Midsummer Ramble

You’ve got to love Hackney. When I followed my nose east from Leyton across the border I have to be honest that finding the ‘Code of Life’ wasn’t on my agenda so it was quite a bonus to make such a discovery on Balls Pond Road.

As was finding Sutton House open after 8pm, for a concert. I mingled with the punters and took a look round this rare treasure built in 1535 then sloped back out into the Hackney evening.

The reminder that this was once the grand White Lion tavern, as big as the more famous Angel. Both are gone – this is a branch of HSBC. I sup a pint in the Weatherspoon’s where the Angel was.

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Twilight wander through the Olympic Park

I still don’t understand the Westfield-Olympic Park retail gulag – just can’t process what it is. This sign and the plans for the new ‘east village london E20′ is making my cognitive dissonance even worse – should I be excited by the emergence of a whole new area of London rising out of the marshes just down the road? But why do feel a combination of fear, horror and anger.

I got drawn along the inspiring and imaginatively named Westfield Avenue towards the expansion of this miniature Singapore.

The new mega-ghetto is this high-rise block of student apartments. Clearly the student rental market is a more lucrative investment than when I moved to a terraced house just off the Romford Road in Stratford at the end of the 80’s when landlords were actively discouraging student tenants.

The cynical suspicion that ‘east village E20′ is being set up as a privately-controlled outpost of transient, well-off, passive consumers with MBAs rather than ASBOs is offset by this glorious view north across the top of the Velodrome to a dark smudge of distant hills.

Although there is a steady trickle of traffic, the fact the footpath is fenced off starts to make me feel as if the way isn’t formally open to pedestrians. This makes me even more determined to push on towards Hackney Marshes.

Soon there are not even bollards to separate me from the 4x4s who seem to be enjoying the smoothness of the newly laid tarmac a bit too much for comfort. A voice with a strong African accent calls out, ‘Excuse you can’t walk here’. It is a female security guard in her hut. ‘You need to go back the other way – I am worried for your welfare’. I take her careful advice. Beyond the hut there was not even a kerb to tightrope walk along, and the light was all but gone.

The park looks far from finished, and I shared a joke with the security guard that the the summer opening may take place in November but that they’ll call it ‘late summer’ somehow, like calling the new suburb ‘east village’. Whatever they call it, and whatever they build – the once mighty River Lea couldn’t care less, it’s just waiting for a chance to reclaim the marshes.

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Strange light in the skies over Leytonstone (seen from Ilford)

Yesterday I decided to tackle the video footage accumulated on the 10 walks I did for my book, This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city (published in September by HarperCollins).
I laid all four hours of rushes down on a timeline. The very last clip was shot by my wife through the front window of a number 145 bus as we trundled down Eastern Avenue from Ilford approaching Redbridge Roundabout. I hadn’t looked at this clip before as it was after the last walk had ended and we were making our way home – a part of the journey not included in the book.

As Final Cut rendered the footage (it was a different frame rate to the rest of the timeline) it played the clip back much slower than real-time and I noticed a strange light in the corner of the frame near the end of the clip. Assuming it was a reflection in the window I went back through the clip – there was no reflection in the glass. I went through the clip frame by frame till I was convinced that it was indeed a fast moving light across the skyline at sunset. But what was it?

I posted it on Youtube & Twitter yesterday and comments seem to suggest it’s either a shooting star, a meteorite or perhaps space debris. Nobody seems to think it’s a UFO sadly. I’d been to the three places you’re most likely to get abducted by aliens in London – Woolwich, Clapham Common, and Walthamstow – and not seen a single ET or funny light in the sky. Were a group of narcissistic Greys trying to get a mention on the final page? Probably not. But the plausible explanations are cosmic enough for me.
I like the idea that the end of my year-long journey exploring some of the regions of ‘overlooked’ London was marked by a shooting star in the skies over Leytonstone.

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