Walking along Norlington Road I catch a snippet of conversation from the two boys walking in front. They’re aged about 12-14 years old, and the vibe I get is that one of the boys is new to the area, the other has an authoritative tone like he really knows what he’s talking about.
“If you go Hackney don’t tell them where you’re from. If they ask where you’re from say E5 or something.”
The one wearing glasses doesn’t seem to take this in, so the other one has to spell it out for him.
“If you go Hackney right, and they ask you ‘what end you from?’, and you say Leyton, they’ll stab you.”
He delivered this chilling bit of local info as casually as telling him which bus to take to get to Mare Street.
It might be that he was putting the wind up a newly arrived country bumpkin in the way that Aussies used to scare me with tales of Brown snakes in the lavvie when I lived in Sydney. But then one day I did come across a Brown snake outside my front door.
It’s difficult to comprehend how merely giving the wrong postcode could get you killed and how it is an accepted part of the world that kids inhabit.

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sunset walk

Set off with no aim other than to head in the general direction of Baker’s Arms – by the most indirect route practical.
Avebury Road always has a certain appeal, the romance of it and only this evening did I spot the compatibility of its conjunction with Southwest Road.
Further up off Bulwer I again clock Hawbridge Road and I play amateur etymology conjoining the prefix ‘Haw’ = the fruit of the sacred Hawthorne with ‘Bridge’ to suppose that this was a bridge over the Fillebrooke (PhillyBrook/ Phepes Broke). A rummage in W.H. Weston’s History of Leyton and Leytonstone shows a hand-drawn C18th map with the stream running southwest (road?) from Whipps Cross to Ruckholt – a course that would cut through Bulwer. This could have been the Haw Bridge. Another piece of pagan symmetry arising from the Fillebrook is where it once ran through or beside Coronation Gardens in Leyton is today a maze – a pagan symbol of springs and places of worship.

View Larger Map
google map showing the possible course of the Phillybrook – a windmill was recorded as sitting on the banks of the stream where the corner of Francis and Newport Roads is today

I pick up a track off Bulwer Road that runs between backs of houses. There are lock up garages for rent and fly-tipping so elaborate that it borders on installation art – Jeremy Deller recreating a liminal space as a site-specific piece.
The sunset breaks orange over the Lea. A large crow squawks. There’s a tyre in a shopping trolley waiting patiently outside a phonebox in front of an electricity substation.

Around the corner in Forest Road there is an absolutely majestic example of the architecture of the electricity substation. These things are like temples to the industrial age. Somebody please do a photographic project on them.

slideshow of photos from the walk

In West End Avenue (where the Fillybrooke was last seen above ground) you can see the back of a large abandoned wing of Whipps Cross Hospital with a noughts and crosses pattern of smashed windows.
It is bitingly cold and I’m a bit peckish but I push on over Lea Bridge Road and along the beguiling Shernhall Road with its amazing views across the Roding Valley and the Lord Raglan pub that encouragingly allows no caps nor hoods. I turn back at the end and head down Addison Road which delivers me to the warmth of The Village pub in time to catch the football results come rolling in.

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Walk to the West End – redux

Sat in The Heathcote last night reading David Boote’s excellent series of leaflets on the Leyton Loop made me think about the walk that I did through Leyton to the West End via Kings Cross in June 2007. I posted a blog about it at the time.
Enthused, I came home from the pub, dug out the miniDV tape and quickly edited together this vid. It’s always difficult to capture the experience of walking in any form – literature seems to have managed it best. Here I tried to film as instinctively as possible as if scribbling in a notebook.
The Heathcote btw was shut tonight due to a gas leak – was it something I did? Not quite sure what I’ll do if it stays shut for a while. Maybe get round to writing up some notes I’ve got on walking that I’d like to share.

