Living Together Walk #2 East to West
Voiceover transcript, read by Verity-Jane Keefe
I’m your guide. Walking you through this place, from here right across over to there. We should, we might have done this in real life, but then if we had, this wouldn’t have happened, and some of you wouldn’t have joined.
Walk with me. Lose yourself with me. East to West across invisible borders and boundaries, park to park, Pondfield to Mayesbrook. Football Ground to Football ground (ish). Dagenham and Redbridge FC over there, the daggers, digger dagger digger dagger oi oi oi. I’d heard this chant before I’d ever made it to Dagenham, in a pub I worked in there was a lone daggers fan who would get drunk and chant the chant on repeat. Brian. He used to call me Faraday. “Get down there Faraday, you’ll bloody love it”. I am down here
We’ve entered via the Eastern edge, bookended by green spaces. Again, this isn’t a complete history. It’s not a history, or the story of Becontree. It’s a story of a walk through a place. Together and apart. Roof conversions wrapped in scaffolding, accidental Christo on one side, plastic topiary balls on the other. Sculptural moments with guaranteed rents by elliotleigh. LET.
Birdsong and the occasional car. Early spring morning with bright blue skies above and vans ahead, blending together.
Fence down and wooden bollards. Yellow metal bollard in private space. Sunday morning car cleaning. Classic. The browns, beiges, brick, oranges, yellows and all of the palette of pebbledash. Car breaking my thoughts jutting out. Cream render, grey render. Before. After, EXPERTS IN PROPERTY MAINTENANCE. How many properties do you have to maintain to become an expert?
More topiary balls. Creams, breeze blocks. It’s me. This low early morning spring sun casting my shadow all over the place, walking through with too many layers on holding a camera on a stick. Strangely invisible.
More topiary balls. Ribbons around trees and weaved through fences. Ribbon around the topiary ball. More of this. All of this.
Poetry in an otherwise empty tenants and residents association board. The Boleyn Poet on Reede Road, West Ham fans are everywhere. The ribbons were West Ham colours Coincidence maybe.
The Spring of 2020
We Had nowhere we could go
We watched box sets on the telly
And we listened to the radio.
Those lucky enough to have a garden
Sat and basked in the sun
While others made the most of it
Going for walks or a run
Our houses were suddenly spotless
As we scrubbed every nook and cranny
Each night we’d be on skype or whatsapp
To aunts and uncles and dear old nanny
We learnt to smile again
There were no aeroplanes in the sky
The only things with wings
Were a bee a bird and butterfly
Beige cream, beige cream. It’s Big Tasty Time. SPL70 News and Convenience Store. Post REMEMBERING Prince Philips’s Many Visits to East London. Mos’s Fish Bar. FISH CHIPS DONER GRILL BURGER.
Dagenham Travel on the corner, World Choice. Holidays Flights Cruises Coaches Ferries Theatres Concerts. Premium location. Premium destinations. I wonder if it has reopened.
This was Essex. This whole walk cuts across historical Essex. Some might say this still is Essex. This is the heathway. A horizontal spine from north to south, tube station, shopping parade and centre. One of the closest things Dagenham and Becontree has to a centre. The Mall. WELCOME TO THE MALL – set to open Autumn 1980 – “A central feature of the shopping precinct will be a revolving parasol, made of stainless steel and perspex, which will cast rainbow-coloured lights over the floor of ceramic red brown tiles”. I wish I’d seen this parasol. We’ll go there next time and stand in its memory.
Cluck cluck the best in town. Fags & Mags and European Markets. SIMPLY GOLD. Barber Shop. Internet Cafe. Lycamobile and passport photos. Entrepreneurial spirit with multiple businesses sharing space, when they’re open. Baskets of fruit. Variety. Diamond Beauty and more chicken before Royal Bengal.
We’re walking through the invisible residue of Fanshawe Ward, a Dagenham constituency local ward. Red. Labour. Alderman Fred Jones as Councillor for a while, living just at the other end of this road. This is now Alibon Ward – extended and redrawn, with Parsloes Ward just up there. These layers of moving and shifting boundaries. Only visible if you care, if you engage at party political level, if you look at your local polling card, or know who your councillors are. But these become places within other places. Fanshawe in Dagenham Constituency. Alibon in Dagenham & Rainham Constituency. Fanshawe and Alibon in Becontree. Fanshawe and Alibon in the past and present. Invisible and visible politics on everyday street corners.
