The current dog had never been to my old regular haunt on the Marsh. I rectified that by being accidentally in London today. It’s a long time ago that me and my old dogs used to walk, or run, with me there and a lot’s changed since then. A new car-park and new wooden-clad changing rooms. Over the White House Bridge, access to the East Marsh is now forbidden; it being carved up between Olympic Park needs and the relocation of the travellers’ site. The old travellers’ site closed when it was swallowed up, along with Waterden Lane, underneath the monoprint of one of the Olympic stadia.
In my mind, my dog Rudi was going to open up the throttle across the marsh. In reality, there were still a cacophony of football matches being played cheek-by-jowl. Each game was notable for the lack of spectators; all the noise came from the pitch. The only thing I could make out was an urgent ‘Carry on, carry on!’. The rest, I imagined, was in Turkish. I sent Fabrice Muamba positive thoughts; the London Chest Hospital that is treating him is only a few miles south of the Marshes. My own ancestor (a baker from Grays) died there in the last century. I hope that Fabrice will be alright, although his career will be over, which is a tragedy in itself. Because of the football, we skirted along the banks of the old River Lee. I was hoping to see a familiar sight: a comorant perched on a thick branch drying its wings. In the end, the final twitching list included: magpies, seagull, chaffinch (probably – even with glasses it’s hard to be definitive with my eyesight lately), mallards, ruddy or teal-type ducks (pretty anyway) and one dipping-in-flight green woodpecker. No cormorants.
How things change. Across the marsh the skyline has moved on. Still the Post Office or Telecom Tower and the Gherkin, now joined by the nearly finished Shard, that I photographed at closer quarters last year. It dwarfs the others, soaring well above the apex of its nearest rival, St Mary Axe. What hasn’t changed on the wide expanse of Hackney Marsh is the cold wind. Yet, the water looks dirtier, the industry heavier. Two new multi-coloured towers for private housing sit on the west bank of the canal part of the Lee. I remember the workers clocking on and off when the site housed the old Lesney Matchbox factory.
Opposite the old flat, more travellers have fetched up like a line of driftwood on the far edge of the cinder pitch. Children play outside the caravans. A dog sniffs where my own used to avidly hunt dead chicken bones. Back on the marsh two Orthodox Jewish men cycle by, chatting. It occurs to me that you never see an Orthodox Jewish woman on a bicycle. There is no-one else about. Where the capital city strains against the Olympic Park there is more space than where the hell I came from. I wonder about the wisdom of progress and walk back to the car carrying a piece of wood. No doubt I make a strange sight. I am used to this. This does not change.
The other thing that had not changed was the police helicopter having its regular Sunday whir over E9. How they afford it, I do not know.