Common Land in Leyton


I ventured down to Marsh Lane Fields, to the Lammas Lands – open, free, unfenced common land from the time of the earliest 6th Century Saxon settlement of the ‘Tun by the Lea’ – Leyton.
“Outside the tun lay the land of the settlement, some of it plough land or arable, some grass land or pasture. This land was not broken up into fields by hedges but formed a great open expanse. Moreover, none of it belonged to any one person in particular. The pasture land in the same way was the property not of one but all. A part of it was fenced off until the hay harvest was over to prevent stray cattle from damaging the growing grass. But when the hay had been gathered the fences were removed and the land was left open to the flocks and herds of the villagers.”
– The Story of Leyton and Leytonstone, W.H. Weston

This of course means nought to the London Development Agency (or is it the Orwellian sounding ODA) who have now fenced off one end of the ancient Lammas Land and driven a road across it – colonising it more effectively than the marauding Danes who harried this area in the 9th Century. It’s a depressing sight, this green metal enclosure where allotment holders grow their veg in what appears as a horticultural penitentiary. We will claim it back eventually I imagine – when the running and jumping and flag-waving has finished, we just have to bide our time and remember that it belongs to us and always will.

Have a look at this vid I shot a while back about the protest to save Marsh Lane Fields

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Walk to the West End

I needed to pay a visit to Housmans to trawl for ‘research materials’, that was the excuse anyway. I had half an eye on a visit to Leather Lane to fish at the other end of the cultural spectrum at the stall of mass-market magazines at rock bottom prices. But as I started out towards the Lea Bridge Road to catch a No.55 something nagged at me, an urge, a need for a little something else to blow out the cobwebs and get the creative juices flowing. The urge to drift, in the general direction of Kings Cross but essentially “to be bound by no programme”.

I took the standard route to Leyton High Road. There was birdsong in Coronation Gardens, dark clouds over the Lea Valley, the geographical feature I had to cross one way or the other. I found verdant cottages in Dunedin Road where a side road had been blocked with piles of rubbish like Jeremy Deller had dropped by to do a re-enactment on a small scale of the Claremont Road protests. Roar of traffic on Ruckholt Road. The freshly mown pitches on Hackney Marshes whilst over the road is a knotweed wasteland framed by distant suicide tower blocks. The River Lea runs through beautiful somehow, eddying, banks overgrown with poppies and wildflowers. You could imagine the Mississippi ‘River Rat’ Kenny Sawney rhapsodising his way along catching fish and cooking them on a bankside campfire. No wonder otters have moved back in.

Along the Eastway, the eastern entrance to the City is still via woods and bandit country to be approach with trepidation after dark. On temporary metal fencing around overgrown land an ominous “London Development Agency (LDA) Compulsory Purchase Order under sections 12(2A) and 12(2A)(b) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981″. Beside it is the “Notice of Hearing, To the Defendant, Persons Unknown, Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court Claim No. 7EC03125″. These two important documents have been shoved inside plastic document wallets and loosely wedged in a fence half obscured by weeds on the side of a motorway flyover. The LDA are begrudgingly fulfilling their legal obligations. The law is a minor hurdle to these fellas, they’ve got an Olympics to stage and only £9billion to spend on it. I wonder whether Acquisition of Land Act 1981 is able to be subverted to reclaim and collectivise redundant factories as workers in Argentina have done to startling effect using that country’s compulsory purchase laws.

Over in Hackney Wick the art deco public baths with its separate entrances for Men and Women has been converted into a community centre. I duck into St. Mary of Eton with its great tower. I pick up a copy of ‘neighbourhood focus: hackney wick’ which announces that Hackney Wick is “the new Shoreditch” (that’ll account for the lower case lettering then). Heaven help them, in five years tops they’ll all be priced out by the ‘arts-led regeneration’, the community centre will be converted into loft apartments and the Costcutter will be a branch of ‘Fresh and Wild’ charging £3 for a thimble of pureed grass. If that doesn’t finish the area off, there are plans to drop the Olympic Media Centre in ‘The Wick’.

