Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On turning 40

The early mornings are dark at this time of the year. I know this because I tend to wake up early on my birthday. One of my first memories is bombing through the dark of the landing to my parents’ room as very little lad, and finding lots of miniature toy aeroplanes for me to play with or, a few year later, waking up to a pair of new football boots, a sign that I was becoming a bigger boy, ready to start playing the game more seriously.

As I turn 40, today feels like one of those birthdays, rather than the nonchalant “It’s just another day” of my 20s and 30s. Waking up at 5:20am (exactly the same time as I was born),  I reflected on those past four decades: from first days at school, to discovering clubs and acid house, to Hillsborough, Spike Island, Arsenal winning the League right in front of me, university, DJing, London, journalism, marriage and a thousand other places and people on the way. All of them to lead to this, to today. I’m surprised I’ve fitted it all in.

There’s no better – or more poignant – reminder of who really cares about you than the cards you get on your birthday, and there’s a fair few on the Habitat bookcase, including three from my mum, whose words make me well up every time I read them. More than money, more than success, the thing that matters most is love – the knowledge someone is actually interested in your welfare. And, as the sky lightens, and I wait for the calls from parents and friends, the accumulation of that emotion, whether it's in the form of kisses from my wife, words of encouragement from my parents or handshakes from my mates, is the best reward I can have from my time so far on this beautiful little planet.

I like the feel of this next decade already.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The River Lea – from Stratford to Limehouse

What a wonderful river the Lea is. Running from the hills near Luton to the Thames at Limehouse, it’s supplied the capital with water for hundreds of years, as well as providing a navigable route from the interior to London when roads in this country were nothing more than tracks used by bog-eyed rustics in beige smocks. 

Today, the Lea is for the most part a leisure river, its swampy hinterlands providing a visible green wedge that slices through east London and beyond, a reminder that this apparently permanent metropolis exists only because nature lets it. 

Near the river’s exceedingly bendy delta – can I say that? – there are canals, islands, mills and bridges aplently, with the Limehouse Cut jetting off from the main river until it too ends, as you would expect, in Limehouse.

And here, where once there were opium dens and secret drinking dens, there are now gastropubs and tasteful apartments by the score, full of gastro-people and their gastro-kids. A microscosm of modern London and a fitting end to the Lea trail – a river that is both mysterious and visible, a river to be explored and enjoyed.