Categories
Books Lost rivers Walking

Old walks on the New River

20 years ago I started a project that involved walking the buried rivers of London while high on extra strength lager. I chose this technique because in those days I was curious but also perhaps a bit lazy and wanted an instant hit of insight into the rhythms and invisible boundaries of the city. 
At the moment on our quick morning walks I’m revisiting some of the nearby routes I used to do back then – especially the Highbury back streets, the Brownswood area to the east of Green Lanes and the New River loop around Woodberry Down – noticing the rise and fall of the ground, the light, the sounds and the smells, the age of the buildings. Most days I haven’t even had a coffee before we set out.  Maybe I’m more relaxed than I used to be.

Categories
Memory Microseasons Walking

South Lane

It is late February, which in my beloved Japanese microseason calendar it’s called “mist starts to linger”. It’s not humid and warm in North Lincolnshire, so a yellerbelly version of that would be “wind and mist make love while drizzle watches”. The gargantuan fields of Lincolnshire are majestic in their brown-grey nothingness. I have always loved the bleakness of this view. When I lived here I had the front bedroom and would look over this same massive field (pre-enclosure it was called South Field) and it felt like never ending greyness and nothingness. No features. No activity. Then one night in summer the field would be full of machinery then nothing for the other 364 days.

South Lane was always the biggest ‘hill’ in a town on the edge of the great flat plain – as kids we’d ride our bikes down here and skid stop before we hit the main road. Market Rasen lived in a world of flatness, where you had a sense that everyone could see what you were doing because there were no hills to hide behind. The only feeling you would get of a deviation from this horizontal norm was in the western edge of the town. Walking along King Street, with its seen-better-days Georgian houses, you could feel a pull on your shins (or your calves – depending on which way you were walking) due to an imperceptible incline. But you had to be on your own, and slightly bored, to notice it.

It was just outside the town boundary, in a 200 yard zone before the start of the next village that we called No Man’s Land. South Lane is the old parish boundary between Market and Middle Rasen. The right angle bend would be following the enclosure of the huge South Field from 1772.

The hill had its own name – Mount Pleasant. To get there you turned off the B631. On the ubiquitous Google Maps its descried as ‘Green Lane’, ie. it’s a byway that’s in the countryside and too small to bother about. Or maybe when Google employees went to the area nobody would tell them what it was called. I hope it was this one. If you keep going along South Lane, after about half a mile it veers at 90 degrees to the west and continues for another half a mile to Mill Lane. (I lived in this neighbourhood for 12 years, but I never knew this until about ten years after I moved away. I think that was because Mount Pleasant somehow seemed so forbidding that we didn’t go too far.)

Strolling in this old rural scene I recall that back in the early 80s my friends and I found a black plastic bag full of old porn mags in the ditch at the bottom of South Lane. We took them back to Stavesy’s house just nearby and flicked through them, “reading the very interesting articles” as I said to my parents the next day after word had got out about our haul.

Categories
Nature Pub reviews Walking

A post-pub nature ramble

I’ve been to the pub. There are leaves everywhere. Autumn on three pints of beer is amazing.

The legendary wall on the other side of the road from the Sylvanian Family shop. We have a Sylvanian narrow boat with the rabbit family on it… plus some Airfix soldiers and some Happy Meal toys.

Hard to believe I used to work for Amateur Photographer…

It’s one in the morning and I’ve had some supper (left overs fry up) and have just written a song in my head about Trump and climate change – A, Am thingy, D7, D the other one… our out of tune piano is calling me but I’m a bit worried I might wake up the whole street once I get going on the ‘Hey Jude’ style “wanker” chorus. Maybe bed and a dream think is a better approach…

Categories
Walking

Time is Passing

It’s that time of year when the colours of the trees have passed into a dead brown and piles of leaves are no longer fun to walk through because they are too soggy. The weather is alternating between over-warm soft mugginess and bitter crispness. The general greyness is eased by the fact that at least one of our kids is still really excited about thoughts of Christmas and so invisible magic dust is breathed out into the air and stopping me becoming too morose at the passing of time. Our 11 year old’s general positivity and joy of life means that even though he had to have an operation a week ago and spent all week at home, he is busy creating art daily (usually Dalek based scenarios) and enjoying this quiet, introverted time of year.

At the weekend we went to Dublin to visit our daughter, who’s gone to university. Leaving London for a couple of days meant that my head somehow emptied of many of my small and large worries. When I saw her waiting for us at her halls of residence a kaleidoscope of images of her as a young child, playing in the park, and just generally hanging out with me as she grew up, came rushing through my head and then out into the clear morning sky. I could now enjoy seeing her steps into adulthood and independence. We walked all over the city, I bought two new books, saw the Book of Kells and, later in the day, my daughter bought me a pint for the first time.

Categories
Walking

I Am Not Going To Ride A Bike

Recently a friendly and generous neighbour gave us a bike. Or to be more precise he gave the bike to me so that I could give it to our 14-year-old son, who has been making do with a tiny BMX with a rusted seat. This new bike is full-size with narrow racing wheels and and he (our neighbour) has swapped it for “something more practical”.  I tentatively asked him how much he wanted for the bike, even though I didn’t really want a bike, but he said no it’s fine. No problem. This was five months ago. Our son has no intention of riding the bike. It is still under a large tarpaulin sheet in our front yard.

