Walking in Palestine with Raja Shehadeh

In 2008 I was lucky enough to have a chat with author Raja Shehadeh about his book Palestinian Walks: ‪Forays into a Vanishing Landscape‬.
On the one hand I was talking to a fellow rambler about the experience of walking and the love of the landscape. I was also intrigued by the Palestinian idea of the ‘Sarha’ meaning to roam without restraint where the spirit takes you, which I thought had symmetry with the English ‘topographical rambling’ tradition and the psychoegeographic ‘derive’ or drift.
But of course Raja’s experience of walking in the hills of Ramallah carries a bit more jeopardy than a walk across Leyton Marshes. He sees a connection to the land through walking as being essential to both the human condition but also an important element of non-violent resistance to the occupation of Palestine. Walking as an act of liberation.

Over the Marshes to Harringay

It started as a mundane amble up to Baker’s Arms with the wife for a mooch about. She headed off to pick the kids up from school so I followed my nose down Boundary Road. I’m going to speculate that it was the Boundary between Walthamstow and Leyton but that’s just a wild stab in the dark.

The Dagenham Brook winds its way behind the houses to the River Lee. Further along its course at Marsh Lane Fields the council are lavishing large sums of money on a new bridge across its narrow banks. It’d better be a good bridge, the one that was there already did the job of getting you from one side to the other without getting your feet wet, so this new expensive bridge better come with its own troll, perhaps a kiosk in the middle, and free foot massages.

I took several photographs of the brook from different angles – transfixed by it, wanting document its existence and pay homage to this slither of wildness passing through our realm of bricks and mortar. Some blokes were testing out new car speakers nearby and I wondered how I could justify to them my fixation with what might look like a muddy ditch.
I fumbled around in my head for a bit past lists of chocolate bars and the Suarez 10-match ban and came to the conclusion that people go to great lengths to seek out historical monuments of the man-made world for their supposed links to the past but here was a tangible relic from a much more distant age, as old at least as a Wooly Mammoth, just sliding past the backs of terraced house gardens minding its own business.

I got drawn into the industrial estate off Lea Bridge Road and wandered around admiring the modernist industrial architecture – it’s like a miniature version of the splendour of the Great West Road.

One of the factories in Staffa Road was possibly where the Panjandrum was built. With the high-tech military research funds long gone the great brains of Leyton have turned their attention to constructing giant wooden shoes.

The bridge that took me over the railway tracks was thick with flies – I had a mouthful by the time I reached the other end. I must remember to keep my mouth shut and not have my tongue hanging out in those situations.
The horses mowing the grass of the Lea Valley Riding Centre on the other side were less than sympathetic and harassed me for sugar cubes and Polo mints – neither of which I had.

The once mighty River Lee tamed and subordinate. I’ve written a few thoughts about it in my forthcoming book so don’t want to blow that now – I can’t think of anything else to say for now – just that I prefer the tributaries, although I’ve only mentioned the Dagenham, Coppermill, and Filly Brook in my book.

After following the path round Porter’s Field I ended up in a section of Walthamstow Marshes navigating my way along tunnels cut through a deep growth of brambles. Around and around I went through this maze of thorns with no evident way out. In a clearing a man was laid in the sun reading a book – he just looked up and smirked. I was too embarrassed to ask directions.
By the time I reached Springfield Park with lacerated hands I was more than ready for afternoon tea on the lawns drinking in the view across the Lea Valley to the dark ridge of Epping Forest.

It’s impossible to pass through the area without noticing the spire of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Upper Clapton. Apparently this was previously home to the  ‪Agapemonite sect – what a great name, up there with the Muggletonians.
I couldn’t get a decent photo of the winged creatures looking out from the belfry – Wikipedia says they are a reference to Blake’s Jerusalem.

The Salisbury on Harringay Green Lanes seemed like a natural place to end up. We used to drink here when I lived in a student house up on the Harringay Ladder. One night the pub was closed so they could film a scene for the Chaplin biopic directed by Dickie Attenborough and starring Robert Downey Jr.
From memory Chaplin is stood at the bar and berated by a couple of locals about not supporting the war effort during WWI. He’d be safe in the Salisbury today – there was only me and a couple of old fellas.

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Down the Hackney Cut

With the sun finally out I set off walking West and got sidetracked by the Hackney Cut/ Lee Navigation.