When I was living in a squat up the road in Well Street in the early nineties the idea of an Olympic Media Centre in Hackney Wick would have been too surreal a vision for even a die-hard space cadet like ‘Mad Martin’ (when he’d overdone the pharmacopia he gave the kids of the estate great entertainment by running over the rooftops of the 6-storey blocks of the estate. It was not unusual to find him on your balcony four floors up holding a geology hammer wanting to discuss the writings of William S Burroughs).

I find myself in Victoria Park. Sinclair country. Out of respect and humility I shall say little about crossing this park where I used to come of a kip and a few pages of Dirk Gently whilst on the Dole. Instead I recommend you read the early chapters of his seminal work ‘Lights Out for the Territory’. Although, I wonder how the plans to transform Victoria Park into a “21st Century Pleasure Garden” went on a water-logged Bank Holiday weekend.

‘The village’ of Victoria Park is all espresso bars, canopies, and yummy mummies pushing designer babies. It was on the way there in ‘92-’94 to be honest, aside from the shooting in the pub by the park gates in the middle of the afternoon one day.

I slope past The Albion where I got horribly drunk one night in a lock-in and ended up drinking with, by accident, the couple who had once lived in the council flat I was squatting. “Ere, he’s squatting in our old flat!” the lady gaffawed to all and sundry across the pub. They managed to wangle a nice little ground floor flat facing the Park so there were no hard feelings (for the intrepid, I wrote an article about this time in ‘Labour Left Briefing’ in 1993, ‘Sad Grads’. For film producers, I have a stonking screenplay based on some of the more colourful aspects of this era and the ‘unconventional’ approach of Hackney Housing department).

I give a nod to the old estate which is getting a long-overdue make-over, note that the launderette that was the inspiration for my screenplay and where my mate Kate lived in a flat above, has made way for a Lidl, meaning either my script was strangely prophetic or I got it all wrong when I had it making way for an amusement arcade (‘Flashing Blips’).

Round London Fields where more yuppy hutches are being erected and down the hopelessly gentrified Broadway Market (I did debate with an imaginary ‘aspirational’ friend about whether the delis and gastro-pubs were an improvement or an example of middle-class colonisation of what was once and staunchly working-class area with a very strong, now nearly extinct, culture all of its own that had no use for olives and pomegranate juice).

I join the Regent Canal here and can’t let go, my metronomic step carrying my along past the slideshow of estates with orange boarded-up windows (quite attractive actually) and on the other side, yeah more ‘luxury’ developments. I’m not going to go on and on about this, take a look at the Islington Working Class Association website instead. By the time I reach Angel at 1.10 my hip joints are reminding me that I haven’t stopped walking since I left Leytonstone at 10.20am. I rest on a bench in Colebrooke Road gardens and remember two things: 1. That Douglas Adams lived here somewhere, 2. That the residents got very upset by people defecating in the bushes.

It’ll be easy enough to drop down to Housmans from here but I have a strong urge to push on westwards, to turn this into a ‘Sandwich Man’ style odyssey. I move on in search of lunch.
I get distracted by Borders. I hear that they’ll all be gone soon, these American book warehouses and replaced by branches of Starbucks selling books. Only capitalism could come up with an arrangement like that. I sit down with a copy of Mute magazine; I’m too tight to pay a fiver for a mag so I’ll just have read the good bits here. There’s an interesting article by Kate Rich on commons, about Amy Balkin’s ‘This is Public Domain’ and the Morningstar Ranch where Lou Gottlieb signed over the deeds to God when the State tried to evict him meaning that they had to indict ‘God’ in the legal proceedings.

Down Chapel Market in full swing and lunch in Alpino. I realise that it could appear that I’m stalking Iain Sinclair as he stops here on his Regent Canal stomps but really I’m just hungry and sentimental (I enjoyed 3 years living over the road till last year).

Past the estate and on to Housman’s for a good old rummage. I emerge about 40 minutes later with Tom Vague’s ‘London Pyschogeography, Rachman Riots and Rillington Place’, the Anarchist Federation’s free leaflet on ID cards, a copy of Labour Left Briefing, a Class War poster and two badges for a friend (‘Hated by the Daily Mail’ and ‘I Am Spartacus’). Good haul for a £5.50. Technically speaking my work is done and to be frank my legs are sore despite the bacon roll and apple pie at Alpino. But I have to go on, the ‘fugue’ is in control (ref: ‘London Orbital’).

