diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 12, 2018

Yesterday I walked due south from where I live in Bow.
I walked for three hours - that's nine miles altogether.
Here's a snapshot of what I saw, taken every 10 minutes along the way.
(and here's a map, charting my progress in 10 minute leaps)

0h 0m - St Mary's church, Bow
Along the path through the churchyard, the new wooden planters are bobbing with daffodils. The tower is encased in scaffolding, lottery-funded, with a portaloo carefully positioned outside the main oak door. Dour-faced locals wait at one pedestrian crossing and then the next, carrying bulging bags for life. The 108 bus now departing will reach Lewisham an hour before I do.

0h 10m - Devons Road DLR station, Bromley-by-Bow
Every copy of City AM has been taken. The station's confectionery shack - Mo's Hut - is firmly shuttered. In the alley alongside The Widow's Son, as a nod to upscaled gentrification, an enterprising chap in a jaunty hat has set up a coffee stall. To attract attention his cart is parked on astroturf, his stash of napkins sits on a bird table, and two wooden deer nudge their antlers over the pavement. A cuppa costs a quid.

0h 20m - Hobday Street, Lansbury Estate
Built too late for the Festival of Britain, the flats on the northern side of the estate have won no awards. The Lansbury Mosque looks more like an ageing scout hut. Salisbury House rises 10 floors above a tree with a deflated helium balloon trapped in one of its branches. A well-wrapped toddler emerges through the security door followed by grandma, allocated childcare duty in the second week of the school holidays.

0h 30m - Poplar Recreation Ground
Near the empty playground, a ring of perfect white hyacinths surrounds a core of pink around a single palm. An elderly gentleman sits on the bench opposite, legs crossed, flat cap down, with a blue plastic bag at his side. The top of 1 Canada Square is intermittently visible through a blanket of low cloud. In Hale Street, outside the council depot, a mural to George Lansbury and the Poplar Rate Rebels has survived the last decade ungraffitied.

0h 40m - Upper Bank Street, Canary Wharf
Lunchtime has broken out amid the shiny towers, and the boulevards are thronged. Revolving doors spin to reveal officefolk on today's quest for nutritional novelty. Phones are whipped out for a burst of belated tapping. Cigarettes are lit. In the opposite direction, workplace lunchmates in smart suits and paunchy shirts return to their desks dangling meal deals and boxed pulses.

0h 50m - South Quay DLR station
Beneath the gloomy meandering viaduct numerous contractors vans are parked up, each ready to service the latest sky-high building project. Men in helmets and hi-vis await lorries to marshal. The shopping arcade supports a Subway and a Tesco, and no longer anything more. Signs direct curious flatbuyers along the dockside to a snazzy marketing cube on a floating pontoon.

1h 0m - Millwall Outer Dock
Here at the foot of the Millwall Dock it's somehow still the lowrise 1980s. At City Harbour a woman emerges to sit on her grey-facing balcony, wraps herself in a thick coat and lights up. An underfed alsatian, on walkabout with its anoraked owners, sniffs its way round every inch of the edge of the jetty. Every single one of the 50 private moorings reserved for residents of Clippers Quay is empty.

1h 10m - Westferry Road, Isle of Dogs
Chapel House Street is one of a handful of long-standing residential thoroughfares at the tip of the island, as can be evidenced by the Victorian pillar box opposite the Chinese takeaway. These days the street merges into newbuild flats and the Infinity Apartments. The estate agent on the corner eagerly awaits the completion of Island Point, an utterly bog-standard brick-box development which'll look exactly like you think it will.

1h 20m - Greenwich Foot Tunnel
I've finally had to deviate from my 'due south' track to hit this rare Thames crossing, but only by quarter of a mile, so fortuitously is my home located. Both lifts are working. A family wielding a pushchair pursue me into the central flat section. Each lamp is now individually numbered. A Chinese couple pause to take a grinning selfie in front of the tunnel's grimy tiles. No cyclists are present, no rules are broken.

