Ray phoned up three days ago. We realised last time we saw each other was in November last year. A year ago, when I was frantically settling into postgraduate writing, him chatting away as I was writing one of my assignments. Then a brief discussion early in the year about our concerns for a friend.
Two weeks ago, I got an invitation to someone’s retirement drinks. Didn’t know what to expect, some old souls, maybe not. I was going to go anyway. Then Ray’s call meant he also joined in (he also associated with the retiree the same years I did), and to my surprise he went on to the next level dropping emails to some peeps from our then years.
I picked him up from his studio and we headed to the working men’s club in Bethnal Green, not knowing what to expect.
There were lots of familiar faces in there. More than we expected and lots of peeps we were really close to ten years ago or so.
Most of us were more or less the same but some material changes and a comfort you find in your own skin as you grow older.
My good pal complained about someone missing. I dismissed him saying that person would never turn up.
Then catching up with my old girlfriend and rusty soul, I turned around and the double take clicked me into frame. Our pal had turned up and I was so freaking happy to see him, give him a big hug and chat in all his awesomeness and full on honesty about how things around have been making us feel.
Walking back with my girl to the bus stop we reflected on how the night went. Our fears, uncertainty of what to expect after all these years and yet how grounded and sorted things felt.
We did pick a bone with someone, which was funny, and was extended with ‘well we’re all here now’ and a big hug.
That’s my take away from the get together. No words, promises, expectations or plans. We got together, each to our own, and found each other.
Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.
The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.
Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.
The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.
Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.
This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.
Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.
Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.
Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.
The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.
We are aware London is the haven for money laundering and a gateway to tax free heavens, but is it becoming more like Dubai than we are aware of?
I walked out at 6am to unchain my bike to find a maclaren left on the curve of my street.
I live in a nice part of the east end near the wharf non excluding drug dealing and rowdiness vibes depending the time and night of the week.
Last night, there was a party of very affluent Chinese kids on one end of the street, and a joint smoking around the cars dub party at the other.
Seeing the Maclaren in the morning came as no surprise, either of the groups can afford to scrape enough to hire or buy one.
Yes alone the car was impounded, just as I returned at 9.30am, slowly gathering a small crowd of early risers and security guards.
The parking attendant was as surprised. In his whole career, he’d never seen anything like it.
That brought me to an article I had read about Dubai’s airport doubling up as a super expensive car cemetery. Hundreds of cars left in a rush, for one way flights out of the country, often for very dodgy reasons.
My question in all of this is simple. Why dodgy men have a thing about super expensive and fast cars, beyond the bling factor.
Is there a club of angry men that buys and dumps super expensive cars, like a society, encouraging others to do so? And if so, how do I shut this thing down?
I’m conscious that they are a bad example, for both groups that were partying last night on my road.
So imagine you are in your city but it suddenly feels a different place altogether.
It wasn’t in a place I had not been before either. I think my state of mind was in an altered state being there like that for the first time. It involved using the public transport but the difference was in the vibe, the society, the moment.
I have been on the london overground a number of times, going to meetings, hopping out east to the wick or north to highbury. I know the trendies, the mummies, the original hackneys carriaged away up and through neighbourhoods previously out of reach. I been in situations where the rodent were getting trodden on by the passing cars, in full view of affluent dining audiences. Seen it all.
But that was new. Before midnight jumping on the overground at Hoxton station, me and others after or on the way to boozing. Gracefully space etiquette adhered to, spaces between seats, no roughing, no shuffling. Air con, smooth ride. Hovering just about leveled with top floors of Victorian terraces, bridges, warehouses. Light reflections on the inside, obstructing sensible assessment of the view on the outside. Spaced out in a spacious vehicle, with all the room for a poetry based on shuttle messages, all so effortless and out worldly smooth.
On Sunday, London hosted the annual marathon event, with thousands of participants running the 26 something miles.
The weather was a sizzling 24C with clear skies posing a number of health risks even for the most experienced athletes.
I stood by in Canary Wharf, planning initially to stay only for a few minutes, which turned into hours, after seeing, and being mesmerised by the Kenyan athletes. Their energy is unfathomable, unaffected by the elements, running solidly on their feet, unstoppable towards their own personal target to a medal. Following closely a number of vehicles with cameras indicated the presence of someone important and there you had it, Sir Mo Farah powering through. I was saddened to hear nearing the end of his run that he was seeking a bottle of water, only to be ignored by bystanders wanting to take the best shots as up close as possible. The inhumane treatment of fame, in full display.
Wheelchairs, the visually impaired, following through continued the display of incredible strength of spirit.
Not too long after, people aiming for the 3 hour finish mark, powered through. Pouring sweat and having sustained a considerable amount of sun exposure, gradually more and more were slowing down, even stopping to a walking pace. That was the point, the energy of the crowds and their value, really shined through. At the point where really experienced runners were stopping crowds gathered to encourage on, shouting names of people they didn’t know, edging them to continue on. Strangers, flooding their energy to strangers. The effect was magic happening before our eyes. The runners’ faces lightening up, pace quickening, invaluable seconds saved.
The human endurance has layers unexplored by the majority of us. It doesn’t entertain fear or weakness as concepts. It merely facilitates strength. The psychological status is about completing the task with ease, and resourcing a little more energy for overachieving, unravelling that extra bit of energy as it replenishes itself from the invisible source of confidence.
The fear, and doubt gradually appeared in the lesser trained athletes. You didn’t need to have a discussion. Their feelings stood in front of their faces, attached like a bubble of energy, with rights restricted to the owner exclusively.The take over of these feelings, may as well had been rolled out in a banner. External conditions had made their internal challenge furthermore complex.
This in itself is a very intense experience. It places the human spirit and our conditioning, in the heart of the matter. Challenging mental energy and channelling as well.
Every year I forget… Until I stand by again to watch. And every year I read another layer, of someone running past, a different story, equally important as the very first one, let it be that of the Kenyans or Mo Farah for that matter.
The invaluable value of encouragement. One step at a time, through the stages of being and feeling.
Everything has to do with the mind, and with the limits we have put in and the fact we can overcome them to break them. And what I have done is doping of the mind.
Until the next marathon, exploring the well of our course.