New motherhood is like a trip to a foreign country: Flatlands

Here’s a recent visual experiment that I made in the stolen moments of Beano’s naps. The setting is the 3-room rental flat we used to stay in, a very mundane 3-room “New Generation” (slab block) default template HDB flat built back in the 70s and 80s. And I think I’ve finally found a way to explain this thing that I’ve tried to explain many times before (but struggle to explain, similar to how its hard to explain my experience of taste-shape and mirror-touch synthesthesia).

For me, at any one time I always feel other superimpositions or juxtapositions of other places that feel a bit like memory palaces where I can store facts, thoughts, and memories of another time. Its hard to explain, but it is like when you have a work phone call, you might start doodling nonsense on a piece of paper. But in my case, when I start to daydream or let the mind wander (also: this happens when I am extremely focused on an urgent task and everything else zones out), I always end up recalling a visual memory of a place I’ve visited in the past. I am imagining tracing out its contours, I am imagining what the details must be like, what the lighting must be like. Honestly, I can’t really explain why certain views for me just keep popping up as the ‘memory palace’, as some of the locations are pretty inconsequential and emotionally insignificant to me. Yet! My mind returns to them for further rumination. To what end? I do not know.

I began writing the following some time back when Beano was a much smaller baby. But now that we are all locked down at home for the corona, and I haven’t left the house and its vicinity in days, fleeting memories of parks I’ve walked in come to mind. I found myself scrubbing through these albums trying to find the name of a particular memory that may as well be a dream. There was something oddly compelling about these images I had taken of my walks and frustratingly I COULD NOT FIND THAT ONE IMAGE OF THAT ONE WALK IN MY MIND. And turns out some of these images are pretty weird. Why are there no people in them?

It was always in the back of my mind to do something with this huge lot of photographs, so…. now they have ended up in this visual experiment. I actually think it looks better than I expected it; so I think I might even make more of them soon…


New motherhood is like a trip to a foreign country. Firstly, the middle of the night feedings are conducted in near-darkness, with the endless droning of the white noise machine in the background, and some random show on Netflix playing to sustain your consciousness beyond all normal hours lest you fall asleep on the sofa and baby accidentally rolls off; not unlike when one takes a plane and night-time is arbitrarily enforced upon you, the sound of the engines whirring is ubiquitous, and all you’ve got to watch are some random blockbusters or episodes of Big Bang Theory on the inflight.

When Beano was very very small, I found myself trying to claw back a sense of mobility through a series of ever increasingly longer walks with Beano strapped to me. In some ways, this strategy reminds of me of the Capital Ring walk I did in 2017. Living in Greater London makes one feel crushed by one’s own insignificance in a big city that is too vast to know by foot, so I thought I’d try to complete a ring around the city.

Once upon a time I was going to do a detailed expository blog post for each leg but AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT so here are quite simply the photo albums for each leg of the walk…

Debbie’s 2017 Capital Ring Walk!

The source material for “Flatlands”

“I decided to walk the supposedly 78 mile Capital Ring over 6 consecutive days. I say “supposedly”, for Debbie does not go “as the crow flies” but rather haphazardly in a squiggly line all over the map, and according to other mapping devices it seems I may have walked more than 150 miles in total. Rather than starting with the traditional route as listed in TFL’s maps and David Sharp’s guide book to the Capital Ring, I decided to start and end my journey at Stoke Newington’s Rochester Castle.”

14 March 2017: CAPITAL RING Stoke Newington to Woolwich

Day 1: Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick
Day 1: Hackney Wick to Beckton District Park
Day 1: Beckton District Park to Woolwich Foot Tunnel

15 March: CAPITAL RING

Day 2: Woolwich Foot Tunnel to Falconwood
Day 2: Falconwood to Grove Park

16 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 3: Grove Park to Crystal Palace
Day 3: Crystal Palace to Streatham Common

17 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 4: Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park
Day 4: Wimbledon Park to Richmond

18 March 2017: Capital Ring

Day 5: Richmond to Osterley Lock
Day 5: Osterley Lock to Greenford
Day 5: Greenford to South Kenton

19 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 6: South Kenton to Hendon Park
Day 6: Hendon Park to Highgate
Day 6: Highgate to Stoke Newington

Visiting my Geographical “Googleganger”: From Burgoyne Road N4 to Burgoyne Road SE25

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I lived on Burgoyne Road for some years but although I specifically set my home address to “Burgoyne Road N4”, whenever I tried to use Google Maps to plot a route back home, Google would occasionally send me the directions to “Burgoyne Road SE25” instead of “Burgoyne Road N4”. No matter what I did – such as entering in my entire postcode, unit number, landmarks, etc – Google still kept trying to send me to SE25.

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So a few months ago I decided to visit the OTHER Burgoyne Road, the “Googleganger” of my road that I kept being directed to – since I was already passing through Norwood on my Capital Ring walk.

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The other Burgoyne Road in South Norwood was a short walk from Norwood Junction, peppered with churches, payday loan shops, chicken shops, and the very average fly-tip strewn suburbia of South London.

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Unlike the very long and dramatically inclined Burgoyne Road in North London, which was situated off the very lively Green Lanes and on the Harringay Ladder itself, the Burgoyne Road in South London here was very short and flat.

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One of these very ordinary houses is the geographical googleganger of my flat in North London.