1h 30m - Victoria Parade, New Capital Quay
Back on track at the mouth of Deptford Creek, a "most exclusive waterside village" has erupted along the biggest bend in the Thames. Concierges guard lift lobby entrances. Costa have moved in, plus a busy Waitrose, but the large ground level unit facing the Isle of Dogs remains For Sale/To Let. Once fully stocked with sandwiches, the fire engine departs. A pigeon walks the line of benches, awaiting discarded biscotti crumbs. No ounce of character survives.

1h 40m - Greenwich High Road, Greenwich
My latitude now matches the nearby Greenwich Observatory, but I'm following the meridian shifted 1 minute west, so I'm on the High Road instead. The North Pole isn't the pub it once was, offering a shisha lounge and an upstairs Piano Restaurant. Greenwich Sewage Pumping Station has been overtaken for the Tideway project. A girlfriend with a deathwish walks into the traffic obliviously Facetiming into her phone.

1h 50m - Elverson Road DLR station
Housing on the eastern flank of the station lacks the architectural gravitas of the west. Coldbath Street has flats where taxi drivers live. Bliss Crescent is inappropriately named. Workmen from Morrisons Utility Services are busy reworking some coned-off pavement with the last spoils of the financial year. Access to The Handy Shop, for those in need of cans or mobile top-up, is partially obstructed.

2h 0m - Asda, Lewisham Way
On this, the pretentiously modern side of Lewisham town centre, all the apartment blocks are called Something Cortes. One has childcare at its foot, another gaily-painted pipes. A row of artfully-positioned stones prevents traffic from mounting the kerb and crossing the piazza. Shoppers dodge manoeuvring buses to grab a week's worth from Asda. One short Victorian terrace lingers on, selling laminate flooring, BBQ ribs and hair extensions.

2h 10m - Marsala Road, Ladywell
This is one of several late 19th century residential street hereabouts, with front gardens too small for cars but large enough for three coloured bins. The owner of the Jaz'May ice cream van nips out of his front door, then drives off for a cornet session up Hilly Fields. The front of number 101 is plastered with 'No Junk Mail', 'No Cold Callers' and 'Please Leave And Do Not Return' stickers, plus a rather fetching basket of fuchsias.

2h 20m - University Hospital, Lewisham
What used to be Lewisham Public Library, opened in 1900, now fronts the borough's Registry Office (and Nationality Checking Service). This in turn fronts the University Hospital, a long splurge of less-heritagey buildings, emblazoned with Smoke Free stickers on every outward facing surface. This alas merely shifts the phalanx of puffers onto forecourts and pavements, forcing passers-by (i.e. me) to inhale lungfuls of nicotine as they walk past.

2h 30m - Rushey Green, Catford
My ten-minute snapshot occurs along the dullest part of the shopping parade, after the Sainsbury's ghost sign, but before the chain stores kick in and the giant cat stares down. The discount furniture showroom is empty (other than of furniture). Nando's is buzzing. The Eastern Queen is proud to be fully licensed. Splendid Barbers will do you for a fiver. Shopping baskets are tugged. Off-school children are cajoled.

2h 40m - Bromley Road, Catford
Thanks to geography, I find myself walking along the the A21 for half an hour. Beyond the gyratory it's twin carriageway residential, with speed cameras and doctor's-surgery-sized villas. A beardy ginger courier hops out of his van to deliver a package to the concrete church. A rainbow flag hangs above the side entrance to the Lewisham Unitarian Meeting House. The magnolia on the corner of Penerley Road is splendid, but taped off.

2h 50m - Catford Bus Garage, Bellingham
Red vehicles aplenty are parked up, and swing in, and turn out. Drivers mill around between shifts. Across the road the parade features exactly the same chain of BBQ rib vendor as I passed 50 minutes back. A dilapidated house with broken windows boasts a used car forecourt outside. The Hand Car Wash is a flurry of chamois. A gleaming vehicle pauses to let me pass, then accelerates out into the traffic with a roar before screeching to the lights.

3h 0m - Southend Lane, Southend
After precisely three hours, my walk south is at an end... on Southend Lane in the former village of Southend. Both pubs have become dubiously designed stacks of flats. Tudor-style semis face off against pebbledash. Two boys on bikes perform wheelies which elicit angry shouts from a passing car. A hearse with a personalised numberplate glides by. I have not fiddled the timing, nor the astonishingly apt location, of my ultimate destination.

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