Through The Place They Call London with Joy in My Heart (Day 41) May 8th
By Steph Bradley 10th May 2010
Over breakfast Lucy shares two things with me; her own tale of a transitional walk she did that brings tears to both our eyes, and a poem which tells of choosing to walk with joy in the heart and crossing stiles easily. I leave the bottle of organic wine called Stephanie with her.
Then we walk to Tooting High Road. I am fascinated by this name; I only ever thought of High Road in connection to the old song
“You take the Low Road and I’ll take the High Road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye”
This is no walk along a ridge though; it’s the High Street. Once there we go to a local Muslim hall tucked in behind the High Road where we meet some of Transition Tooting, including Dave Thorne, Mal, Hilary, and Garry, to inspect the hall to see if it will suit the purpose of holding their unleashing this summer.
It is ideal; it is large, painted white, and airy, it has a balcony around three sides, and thin metal beams running across its high black ceiling where bunting can be strung. Dave enjoys talking to the Muslim man about his faith. Transition Tooting love talking to different people and getting to know them. There is plenty of diversity too in Tooting. In its colourful High Road selling fruit and veg from all over the world and silks of every colour and decoration I hear every language from Greek, Polish, and all different Indian and Pakistani dialects. I haven’t had an experience like this since my time exploring the wonderful markets of Ceuta in northern Morocco in 1992.
I sense the same vibrant enthusiasm that exudes from Lucy coming off the others in the group. They are all excited about the forthcoming Trashcatchers Carnival; “Imagine the High Road without cars” they say as we try to cross the busy main street full of cars and buses in both directions. They are also buzzing with the thrill of having reached the stage where they will unleash.
We pose for a picture outside Tooting Market for Transition Tooting blog http://transitiontowntooting.blogspot.com which Mal says is greatly read, and then the group go off for their unleashing meeting and I set off to walk to Clapham Common.
Getting north through central London turns out to be much easier than I had thought. I am armed with an OS map to identify footpaths and a Sustrans cycle map (which is like a big street map with all the quieter roads clearly identified) and wonder why I experienced such disembodied miserableness on every other visit to this city. I pass the first of three tube stations on my straight forward walk up to the Common, and then I get it; the very act of arriving in a new place at one of those sad no man’s land intersections out of an underground train is surely the reason. For those that visit a place and really feel sense of place that is a horrific experience giving the impression that all of London is one great no man’s land of displaced people.
I walk on feeling joyful. London has finally been redeemed for me after 35 years! My first visit at age 11 was with my primary school; a huge trip for those of us from a small town in the NW of England, Ramsbottom (valley of rams). The coaches park where they shouldn’t and are moved off. When our teachers find out they are horrified and have to take us onto the tube to where the coach drivers are now parked. Their stress levels as they bundle us off and on these scary underground trains with their automatic doors translate to me and I learn to be frightened of the doors too.
On subsequent visits as an adult I have acclimatised more and more to the trains themselves, though I still think the worst place of all to die would be underground and inside a train where there is no real sense of place and connectedness to the world around, but I have never liked the city either and had dreaded this walk.
To now feel joyful is amazing; I feel solid with my feet on the ground, yet light with my thoughts, able to appreciate the changing landscape of the buildings from thriving city market to no man’s land to residential to industrial to more no man’s land to more residential to heavily blackened train line area, into more no man’s land and then out into Common! On foot, the transitory nature of the no man’s spaces is contextualized and rendered less impactful.
I am still struck by how as a species of inveterate travellers we manage to leave our tube, bus, and train stations, not to mention our airports (thankfully not an experience I shall have to go through again having chosen not to fly anymore through my work at Transition Network) so desolately soulless. There must be something inherently sad about leaving a place, even for those who love to discover new places….or is it something about the machinery involved? When I have passed old coaching inns where travellers of old would arrive and leave from they do not appear to have this air about them.
Walking has brought to me a totally different sense; the sense that can recognise sense of place; nor only the love I feel for the place where I chose to settle, but love for all places, provided I am able to find their identity and not get lost in the no man’s land between the many tiny settlements that make up a city like London. And each has its own character from the multicultural Tooting to the flashy Oxford Street turned tacky by droves of international tourists, the calm opulence of Chelsea, and the totally over the top Portland Street with its immense buildings and sense of self importance.
Park hopping, as someone along the way had suggested, half jokingly, I think, works very well indeed. Not that I am at all fooled by the human made landscapes, from Capability Brown’s fashioning of Wimbledon Park to the showy Regent’s park with its numerous flower bed displays, but at least green spaces exist and are large enough to replenish the spirit between the largeness of the built up fields of urban living.
On I go then, from Clapham Common to Battersea Park, where I enjoy walking along the river a little, find it not so pleasing as it is at Kingston,
and am taken aback by the golden Buddha world peace statue, erected in 1985,
on over the Prince Albert bridge, which I find very much to my liking – it has been closed to cars due to it needing repairs, but is open to pedestrians!
Then on into Chelsea, whose busy ness even on this Saturday afternoon has none of the frantic desperate nature of the Oxford Street hoardes I encounter later, capable of pushing you out of the way, and where I find myself feeling, as I haven’t since my trip on the so-called death train in Bolivia, capable of pushing back too. I have crossed Hyde Park between the two, and what a world of difference. Escaping Oxford Street, I really should have followed a cycle route, I realise, I go along Portland Street, which I do not like, it has an air of only admitting its self to those that have been allowed, and then get into the Regent’s park, which I do not like at all – it is like a giant suburban garden with everything just so and not an edible edge in site.
I am almost at journey’s end; I cross Primrose Hill and walk into Belsize Park and arrive at the beautiful family home of my friend Hannah Mulder; the one who passed on the Transition Tales project to me after leaving Totnes to come home to London.
My day finishes with seeing both Hannah, and Tamzin Pinkerton – author of “Local Food” http://www.theecologist.org/reviews/books/336735/local_food_how_to_make_it_happen_in_your_community.html , and co-founder of Transition Tales! From Totnes to London, here we three are!