Past Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, it’s a lovely day, justification enough for staying on the move. The Aquarium Gallery in Woburn Walk and the Indian Restaurant where I celebrated the birth of my first child alone with a top class curry complete with brandy after. Through to Fitzrovia, enigmatic area this – Patrick Hamilton country and parts still feel down at heel. The old Middlesex Hospital is all boarded up prior to the inevitable ‘mixed-use redevelopment’. A film crew is taking advantage of the deserted wards and operating theatres. Cleveland Residencies has the look of the kind of place where Hamilton’s young ladies of dubious morals boarded.

Wigmore Street leaves me more convinced than ever in the need for a Class War. Strange that, because turning into Marylebone High Street I don’t feel the same level of anger, more a kind of mystification. The designer Polo shirted couples spilling out of Waitrose and making for their Chelsea Tractors don’t come across so much as hateful but stupid, “you’ve been had” I think, “blowing all that money here, just because you’ve been told it’s the place to shop”.

I carry this slightly superior air past Daunt books which nearly makes me pass it by, luckily I caught a glimpse of the glass dome at the back. I would have regretted missing it’s galleried travel room at the back stacked with pamphlets and chapbooks. I even got a phone call from bookdealer Chris Berthoud by chance.

The walk is coming to an end, but still I stop off in Paddington Street Gardens where children play amongst the tombstones. I cross over to Mayfair and see the new defences around the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. I was watching the footage of the violent, bloody 1968 anti-Vietnam War protests that happened here. The Golden Eagle hovering over the Embassy roof seems to be keeping a watchful eye over the troublesome London mob. I read a while ago that the Yanks have had enough of protestors and archaic tenancy agreements, they’re off out to the sticks to hide behind an even bigger perimeter fence. We’ll be able to have our square back.

It’s the final statement in this walk through the story of ‘property’ in London. The travellers’ site by the allotments, the LDA Compulsory Purchase Order, Hackney gentrification, Council Estates turned over to Housing Associations, flats condemned and boarded up to keep out squatters, Georgian and Victorian parks and squares, the hospital converted into executive apartments and exclusive (chain) retail outlets, the estate of the richest landowner in the realm, the foreign embassy with its fences erected to keep us out.

I make it to Oxford Circus by 6pm,a full working day spent on the move, and more accomplished than 8 hours at the desk gazing out the window looking for inspiration. Severe delays on the Central Line, I come crashing back to reality.

Another Lost Treasure of London

Once the tower blocks of the Beaumont Estate have finally been dismantled will they be recorded amongst the lost treasures of London like the Blitzed effigies in the Inner Temple Hall. Doubt it. Who’ll weep for the home of the notorious ‘Beaumont Boys’ who just last year beat a man to death over a drug debt of £1.50 (I think that was the balance to pay, not the whole amount — not to make light of the affair). How long till they are a question on The Robert Elms Show. Do they say more about our city than the effigies that would have only been seen by a select few ever could?

The Disappearance of Beaumont Estate


John Heron sent me these great pictures of the ongoing demolition of Beaumont Estate. John lives on the continent and I live about half-a-mile away from the estate, but I tend to content myself with the view from my bathroom window.
With the Iain Sinclair edited ‘London, City of Disappearances’ fresh on the shelves, people are busy flagging up the disappearing treasures of the metropolis. Among some of the endangered sites mentioned in Time Out recently were the Butterfly House (where there is a screening this Saturday of films on the theme of the book, including John Smith’s ‘Blight’ about the disappearance of half of Colville Road E11), The Stables Market in Camden, and Hackney Wick allotments (which may be moved to Marsh Lane Playing Fields meaning the disappearance of over a 1000 years of common land rights). Nowhere did I see a mention of Beaumont Estate.

Thanks for the pictures John.

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