Sunday, September 05, 2004

Sunday Contentment

Just returned from the Classical Concert night at Newham's "Under The Stars" Festival in East Ham Central Park. Sitting on the grass with C, right in the front having one or two beers. Behind were rows and rows of chairs and tables. Little children were running around ignoring the music.

The stage was rather grand, for an East Ham event. It took a full orchestra, and had a giant display screen with details showing from at least 4 cameras. This with the seating in a fenced enclosure, and a lot of security staff about. Even two bicycle police pedalled past us at one point, in front of the stage.

It was great fun. The fireworks display right at the end was accompanied by the 1812 overture, but it was remarkably well timed and designed to suit the piece. One particular visual effect I hadn't seen before was a blanketing wall of gold fire spreading upwards about one quarter as high as the big starbursts.

There was a soprano soloist, Phoebe Hill apparently, who was wearing a lovely full length dress with a full skirt, and doing a marvellous job on her songs. I really liked the dress, which was straw-coloured. I do wish more women would wear dresses. It is such a relief on the eyes to see a woman in a skirt that can be twirled. I think the days are over for women to wear jeans as fashion. Jeans may be practical and necessary sometimes, but they are so common on a woman that they are visually boring.

C and I both think it is unfair that the Conductor gets all the credit for the work, when there are so many musicians who have rehearsed over and over again, and have their manuscripts in front of them, It would seem they could carry on and finish the concert by themselves should the conductor ever collapse in mid-performance.

Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, took the stage to do his little welcome speech. He has a very strong Scottish accent, though where it is from I haven't a clue. We were reminded that the concert was Free, and yes, it is so nice to get something from one's Council Tax. (I've been trying for 3 weeks with the Environment Department's Street Hotline to get our street swept. The Cleaning Dept, or the Contractors claim that it has been done. But it has not. Apparently I have to launch an official complaint now.)

But the day was already grand. It was shirts-off warm and sunny all day, and flustered at having no plans, I nonetheless knew that I must jump on my bike and find something. I drifted south through Beckton and then veered left to Gallions Reach, saw the new Shopping Centre (I am beginning to think that Newham now has got more retail space per capita than any other London Borough). But then I headed down to the River and followed the path to Gallions Reach Marina. I climbed down a ladder onto a rough patch of ground to stare at the icky mud below that was exposed by the low tide. The Marina mouth has a lock, behind which are some nice launches, and one of the vast bodies of water of the Royal Docks. I took a side road signed for access to the Tereza Joanne. The still abandoned ground by the docks was a pleasure to patrol. It is so nice these days to be able to find some large abandoned ground in London. Such a relief. So much has been tidied up, built upon, turned into a facility. There is something about making forays into a bit of empty disused land which satisfies the need for adventure in the soul. The feeling of discovery of something new is mixed with the challenge of navigating it. Most embracingly, there is an illusion of being the first to lay claim to it, and being the only one to own it.

Thus I was already a contented man, when I happened upon the apple tree that was growing "wild" on a bank overlooking the road off the dock side. I saw the largest "red" apples I have ever seen upon a tree in England. The kind of apples that I like to eat, which I cannot find to buy, in Supermarkets or greengrocers, for love nor money nor sex. Many had already fallen to waste, but I ate one and picked another 6. I took two cuttings in the hope that they might propagate. Who cares if I'm getting old and I might move and never see them bear. I love growing plants and trees, and I shouldn't deny myself the pleasure for fear of missing out on their maturity. If I should see their birth, then should I be glad enough.

But my contentment found more food. I went into North Woolwich and savoured the tiny little remnant of rough East End living standards that is now swamped by wave after wave of large surrounding recent developments. Rough. It is now becoming so rare in the historical parts of Newham that it almost seems time to slap Heritage Listings onto the mock deprivation that remains of East End culture.

Then I took the Woolwich Foot tunnel under the river, and was thankful that the lifts were operating on both sides. This comes out at the Leisure Centre next to the Woolwich Ferry. Much to my delight, I found the Thames Path and Cycleway, which I had heard about, never visited, but completely forgotten.

The Thames Cycle path on the south side of the river east of Woolwich is a cyclists dream. Running right along the river, it is entirely unobstructed, and extend for miles, apparently to Erith. For myself I was enough grateful to encounter the section of the riverside which is undeveloped, green, and natural. There aren't many places in East London where you can mosey along the Thames' riverbanks, in the shade of Wild Mother Nature. So much of the river side has been given over to luxury apartment buildings.

I passed 3 queens having a full-on picnic with wine glasses and dinner plates, on the grassy swards in front of the Royal Arsenal. On my way back they were still there. I went into the Royal Arsenal complex and was amazed to see Listed Buildings whose existence I did not know of. The iron gates of the Shell Foundry took my breath away, perhaps because they stood in majestic colourful proportion to the brick facade. It is now used as the marketing suite for the main Berkeley Homes development by the riverbank.

Onward into Woolwich, and the probably the most perfect yet humble Wetherspoon pub I have seen. The windows open widely so that there is a connection with the street, and the small garden across the road. The weather in London isn't often good enough for this, but I had found this pub at the height of its season. A lager shandy to slake the thirst, and it just peaked a day that was making life worth living.

Such a contrast with Saturday, whence I rotted so badly that I shut the curtains mid-afternoon and aimed for the booze. This despite the weather. Perhaps I was worn out from my cycle ride on Friday, which had also been blue sky and hot. I was disappointed with the Colleges in Stratford and Tottenham I had talked to, and depressed by the domination of Soho by mediocre tourists. Although I did sit in Trafalgar square with my beer and for once looked at Nelson properly, sitting on his column, against the most deliciously coloured sky with wafty puffs of sunset-coloured sky. It was as though someone in the National Gallery behind me, had taken one of their Renaissance cityscape paintings off the wall and hung it behind Nelson's column.

Perhaps I was fed up with Internet people on Friday night. I think I was. The Internet presents limitations for its users which exacerbate the natural limitations of those users. It might be time to give up on the Internet and go onto the next stage of Living Again.

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