Saturday, 5 February 2011

a field student: Walking the Ching UK Premiere 2nd February

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My persistent hacking cough is unlikely to have endeared me to my flat mates recently and so they were probably relieved when I set out for last night’s walk, providing them with some respite from a self consumptive and irritating expellent.
I decided I needed a good soup made with ingredients sourced from the benevolence of the ultra local flora and fauna. I will usually be found grazing in the graminivor’s field however last night my appetite was for something meatier - a ‘chickeny’ or ‘fishy’ broth. What prompted this?
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The source of the cough might be the dusty books I have been reading while researching the depiction of water borne diseases, particularly in cartoon form, up until the beginning of the 20th century. I was probably unwise to have licked my lips while examining the monstrous menagerie bobbing about in London’s water during the 19th century. What beasties reside in London’s 21st century water?
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While preparing for the nocturnal forage, dare I say stalk, I reflected grimly on how long it would take for me to be found in my room if I expired from swine flu or some other disease currently on the rampage. I really should get out more. I could go and knock on the doors of some imaginary or virtual psycho-buddies and ask if they want to come out and play. It’s ok, it’s safe; I’ve deflated every single car tyre in Walthamstow, in my dreams. Alas, Technomist is recovering from altitude sickness and Freewheeler is lost in the depths of another London Borough of Waltham Forest implementation plan in portable document format. Anna is way out there beyond the stalking mode, and Wendy doesn’t do darkness. So I resigned myself to a perambulation with just a plastic bucket and fishing net on a bamboo stick for company.

Here in Lost and Found, you might find the stirrings of a fascination with the history of water and sanitation in London. I talked to the bucket about Roy Porter’s, enjoyable, London: A Social History. He (RP) recounts ‘the great stink’ - a Stygian pool (of laissez faire dogmatism?) and tragicomic indifference to mass outbreaks of cholera resulting from diabolical sanitation and landed wrangling over water provision. The last ‘great’ outbreak of cholera in Whitechapel (in the late 19th century) sprang from the fetid waters of the Lea and with this in mind I cautiously decided to visit another of Walthamstow’s watery margins, The River Ching. The bucket was overly pensive for it didn’t reply or say a thing during the whole walk.

What serendipity! St Mary’s bells were ringing out into the night while my feet took me to the river. I recalled some lines from Psalm 91 (King James Version)...
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Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor the arrow that flieth by day.
Nor the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor the destruction that wasteth at noonday.
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.....lines which persuaded Daniel Defoe’s fictional character, in, A Journal of the Plague Year, to stay put in Aldgate and see out the plague. I’m informed Daniel Defoe is one of the seminal ‘psychogeographers’ and therefore essential reading for any field student aspiring to competence in this subject. This is also an apt point at which to recall another of David Dellafoira’s fine mail art shows, a collective emanation comprising eclectic postal homage to Defoe, ‘Castaway to Plague Years’, at Stoke Newington Library in the early 1990s.
Reassured by the bells, I proceeded, as a field student of E17, to diligently scribble notes as I walked. The convolutions of pencilled curlicues, squiggles and pothooks took on a character of increasingly delirious automatism. Eventually I got to where I was going; another riverside path without a name as far as I could see but which cycles and walks from Empress Avenue (E4), via Walthamstow Stadium, The Peter May Centre, Rushcroft School and Highams Park, to Cavendish Road (E4). This is Walthamstow E4, as defined by the parliamentary constituency boundary, a northern edge which is inscribed along the meandering Ching.

I paddled, quacked and delved in the trickle of the stream between banks of desolated memories of overgrown and lush waterside frondescence. How bare, how bleak this edge is at this time of year. Still, then heron like, I stalked and dipped a net for beasties, morsels to flesh out my broth. The cool and sepulchral humidity salved my chest and throat, which have been cooked sore by over exposure to centrally heated air.
I gave up the hunt and just as well you might say for, truly, how alive is, The Ching, and how life giving is whatever ‘lives’ in it?

Nearby, ‘the dogs’ loomed grimly that night, bereft of its’ sentinel ‘neonhounds’. It is via the Archipelago of Truth, I know something of how Walthamstow Stadium is a disputed site and the disputations seem insurmountable; indeed they make an ascent of K2 look like an urban stroll in Higham Hill. They are affecting the site in ways I consider fantastic. What sort of warped zone is this in which the trees are walking through the walls, growing into and lifting the building claiming ground for another twilit forest of monstrous symbols?

I found my way home to the comfort of a tin of bitter sweet lemon grass soup.



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photo studies of trees growing by Walthamstow Dogs, 2nd February 2011.


in 2008, I discovered this near Battersea




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