My Green London Way

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To prepare for my route running from Cambridge Heath towards Stratford on Sunday, I reread the introduction to Bob Gilbert’s Green London Way. Look out for lichen and ferns, he promises, a belated victory of the Clean Air acts. Enjoy the uncut areas of meadow, increasingly common across London, and try not to be too distressed (he warns) by the proliferation of wild flower areas seeded with plants without any historic connection to their new settings.

Being no Barbara Kingsolver, and unlettered in the names of leaves and plants, the most memorable ecologies I encountered were indeed the uncut patches of Victoria Park, heralded by a great phallic stump of broken trunk (newly regrown, green leaves rising from above like streamers launching into the air), and progressing through meadows, the evident work of urban planners – inorganic, over-neat.

Graffiti covers the walls of the canal in sedimentary layers, “Vins / Eva” in white on a green background conceals decades of indistinct painted signatures.

It was Lovebox Sunday in Hackney, and a tout announced himself, “plenty of spare tickets for sale.” Playing from the canal boats I could hear snatches of Billie Holliday.

The ground was dry, still too dry, even after all this rain, and my legs felt tight, constrained after two weeks experimenting with shorter distances at greater speeds. I felt unfamiliar twinges on my right leg, opposite the calf.

Another runner, blond and wearing an “HH” top, stretched towards me, breathing “pwar, pwar”, as he came.

I watched a couple working a sluice gate with difficulty (the man, in a blue tshirt, no more engaged than a monitor at someone else’s democratic election).

The wind rippled the surface of the canal into waves. I missed Bob’s original turning (“the Greenway”), now in any event closed (like so much of London) for fear of disrupting the Corporate Games. Older graffiti recalled a better-contested past: white stencilled As, in capitals of course and ringed; four peace signs, purple and yellow, in rectangles.

I could see, beside Canary Wharf, a CCTV tower. And then, forlorn, a deserted brick tower a chimney without the works to which it was once joined.

I stopped running, prematurely, at Bow Back Rover, and took an unrunnerly route back – a bus to Liverpool Street station and then home.

Gilbert’s response to the Olympics is to cite a passage from Iain Sinclair, mourning the death of Stratford, “Every civic decency, every sentimental attachment, is being swept aside for that primary strategic objective, the big bang of the starter’s pistol.” I am reminded of  a writer from a previous generation of urban cleansing: Alex Glasgow, “an older, better city bites the dust”.

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