Patchworked tarmac pavements, signs of repair and fixing. Upgrades and services. I collect these. The birds approve or are they cheering on this jogger.
Empty sign and woman waiting. No Ball Games, what ball games though? I often think this. Football or tennis on an amenity green. Cricket. Relics of public realm attitudes.
This bit where the phone lines align with the vapour trail of the aeroplane above – where was that going, where’s she going. Window tributes to Prince Philip.
This is another historical boundary of a constituency that doesn’t exist anymore. The Boundary Commission in 2010 saw Dagenham vanish from memory, and the boundary line of Barking get redrawn. It used to be the train tracks separating – Barking over there, Dagenham over here. Now it’s Dagenham and Rainham on both sides. I’ll tell you when we cross constituencies. Another fragment of a boundary. Brick wall with nothing underneath, framing Parsloes Avenue ahead.
A modern ruin perhaps. Former infrastructure to mark the now culverted Gores Brook which passed through here. Looking over towards where the former trotting ground would have been – once leased to the National Trotting Horse Breeders Association. American style apparently although I don’t know what that means. It seems pretty out there. Fanshawes and trotting horses, pleasure gardens, trees remain, the manor doesn’t although its bricks exist in some houses close by. Material matter. Materials matter. Proclaimed the People’s Park by the London County Council. Parsloes Park.
Ivyhouse Road was formerly Ivyhouse Lane. Here long before Becontree. Ivyhouse tree to the left – is this where the name comes from. Beautiful tree to the right. Left naked opposite its ivy coated friend.
A Mock Tudor house with some gnomes. A nod to Parsloes Manor perhaps, all that came before. Arches rendered and filled. More topiary hedge balls. Pargeting like cake decorations. Flourishes of style and individual choice.
STEPS for sale. STEPS sold I find out.
“Located in the Becontree Tube Station area. Steps Estate Agents are pleased to offer for sale this two bedroom mid terraced house. Benefitting from spacious lounge, fitted kitchen and a first floor bathroom. Additionally the property has double glazing, gas central heating and is chain free. An early viewing is advised. No Stamp Duty for first time buyers.”
Brian Thomas for Sale. Still for sale.
“With an attractive selling price of £325,000. Brian Thomas Estate Agents highly advise a viewing of this three-bedroom mid terrace house located on a quiet and popular side turning, with the added advantage of a rear conservatory and good size garden”
And we’re in Barking constituency. From Jon Cruddas to Margaret Hodge just like that. A flash of pink ahead. Regeneration pink. Be First pink. I’m going to look. What is it, a pink box in a playground. A hoarding. Beyond the skate park. Opportunity. Promise. A site. Through the gap in the hoarding a lone palm tree waiting, with some heras fencing.
The same jogger again! We’re out exploring at different paces, with the geese, crows and birds although it feels like everyone’s waking up slowly. They’re heading back.
The blossom is on fire. This is another shopping area, by Becontree station. We walked here before when it was much colder. Becontree Station area STEPS Estate agents informs me.
More topiary plastic balls by the door. This is a real trend.I wonder where they get them from. Like the new hanging baskets for our times.
Fences, brick walls, metal gates, ornate railings, hedges. Boundaries and thresholds. Distracted by my initials on this car I almost fall in to the hedge. VJK. Me again.
FOR SALE Carter & Willow. Sold. Off street parking and a conservatory apparently.
I notice this post box every time I come down this road. It’s brilliant. Joy in post. And then the railings and then the garden. I talk to the gardener’s husband who gives me tips for my window sill attempts – not too much sunlight, not too cool, get them outside. I don’t have an outside?
He tells me how they moved from Old Kent Road to Rugby Road, Peckham to Dagenham and they love it. More space. More growing. A better post box I think. We say our goodbyes and he drives off. “Photograph it if you like, film it – you can remember some of the tips that way” Plastic bottles to protect the tomatoes from frost plunged in to the ground. Mini protective sculptures. “Bye, nice talking” And then walk into this. I could stay amongst this.
One of my most vivid lockdown dreams was walking down a road in Becontree and all the houses started talking to me. If all the houses could speak. Like this. Not the people inside, the buildings. As characters. Mouths and eyes moving, telling me how they are and their stories. What would they say? Do you feel tired? These are all nearly 100, although looking great for it. Walking down a road like this with house after house talking to me.
We’re so close. Round the corner, round the houses. Roundhouse. The Roundhouse. Village Blues Club, Thin Lizzy and Led Zeppelin. I’m being watched. I’m not dumping rubbish. I’ll be back soon.