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It was all together very ordinary, but as I stood there for some time on this totally empty road, a woman came out of nowhere. All of my naive youthful excitement must have attracted this strange gypsy lady who then asked me what I was doing standing there. She started what seemed to be a rather normal conversation with me. “I’m from Burgoyne Road in North London!” I told her, “and you’re from Burgoyne Road in South London!” “Yes… Yes… very nice.” She smiled… following which things took a surreal turn and she suddenly turned a bit nasty and refused to let me leave unless I gave her money immediately. IMMEDIATELY! IMMEDIATELY! “But why?” “Because I have a baby.” “Ok, but that doesn’t answer why?” Even when I said I had no cash on me, she said she would take to me to the cash machine where I could draw money and give it to her a la daylight robbery! Very strange. But why would I give her all my money just because she was holding my arm and verbally insisting that I do so? I found myself running away from this Burgoyne Road…

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The neighbourhood didn’t seem so friendly after the weird experience. As I ran further down this claustrophobic road, a cyclist zoomed past a pedestrian in the vicinity too quickly and I heard a woman yell “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING, WANKER!!!” – followed by another very demonstrative shout “SORRY!!!!?!?!!”

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UH, WELCOME TO SOUTH NORWOOD, I GUESS…?

Capital Ring #1: Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick

Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick
Distance: 4 miles / 6.4 km
Feels like: a breeze through the marshes
Date: 14 March 2017

 

A Return to the Rochester Castle – Springfield Park – Wilsons Hill – Avroplane crash landing site – Hackney Henge – Wick Woodland – Giant dogs with headphones and hoodies – Approaching Olympic territory

This is the start of 15 posts about how I did the Capital Ring in 6 days…

THIS IS HOW IT ENDED:

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AND THIS IS HOW IT BEGAN:

The walk usually begins in Woolwich, but I decided to start my loop in Stoke Newington. The first time that I came to the UK, the first area that I landed in happened to be Stoke Newington, and the first establishment I went to was also the splendid Rochester Castle which has the distinct honour of being the oldest Spoon, with its skylights, carpets, strange paintings, and wooden box seating. The familiar red-wine-and-pepper stained carpets of the humble Spoon! The extremely reasonable prices! So it seemed only fitting to begin my walk here with a hearty hot (kid-sized!) breakfast…

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THE START! THE START! Why do I always make this unfortunate face on camera.

Most of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill is already intimately familiar to me, having lived around those parts over the years. These parts of Hackney are scattered with these large rocks embedded into the pavement at junctions, and lots of community scribblings engraved into the pavement. At certain hours one also sees a lot of the Hasidic Jews with their distinctive hats (and secretive lives) quietly crossing from building to building.

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Ducks of Springfield Park

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The first significant stop on this walk is Springfield Park, which I personally always seem to forget the name of, until I am there, because its name sounds so generic. Springfield is one of those words like Sunnyvale (SEE ALSO: TRAILER PARK BOYS, HOUSOS). I’m not sure if the name Stamford Hill refers to any particular hill really, but if it were to be a hill this is the point at which Upper Clapton riseth-upper to a peak, thus it involves what some would say is an open slope down into the valley of River Lea. But of course in Debbie’s world this hill is a potentially vertiginous tumble that reminds me of that one time I got on a bike in this park, instantly almost fell off it, and concluded that combination of said bicycle and hill was most certainly a DEATH TRAP.

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The most prominent part of the hill, also known as Wilsons Hill, has existed here for at least 200 years in this singularly sloped form.

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From the northern end of Springfield Park, there’s a gate and footbridge leads out into the Lea Valley’s Walthamstow Marshes. Variously spelt LEY, LEE and LEA, its original name was Ley, but it was more commonly written as Lea on maps, whilst Acts of Parliament referred to it as Lee. Ultimately it was decided that natural elements of the river would be spelt as LEA and man-made features would be spelt as LEE. As the natural river winds through here, it is spelt as LEA.

As there is very little to hold on to, this part of the Lea Valley, as with other parts of the Lea Valley I’ve walked along is vertigo territory for me. But I’ll get back to that later.

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The open sandy track goes under a railway arch under which Aliot Verdon-Roe rented in 1909 to build his “Avroplane”, the first all-british tri-plane. He used the soft marshes of Walthamstow for his flight and crash landings. If you’ve ever seen one of these early experimental airplanes up close, it consists of wooden sticks and control cables and flaps and its one of my favourite eras of airplane building since it was so much so a prototype in progress and its an absolute marvel these precarious contraptions ever flew…

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Kings Head bridge
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Middlesex Filter Beds
Continuing on via the heavy black “Kings Head” footbridge to the canalised section of the Lee Navigation, one eventually passes the Middlesex Filter Beds on the left, more commonly known as the Hackneyhenge because huge blocks of granite formerly used as the foundations of the engine house have been converted into a mini Stonehenge.

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The canalway follows on for quite some distance, passing quite a lot of plane trees (including a giant dead plane tree cracked into two).

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As recent as 1995 all of these woodlands did not exist; beyond the trees, the Hackney Marsh once were the site of WWII gun emplacements and bunkers. After the war its vast open space were used as football pitches, until the 90s when it was decided that part of the space would be converted back to woodland. The success of the woodland has been due to planting programmes as well an episode of accidental flooding in 1997 (water mains burst!) which attracted ducks and other waterfowl to move in on their own accord.

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Wick Woodland

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Further down there is Wick Woodland – from a distance I saw some splotches of bright pink and could not resist walking towards it until I found the magic spot where one could see the message…

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This segment of the walk ends at White Post Lane, just after a well-graffitied bridge and several giant murals of urban dogs, and we’re entering into Stratford Olympic territory proper…

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The visible change in the landscape says we’re entering Stratford!