So what do you think about Wapping?

“Do you know anything about it?”

There I was in The Water Works in Lea Bridge Road sitting next to Mr Brannigan*, an 84 year old disabled gentleman with clear views about everything from Murdoch to the nearness of London 2012 . He’d invited me to sit on the bench overlooking the sluice gates by Thames Water’s House while he drank his juice and took an hour to eat one Rich Tea biscuit. Mallard ducks and coots swam below us .

“Me? I was born there, wasn’t I?”

        Well, that was calling ‘Housey, housey’ to my ears. I didn’t have to ask questions, like I was practising oral history techniques  a la Hermitage Community Moorings . Ole Brannigan  just rolled on telling me all about how he used to lark about in the steps by the Water Police offices in Wapping High Street and he and his absolutely raggedy mates would fall into the water with all the dirt and the rats of Old Thames. He stressed many times about the starving poor population in the Docks in those days, about how men stole and went to prison in order to eat because there was no ‘social’ then. His mother with six kids sold clothes and shoes ‘on tick’ to her neighbours in order to feed her own  whilst her husband worked all day then spent his time in the many pubs in the area especially Cable Street and The Highway. Dock Road(?) was  dangerous for everyone. Young Brannigan  rarely went to school.

               I told him all about Wapping as it is now. He said, “You know when you’re on the bus and you’re in Wapping cos the bus jumps along on the cobbles!” True that.

          He said, “People were starving in England, in Germany, all over. All the governments knew but did nothing. There was no help. My grandparents from Poland and from Ireland worked like slaves in those days.”

           I can read all about stuff on the internet but to meet a Mr Brannigan is a thing to treasure. He had  smelt the spices in the warehouses of Wapping, said how it pervaded the air on trading days. He told me how the place was noisy all the time and packed with people. Not like now when you come out of the station and neither see, hear nor smell anyone.

             Before I’d reached the Water Works,  Leyton Marshes,  The Princess of Wales and Seymour Park in Leyton which has the Dagenham Brook stagnating through it,  I’d walked through and around  the old and scummy Leyton Industrial Village in Argall Avenue, Leyton. What a dump! I’d seen it in 1985 when it was emerging as the place for small businesses to be. Many men I knew had security jobs there . Students of photography came down to develop deep and avant-garde shots of “decay”. Nice. TRS foods was big there and Sunblest Bread had arrived. Rats swum up and down what may be part of Dagenham Brook. My car mechanic was  established in one of the units. The Water Works was just that and the conservationists hadn’t found the delight of the triangle inside Leyton Marshes, an area inhabited by all sorts of weird people who hid in the cow-parsley. Not a good place to explore alone. The triangle  was a section of railway where three lines passed. All cleaned up now.

 I told Mr Brannigan all about Madge Darby and the Hermitage Community Moorings and the History Society of Wapping. His heart ached for the place but his legs were a nuisance. He’d never heard of the word “Wappea”.

 Respect to senior seniors  who tell it like it was.

* not his real name. He wouldn’t tell me.

Today’s torture

Went on the BCTV Haringey walk today which began at Tottenham Hale Station for the gold walkers, met by the silvers at Markfield Park, Haringey, who then joined the bronze lot from Leyton under Lea Bridge at the  lovely Princess Of Wales pub. The world and her husband were out today with her tribes of kiddies on Easter break. Wonderful atmosphere and the one table attendant was working hard for her money today!

         About 30 of us in all were marching at the beginning of the walk along the tow path towards Hackney Wick. After we’d passed the Water Works conservation area with its greenery we started the barren part of the trudge. There is no scenery worth photographing. Down by White Post Lane, the towpath is blocked off so that renovation in time for the Big Games can be done. Our detour began around scumsville folowing green arrows and after climbing a massive staircase we reached the path to the bunker that is the famous View Tube in its garish fluorescent green colour . Still nothing to see. Oh yes, there is the stadium in construction every which way we look. So what?  The walk along The Green Way was torture. Yer just have to keep walking.

Many of us skipped the half hour talk about the Olympic and Paralympic site and made our way to Pudding Lane Station. Out came our Freedom Passes for the one stop on the DLR to Stratford and home. Hooray! 

None of this is a reflection on our leader or the organised Healthy Walk. It just happened to be boring and confirmed the back streets of Stratford area as still that; backstreets.  Not recommended at all.

Saw a swan pair and coots and canoe rowers. And many many cyclists. Part of the diversion was in Fish Island. At last I saw the streets named after fish (Bream , Roach etc ) in a place which internet sites describe as awesome. Awesome what? Anyway my curiosity was satisfied as I’d always wanted to get to Fish Island. Damped down today then. Saw Percy Dalton’s former works place and Forman’s fish outlet. Hmmm. Maybe I need rose-coloured glasses but a dump is a dump.