During the week I found myself walking across Chingford Plain, on a perilous expedition to find the source of the River Ching. You may ask what this has to do with E17 and Walthamstow. I believe a section of the Ching marks part of the northern boundary of the parliamentary constituency of Walthamstow. The continued existence of this constituency is in some doubt as it is the subject of a review by the Boundary Commission. Would I gain any worthwhile insights into a sense of Walthamstow (MP) as a place by visiting a source of part of its boundary and, in the dering doing (pronounced, "doyng") of this my foolhardiness, find thee reason not to lose Walthamstow?
A fierce wind ravaged the forest edge. It stripped the last autumn leaves from flailing branches ominously clattering against each other overhead. The terrain was sodden and the footpaths were mostly a deep and grabbing mud. A chatter of parakeets launched into a collective antipodean screech that distracted and disorientated me and before I knew it I had slipped off the path and was hopelessly (or was it hopefully?) lost in a tempest of arboreal motions and noises the like of which I had never seen, felt or heard. Whole and huge drifts of leaves were lifted by squalls and driven with all the icy malice of blizzards intent on obscuring the expeditionary vision of Field Study's Man in E17.
I do not know how long I tramped in the vortex before I stumbled into an eerily tranquil clearing. This place was the eye of the storm. My legs were so tired I could barely walk any more and so I sat down against a tree and, absorbed by the soft floor of the forest, fell asleep. Although there was physical refuge to be had in the soft mouldy mattress of countless years of abscission, there was no such refuge to be found in the Epping Forest dream space of Field Study's Man in E17. I would like to tell you I continued exploring in the oneiric darkness of the forest, that I was visited by the poetic spirits of the forest past (John Clare among them) who mapped and illuminated the dark topography with their panoptical odes, rhymes and meters. This fantasy, if told as truth, would be untruth - merely thought of but not dreamed. The dreamscape of Field Study's Man in E17 is remote, nigh on inaccessible and possibly barren. There is little if any recall of the dreams within - if indeed there are dreams there. Any prospect of the territory might only consist of some vague adjectival quality; the dreams that day, if there were any, in the forest floor, were restless.
Imagine my surprise when on waking I found the tree I had rest lessed against had undergone a terrific and greatly accelerated transformation. The tree remained a figure of some terrible contortion, victim of a mythic lightning bolt. The woody remains were host to the opportunism of countless fungal spores and the unfathomable reach of their hyphae gripping at the towering vascular tissue. Had you put your ear to the stump you might have heard the myriad mastications of micro beasties mining the xylem and phloem. Cascades and collapses of intricately wrought cellulose littered the corporeal provenance. What nourishment can be taken in pictures of, or from, the new life of this tree?
I was even more surprised when I discovered I had grown a beard that reached to the ground. Had this beard arrived by some candid trickery or was the sojourn actually a long, long fairy tale of a sleep? Call me 'Rip Van Field Study's Man in Winkly 17'. A moment of panic flushed through me as I recalled the mission to locate one of the sources of Walthamstow's political boundary. Was Walthamstow still there? Strange noises, perhaps the grunts and shuffles of less miniscule beasties, emanated from the tree trunk as the afternoon quickly disappeared into a twilight. A well fertilised imagination got the better of me and, I am ashamed to say, I abandoned the expedition for fear of Epping Forest at night. I found my way back to Walthamstow by following the rain swollen Ching down its meandering course.
Back home I discovered there are moves afoot to defend Walthamstow MP. In the blogosphere there is a call for 700 thespians to defend the democratic identity and integrity of the area. Perhaps a battle will be fought here:
Bridge over the River Ching between Cavendish Road E4 and the Peter May Centre Playing Field
24th November 2012