You can find the map for today’s 7.03 mile walk here. Only16 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
When I got off the train at Vauxhall to start this walk I had to remind myself, Don’t be a dick. The south is not all the things people say it is. It’s still London and it’s fully of great things too, I’m sure.
I tried to forget the stories of friends who were mugged around here and tried to chill out about the fact that I have a GoPro visibly strapped to my chest, an iPad in my bag and a camera in my hand. Sure I am a massive moving target but I move unpredictably, like a ninja! They’ll never get me!
I focused, opened up and said to myself, Let’s see what’s here! It’s going to be awesome!
Then I turned the corner to see four police vans descending on a local business. In the park behind that, I watched four officers pour out of another van and fan out to interview people.
Remain calm. It’s going to be ok. Something happened but it doesn’t concern you. They’re not going to come for you. You’re going to be fine. Breathe.
Then I turned onto a street lined with neon yellow signs saying, “WARNING: You ARE going to get mugged here, just thought you’d like to know.”
It took me a while to calm down. I was so freaked out and hyper-aware of everyone walking within 100 meters of me that I didn’t enjoy myself much at all. I always pay attention to who is around (I have this tendency to go down dark, dead-end allies so it’s just a good practice), but this is the first place that has literally lined the street with warnings to remind you that a mugging is imminent.
I wasn’t a fan.
I reverted to my Tae Kwon Do past life, seeing everyone as walking mannequins with big blue dots on the target zones.
Luckily, it’s too exhausting to stay ramped up for long, so the adrenaline ran out at some point and I started to calm down.
In Graphite Square, the security guard escorted me into the courtyard so I could mark it off my map, and we had a little chat about the recent spike in bike thefts that’s forced them to seal off the square. He said it’s all just opportunistic theft. If they see an opening, they take it. Don’t look like an easy target and they will find something else.
So I pulled on my fierce face and looked at everyone with an I see you. No, I mean I see you, so don’t mess. Don’t even think about it.
After a while though, I remembered I hate having a fierce face. It isn’t who I am. I talk to strangers. It’s what I do, it’s who I am. I don’t want to walk around telling people to keep clear by snarling my lip. I want them to talk to me. So the fierce face didn’t last long either.
That’s when I finally started to enjoy the walk.
I started chatting with strangers on the street. People stopped to ask if I needed help or to ask what I was doing. I watched neighbours greet each other as they passed on the street; some a quick hello, some a big hug and a long catch up session.
I started to see the community ties in this part of London. People know each other. They know their neighbours, they know the other mums from school, they see each other in the parks, the community centres and the libraries. They actually interact with each other. Shocking!
I also saw the signs of a massive battle going on.
This community is being squeezed out.
I couldn’t count the number of building projects going on – all of them flats. They aren’t affordable housing like the majority of places around here. They are for City workers.
This area is not pretty. It’s not full of zany cafes where you can get your flat white made to order by a barrista sporting a pencil moustache and calf socks. And as a result it is under massive development to make it “better” (because skeezy, “retro”, “ironic” moustaches are so much better.)
Development is one of those complicated things. You can argue that it represents progress, that it will bring business and therefore money to the neighbourhood. You can also argue that none of that money will really stay here, and that when the council houses are knocked down and replaced, they won’t be filled with the same tenants. Those people will just be shit out of luck, trying to find a new home at a time when London’s real estate values are going up 25% a year.
The developers come in and say, Thanks for keeping the place warm for us, we’ll take over from here!
I saw this same thing happening on Day 7 in the east. London has an expanding bubble of development going on, the edges of which mark out battle grounds where people are fighting to keep their homes because there is no way they can afford to stay in London otherwise.
It’s a really sad thing that’s happening out there, folks. When you walk through the streets and see the reality of this fight it’s hard to ignore the ugly truths behind it.
I think any Londoner would do well to visit this part of town and get a feel for the realities that sit behind every new building project. We don’t have big, open tracts of land to build on. New builds always involve removing old things. It’s only responsible to know what that means for everyone involved.
The Stuff to See
Like I said, there’s not a lot of amazing places for me to recommend seeing here since it’s mostly homes. I did still manage to find a few things worth noting though.
The guard at Graphite Square told me MI6 was around the corner and also pointed out a building across the street that he said was a big archive of criminal records. “I don’t know why it says NCA on it, it’s a criminal archive” he said, “It goes deep into the ground and is full of records. There’s probably a page or two about me in there *wink wink, nudge nudge*” and we had a good laugh.
When I asked the guard at the NCA if it was an archive he said, “No, there’s no archive. We’re haven’t been around long enough!” Maybe they used to be there but this place is different now.
I asked what it was they actually were then and he said they’re the equivalent of the FBI in the States. When he said they were new, he wasn’t lying. They opened in October of 2013.
He also gave me directions to the MI6 building around the corner. I asked if there was a sign on the building and he said, “No but the IRA knew who they were when they bombed it, so we all kind of know now.”
I also found Vauxhall City Farm, a charitable organisation that runs a cute little farm on the edge of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. That’s where I met Jerry the Alpaca and some of his horse friends.
I got to the farm at the same time as a school trip and it was cute to watch the kids get excited about all the animals. They got to pet the rabbits and see chickens and learn about the horses. It was sweet. I sometimes worry that city kids miss out on these things so it is nice to see that there are places where they can interact with the beasties a little bit.
Before I leave you today, I’ll admit to having a little hipster in me (though I am absolutely dying for the moustache thing to be ripped off our collective face like a bad stage prop). I saw a little sliver of the river today and the coolest thing on it was the Tamesis Dock, a moored boat converted into a bar/restaurant.
It’s a little gimicky and a little trendy, but I would love to come here some evening to have a tipple on this beat up river boat. The views are absolutely stunning, and it would be nice to attribute my starboard list to the boat instead of the mojitos.
I liked the quote on their board too, but I would amend it a little: There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply going for a walk.
Even though it started out a little rough, today was as enjoyable and worth doing as always. I can’t believe I only have a few walks left! I’m aiming to be done in 65 total, so only 11 to go. I hope to see you at the party after the last one!
See you next time!
Only 16 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
Quick update from the future: now that this project is finished, I’m off on another adventure! Keep in touch on my new blog at Three Miles an Hour. See you there!