Monday, 26 July 2010

Pedley Street Arena

In December 2009 Gail read 'A Christmas Anecdote – Pedley Street Arena' for Lost Steps' Christmas special on Resonance FM. You can listen to the programme here. The story revisits one of walkwalkwalk's nightwalks...

It’s Winter Solstice 2007 - not quite Christmas, but this is the night when walkwalkwalk have our ritual nightwalk, and it always feels festive. Tonight it’s so cold I feel sick; such intense cold that everyone is at their limit. This imbues the walking group and our Bethnal Green route with an atmosphere of ruthless bacchanal…a sense of something bubbling, struggling to burst out. Yet the night is also strangely still on the surface – thickly, damply, mist wraps around everything – leaving half-buildings, sawn off stumps. It’s like a ‘50s film with Dirk Bogarde, lingering on a street corner. Bogeymen emerge from the mist. The still, quietening of the mist releases fragmentary moments of acoustic weirdness, otherworldliness…and impending violence.

As we pass through the hodge-podge of 1960s estates and 1890s remnants, sandwiched between Brick Lane and Vallance road, twisting our way to what was Pedley Street and Fleet Street Hill, there is a sense of excited anticipation. We are nearly at the soup stop, the point where we traditionally have a fire, awaiting our arrival in a brazier. The luxury to colonise this spot has been possible as it is a gap in the city: odds and ends of insignificant streets and waste ground, railway perimeters, that nobody’s been interested in for years. But now the new railway is coming and the whole area has been sectioned off, closed in, covered over – Pedley Street is concealed behind hoardings and mounds of earth, the Railway Footbridge and Flying Hut are inaccessible, and Fleet Street Hill is only navigable through a corridor of wooden fencing. The area has become a flat, smoothed arena, contained behind high chain-link fences, and tauntingly flood lit. Above, on the old railway bank, there is a line of static machines – cherry pickers, diggers and cranes, left like musical statues, elegantly, hungrily poised. The edge of this arena is to be the site for our soup stop – still in enough of a no man’s land.

Ambiguous shrieks and grunts penetrate the thick air – they emanate from where the fire and soup will be. I run ahead to see what is happening. The kids who usually hang around, trying ineptly to mug the residents of Weavers House, have got hold of our axe, from chopping fire-wood. The lure of the shining floodlit arena has proved too strong. As the nightwalk arrives for our soup we hear crunching, cracking and smashing as the kids take the axe to the lights and fence of the construction site. Whooping and squawking with delight at their destruction, (though still too timid to go inside the arena), they express the desire that was palpable in the atmosphere. The Pedley Street arena summonsed this violence, taunted us to get inside and smash it up. We don’t get the axe back, though the kids do have some soup.

The Pedley Street arch towards 'the Arena'...

...and towards Shit Bridge.

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