Part of the Olympic legacy seems to be to get rid of every trace of graffiti they can reach. The walls are now being coated with a paint resistant chemical that looks like hardened slime.

I chatted to some engineers who said they are building a tunnel under the Cut for a new tube line running into Pudding Mill Lane. I think he meant Cross Rail.

This swan near the entrance to the Hertford Union Canal made me think of Andrew Kotting in his swan-shaped pedalo as he arrived at the end of the journey he’d made with Iain Sinclair from Hastings in the film Swandown.

It’s difficult to tell if this is part of the new ‘sanctioned’ graffiti or not – but it looked nice reflected in the water.

During the Olympics the Fringe at Swan Wharf was a £90/day pop-up private members club – looked very quiet today.

Well it’s definitely Fish Island, the Riviera needs a bit of work. According to wikipedia it’s “home to one of Europe’s largest growing creative communities”.

At the Bow Flyover I looped back to the Wick and had a lovely pint of Citra Ale brewed on-site at the Crate Brewery. That was a bit more like a Riviera.

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Doorways and Alleyways of East London

Dragged the family out for a wander around the vicinity of Brick Lane.

The boys weren’t that enthusiastic but I promised them some kind of adventure.

The usual parental instruction to ‘stay close’ and ‘hold my hand’ was loaded with the added tale that these streets were known to consume people, that you could stop to tie your laces, your friend would wander into one of these lanes and alleys never to be seen again.

Cock Hill

‘Where do they go?’, the boys asked
‘They’re devoured by the city itself’, I said
‘That’s just nonsense’, the eldest retorted
‘Yeah, just stupid’, added the little one.

We have a set of Bob and Roberta Smith letter blocks at home.
Heidi and the boys admired this mural and concluded that it would have been better if Bob had done it.

Commercial Street

There was an absence of graffiti tourists today – no lumbering parties touring early Banksy’s and derivatives.
We had the walls to ourselves.

The C18th Huguenot doorways of Fournier and Princelet Streets kept them occupied.

There was a big bonfire out the back of Christ Church Spitalfields sending great plumes of smoke over the rooftops.

We grab bagels in Brick Lane then walk down Bethnal Green Road under a full moon to the tube station.

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Docklands Walk – Island Gardens to East India Dock

Docklands Walk - Canon Powershot SX230 hs video test from fugueur on Vimeo.

It’s taken 23 years but I’ve fallen in love with the DLR. I’ve used it twice in recent months and it has beguiled me with its charms. It makes me feel like like the early train passengers riding an iron horse.

Entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Yesterday my two urges of getting to water and riding the DLR coincided. The family were inert at home so I headed to Island Gardens. I was tempted straight away to head down into the Greenwich Foot Tunnel but had no interest in what was at the other end. I wanted to skirt the eastern periphery of the Isle of Dogs.

The memorial at Dudgeon’s Wharf is a reminder of life in Docklands before the biggest threat to the area was trouble in the money markets or a rise in the price of Bolly. In July 1965 six people, including five firefighters, were killed in an explosion at a chemical storage facility here.

Dollar Bay

I struggle to find much to say about Docklands, it already feels overly mediated. It is also puzzlingly paradoxical. There are fragments and echoes of its past like sections of wharfs and jetties, decommissioned cranes. But on the other hand it is utterly removed from the rest of the city – a private estate, a samizdat Singapore.

I always feel like an intruder in Docklands, unwelcome and illicit. I’m long-haired, bearded, wearing shorts and sandals topped off with a baseball cap – that probably breaks at least two recently imposed local by-laws.

Lady Daphne and the Greenwich Uplands

It’s the Thames Festival this weekend – maybe that’s where the urge to head for the water originated. I caught a glimpse of the Lady Daphne chugging her way eastwards after a day of ferrying passengers as part of the festivities.

signwriting worthy of Bob and Roberta Smith

The opposite shore in Greenwich still seems to be clinging onto some vestige of its industrial functions. But the glass and steel towers are on their way to keep the Millennium Dome company.

I wound up at East India Dock, unable to finish my walk with the statutory pint. So it was back on the DLR and into the Leyton Technical pop-up pub in old Leyton Town Hall for a fantastic pint of Windsor and Eton Ale – this could well be the best thing to come out of the Olympics.