Category: Other stuff
Date: 30 July 2002
I live in Hackney and have therefore always been a great proponent of East London. However, on Sunday I was forced to admit that carrying on east through West Ham, Plaistow, Beckton and finally all the way along the Thames to Erith just isnít very nice. In fact, as cycle rides go, it was pretty grim. The lovely straight green route marked on the map was deceptive. It gave not a hint of the overgrown nature of the crumbling path alongside the canal, the stench of stagnant water, and the cunningly constructed metal structures designed to obstruct cyclists on designated cycle routes. Reality transformed a large white space on the map into an industrial wasteland, a barren landscape littered with garish brown lumps, ugly machinery and deserted warehouses.
But despite the bleakness, there were signs of life. The occasional lone fisherman propped up in a small deckchair by the side of the canal, the kind old people offering us a tour of Britainís oldest and largest tidal mill in Three Mills, the mother and her little girl having a cosy picnic by the side of the path out of sight of the dilapidated council estates, the three teenagers experimenting with graffiti on a wall thatís already seen its share of colour, the old granny in a wheelchair overtaking us yet again as we struggle through another barrier, the kids making crazy jumps off a pier into the Thames, and the 20-somethings cooking sausages on a throwaway BBQ balanced precariously on a ledge separating a pitiful garden from the muddy river bank. Even the dead things were not denied a certain beauty. The ferry ride across the river at North Woolwich was exhilarating as the cool breeze dried the sweat on our faces, the sewage works near Thamesmead were an architectural masterpiece and the blackberries we ate by the side of the path were juicy and delicious.
Erith Riverside Gardens never materialised, there was no Utopia or luscious Eden at the end of our trip and that was disappointing. A sad, lonely little place greeted us instead. We didnít stay long. A delayed train took us back to Greenwich, which appeared magical and verdant in the late afternoon sun. There were people there, and restaurants and pubs and chatter and laughter. It was rich and gorgeous and seemed too good to be true. But of course it was real in exactly the same way that West Ham, Plaistow, Beckton and little Erith were real. I couldnít decide whether that was a good thing or not.
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