they can live so long. Even the resilient roach lives only 30 days. Plaster worms are cool critters to watch. Hey, in Miami, bugs everywhere. Many are registered to vote in some parts of the county. Or so it seems when 10,000 votes come out of a district with 8,000 voters. Si, es la verdad.

  7. Everything old is new again! 🙂

    I love this thought, however. There is much wisdom in finding creative use for existing infrastructures, closed schools, defunct shopping centers, etc. Sad that more folks don’t practice that thinking, rather than tearing down, building new, paving over….

    As always, loved your joinery; tying together mothballs, Dickens and the Underground. Glad you’re feeling better.

  8. How interesting, Kate. I would love to see such an attraction. That picture of the tube in wartime haunts me, but, it should. War is horror. The resiliency of the British people is something I’ve long admired. Mothballs. That’s another story. I use it in the garden to scare away little critters.

    Good to see you back in the saddle, Kate.

    1. Nice to be back, Penny 🙂 It is a sobering picture: we are accustomed to them here. Life was hard there, for a while. But because of the sacrifices made then, it’s glorious to live here these days.

  9. Dear Kate,
    I’m glad the migraine has fled and left you whole and ready to post again. (I must say, however, that your husband is a fine and dandy stand-in.)

    Now about today’s photograph. Is it showing “the tube” during World War II as “lifeonthecutoff” asks? Back in 2000, I read “Backs to the Wall: The Heroic Story of the People of London During World War II” by Leonard Mosley. The resilience of Londoners amazed me when I read this book. It sits here on my desk now, as I write this, reminding me that out of dark days can come a toughness that defies the odds and ultimately triumphs.

    If I had the opportunity to visit England, the proposed tourist attraction of tube stations would draw me to them like bumble bees to oozing honey.


    1. Yes, it’s the London Underground, Dee: there are many such pictures because many stations were used as air raid shelters during the war. If you’re really interested, try; I’m not sure if it will play abroad but its a tour of a derelict underground station, where the bunk brackets for the sleeping arrangements of Londoners who hid from the bombs are still fixed to the wall. I do hope it works for you! Off to YouTube to see if I can find anything else.

      1. Dear Kate,
        Thanks so much for giving me that website. I viewed it with great interest. Having visited London only twice, I never realized that some stations closed down. I was fascinated to learn that the trains still travel those tracks but that no one can get on or off at certain stations, like the one in the website–St. Mary’s.


      2. Oh, I’m so glad it played for you, Dee! There is a whole host of ‘lore’ surrounding the old stations. I’m planning a trip around to try and spot a few of them while in a tube train….

  10. Hi Kate, a colleague told me that there is one on the Northern line too – I think its between Camden Town and Colinsdale but can’t remember exactly where. It will be amazing to see these stations – abseiling sounds a fantastic idea 🙂

  11. You carried the mothballed scent of my Aunt Ruth’s basement to the forefront of my senses with this post. And, you made me want to visit this mothballed underground station. 🙂

    If you haven’t read the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, you must put it on your list. Miss Havisham is a recurring character in the series, along with a passel of other characters from classic literature.

  12. Glad that the migraine is dimming with time. Glad you’re enjoying a Tale of Two Cities. I’ve read it through a time or two. Wonderful.

    Great Expectations might be my least favorite Dickens’ work. It’s peculiar.

    1. It is very odd. It’s quite Kentish: one of these days you must stop off on the way to Scotland and see Kent. Dickens’ kitsch little house sits in Rochester. Great Expectations makes sense to me in the context of the strangenesses of the county.

    1. I’m not ignoring your “point”. Although your photo calms my claustrophobia, I have a tough time imagining being in a tunnel under London. And I can hardly even think of the Chunnel! Mind you, conditions dictate!

      1. Horses for courses, Amy 😀 Please feel free to take what’s useful from these posts and leave what doesn’t suit – as Tilly, the Laughing Housewife, does, when I write any posts about insects, a phobia of hers….

        just nice to see you, as always.

  13. Kate, happy you are better. Phil did make a wonderful stand-in though. The tunnels would be a definite attraction for me were I ever to visit England. It sounds like a great idea. And now you make me want to read ‘Great Expectations’ again. Or some Dickens.

  14. I’m really curious…were the stations closed because of disrepair, or simply at one point deemed unnecessary? In California all the Red Cars (public transportation-light rail) were completely eliminated in favor of “the rubber tire”–great controversies still swarm about the decision. Forty years later, at huge expense, there is an attempt to bring public transportation back. Had the trains and rail simply been mothballed, I suppose there could be resurrection, but instead, the projects have to be instituted, at enormous cost, from the ground up. There is a lot to learn by reading Dickens, but you make the best applications, Kate! Debra

    1. A variety of reasons for closure, Debra – usually to do with not enough patronage. For example, Aldwych was built as a terminus at the end of its very own tunnel, a short stretch running on the Picadilly Line from Holborn. The tunnel between Holborn and Aldwych has been reputedly used to store items from the British Museum – including the Elgin Marbles. It was getting only 450 passangers a day just before its closure, and losing London Transport £150,000 a year, even operating a peak hours only service. It closed in 1994

  15. Glad you are feeling better – I had no idea silver fish lived for that long (assumed most insects have very short lives – like days and months, rather than years). Underground tunnels are fascinating – some cities have lots of homeless people living in those types of places, apparently.

  16. Silverfish and Miss Havisham both give me the creeps! I, too, only read Great Expectations once, but have been thinking of returning and going right through the Dickens canon as I embark on research of the Victorian era. Writing of his own time, he is really a great source of information (as are Wilkie Collins and Trollope). They make a nice break from my pile of more scholarly books, some of which are a bit dry.

    1. Oooh, researching Victoriana? Don’t forget Diary of a Nobody! It’s the best piece of everyday Victorian writing I’ve read….shows you what Mr Average was doing back then. And really, it’s much the same things….

  17. Well, you learn something new every day, I had no idea those actually quite pretty little buggies were so destructive!
    As for the underground, I have a fascination and dread of dark underground spaces in equal measure… the idea of exploring a place that no-one has been to for ages, BUT also watch far too many horror films and thus would constantly be jumping at every little noise!

  18. So glad to discover that you’re all better, Kate! This is quite a fascinating concept regarding the underground, which brings to mind the biggest rat I’ve ever seen, on my very first venture there…hopefully there won’t be too many mothballed ones 🙂 As for Great Expectations, I remember finding that scene really creepy!

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