My wife suggested to me this could be my opportunity to start riding a bike again (she is a born-again cyclist so loves the idea of trying to convert me). I did spend my childhood cycling everywhere, never without my wheels. At university, too, I biked all over the place. But since coming to London I have learned to love walking, love the freedom it gives and the possibility of being spontaneous and changing direction going into bookshops, nipping into Italian cafes for lunch, jumping on a bus that you like the look of, popping into a museum. Or just sitting down with a book. Or deciding to get lost. Cyclists will tell me you can do all these things with a bike. But I’m not so sure. There’s something about cycling that is goal-based, with too much emphasis on “getting there”. I like to think it I live by this quote from Rebecca Solnit:

“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
Wanderlust: A History of Walking (Penguin USA)*

(Of course all this has nothing to do with the fact that  the last time I rode a bike regularly was in my early 20s, when I was doing over twenty miles a day cycling to work in the Norfolk countryside and something about my bodyshape meant my arse got really big and muscly and my trousers stopped fitting properly. Nothing at all.)

* Actually I don’t really live by that quote. It is a true and lovely quote, but I have my own quotes. The trouble is they’re in my head and hard to access – unlike  Solnit’s quote which I found on the internet at the amazing Brainpickings site.

Categories
Walking Weather

Walking in the Rain

A film version of one of the passages from my book A London Country Diary.

(Music by the Highbury Vale Electronic Music Studio)

See also Rain.

Categories
Walking Weather

Rain

It’s sheeting down with rain. I’m walking, at a decent clip, in the direction of Holloway Road, though, of course, I could go anywhere. There’s a slight sadness – I lost my really good waterproof jacket somewhere not that long ago. This new one hasn’t quite bedded in yet.

I like walking in the rain. I take it one step at a time – in the sense that I actually notice my steps. With the water stinging my face, it feels like a good day.

rain
Somehow the rain stops you thinking about the future. I am fully in the present and feeling alive as I pass the Greggs on Holloway Road then cross over near the closed-down insurance office. In the distance I can already see the lollipop lady at the end
of Liverpool Road.

The sound of the rain is calming, like white noise, blocking out the rumble of traffic and the chatter of things I have to do. As the rain gets heavier, I feel like I’m moving forwards – making the future come to me. And getting really wet thighs because this new waterproof is just a bit too short.

Categories
Walking

A City Walk

Had to go into the City on Monday – around Mansion House – and was reminded how beautiful the old streets can be. You have to look along the curve and twist of the lanes, squint, then try to ignore many of the most modern buildings and attempt to see the City as it once was. Some new projects seem to be trying to obliterate the past with agressive bombast, like the 1990s No.1 Poultry, which was ugly (but not even good modernistly ugly) to begin with and has not improved with age, its creator perhaps obsessed with Battenburg Cake due to a moment of Prousian recollection with his sketch pad.

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I worked in the City for brief periods in the late 80s, including a stints temping at Warburgs, the Financial Times, BP and a couple of others whose names I can't remember. As a computer input drone my mind was free to explore and after work I could drift anonymously around the alleyways and lanes, imagining, then sit in old pubs and try to guess which era particular people would look best in.

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I love the 60s/70s building at 30 Cannon Street. Although bursting with crazy 60s humour it gives a substantial nod to medieval architecture of the past in the way it seems to get bigger the higher it gets. There's something edible, biscuity and Italian about it. (for more info see http://www.mimoa.eu/projects/United%20Kingdom/London/30%20Cannon%20Street).

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The names of the streets around here are magnificent. Old Jewry. Ironmonger Lane. Poultry. Cheapside. Walbrook. Garlick Hill. They give you the sense of rapidly changing environment, something London can still offer in pockets. Old Jewry is now slabs of concrete, expanses of glass, but a vision of the past can be found in an old plaque embedded into the wall telling of the synagogue that stood until the late 13th Century around the time the Jews were expelled from England.

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And one suprising thing is the amount of small, old fashioned shops in this part of the city – tailors, cobblers, cafes, galleries, old restaurants, hats, umbrellas. Everywhere you look, fragments of the past are still woven into the fabric of the streets. Tiny churchyards. Old houses next to office blocks. Ancient coats of arms peeing out from the roof of a bank.

 

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Categories
Irish country diary Mystic stuff Nature Walking

Cheese sandwiches in the fairy fields

Coast1  A walk down to the
fairy fields at the end of the Cahermacrusheen boreen where we have a grand
picnic of cheese sandwiches and Tayto crisps and a flask of tea. The sea is
still and the Aran Isles look very close. Most of the land around North Doolin is
parched and the grass dry and brownish as if this was August rather than early
April. But here, on the way to the rocks at the edge of the Burren, the turf is
thick and wet like black gold and little patches of intense green burst out
from beneath the stones.

The kids do a cow
attracting dance that achieves its objective, expect these are bullocks not
cows. On the way back we see a thorn tree decorated with ribbons, materials,
toys, holy water and candles. Next to this is the dry stone wall part of which is
made up of massive horizontal stones, which I have a feeling had once been the lost
Cahermacrusheen dolmen.

Categories
Poetry Walking

Spring on the 19 Bus Route

An Upper Street Walk

Drinkers stand near the bus stop.

WiFi workers stare

Cherry blossom floats 

Through the air like soft pink snow

Near the council offices