A Walk in Victoria Park with Travis Elborough

It was the hottest day of the year (so far) when I joined author Travis Elborough for a stroll around the eastern half of Victoria Park in Hackney to talk about his book A Walk in the Park. The heat caused dogs to wallow in the Burdett-Coutts drinking fountain like furry urban hippos.

Travis is a wealth of information and the walk drew not just on the fascinating history of Victoria Park – London’s first purpose-built public park – but on the broader history of what Travis refers to as a “people’s institution”.

a walk in the park elborough

We visited the monkey puzzle tree which links back to Victorian plant hunting expeditions to South America, and the corner of the park once known as Botany Bay – apparently as it was the hideout of criminals. We dropped for a chat at the Bowling Club and baked in the English Garden and had to resist the temptation to jump into the Model Boating Lake.

Listening to Travis explain how modern parks had evolved from the fenced hunting enclosures of Norman barons to the public spaces of today – now under threat from government cuts – it seemed apt that our chat took place in the shadow of the large green fenced area of the park reserved for a series of musical festivals.

I can’t recommend this book strongly enough – a fascinating stroll through the cultural history of these beloved open spaces that we all too often take for granted.

New notebook

Notebook

Cracked open a new notebook in Mayesbrook Park on Friday – always a great moment, peeling back the cellophane, cracking open the spine, scrawling name and address + reward if found on the facing blank page. I’m trying to move on from uniform black Moleskine/Ryman pocket books so picked up this orange number in Book Warehouse on Southampton Row (I uncharacteristically dispensed with the manufacturer info in the park bin) but only once peeled did it reveal a sparkly gleam to the cover and an unsettling textured finish. It started to bother me as I took it out of my bag to make notes on the hoof. This wasn’t good – when trying to distill the essence of an experience of place or the overheard conversations in a Wetherspoons toilet cubicle I don’t need to be distracted by the sound of my fingers vinyl scratching across the cover of my pocket book. It needed masking. I ransacked the leaning tower of product boxes in my work cell till I came up with this combination – the final touch applied in the Red Lion, sealed with a libation of Butcombe’s Haka Bitter. It will also be a constant reminder for the next 3 months to find a use for the footage that I sent off to be processed at Super 8 Reversal Lab.

The death of a Naturalist

Last night I was enjoying a read of a 1948 edition of The London Naturalist and was particularly impressed by a detailed survey of the regrowth of bombed areas of Epping Forest.

I then flicked onto the next page, which just happened to be the obituaries. My night time calm full of thoughts of Holcus mollis and Argrostis tenuis was destroyed when I read:

‘The tragic death of Percy J. Hanson at the hands of burglars at his place of business deprives our Society of another of the dwindling number of members of the old “North London” period.’

So tonight I might target my reading more precisely.

Iain Sinclair – London Overground + Black Apples of Gower interview

I’m looking for somewhere to set up my camera near Hoxton Station, I could also do with a second coffee. Do I gamble that Iain Sinclair will not turn up early or do I delay that additional caffeine hit. I gamble and as I return to the station 5 minutes before our rendezvous time there he is.

We find a bench that allows me to have the station sign in frame. I go to reference my two pages of typed notes, carefully assembled from a binge back-to-back reading of London Overground and Black Apples of Gower but an easterly gust of wind hoists them into the sky and over the high wall into the garden of the Geffrye Museum. Iain laughs. Don’t worry I assure him, the impressions of both books are firmly stamped on my mind, I probably had too many questions anyway – we’d freewheel it, follow the drift of conversation.

Iain Sinclair London Overground

When the wide-ranging chat was done Iain wanted to walk along to Haggerston Baths, a much-loved local resource awaiting the next developer. He was also keen to show me the railway arch mentioned in the book, ‘a good symbol of what swims through these caverns beneath the railway, multi-coloured fish quotations, three or four thousand quid a pop instead of a plate of jellied eels. You can go from your flat, dump your bicycle, have a good work-out, get an appetite, make yourself a better person with some artisan bread, which brings you neatly to Haggerston Station.’

Iain Sinclair John Rogers