An old man, unshaven and standing (with the aid of a stick) in his pyjamas, observing the unfolding rush hour. Leaning against the frame of his front door, perhaps speculating on a former life as a breadwinner beating the clock. A new (different) generation, but fundamentally the same as it ever was.
Passing a parked black Mercedes, now impounded by a wheel chain and fixed penalty notices plastered over the windows. An old man stops to survey the paperwork, as though reading a posted obituary. The metal bonds a kind of modern stocks for the errant (absent) owner.
Noting the sole surviving fragment of Bourne Hall (a fireplace), now snug in the local museum, complete with ‘eternal flames’. Further on, platforms 1 and 2 at Surbiton station bear witness to the former (1940s) kiosk, now transported to a heritage line. A rectangle of tarmac and 10 metal studs mark out its former site, like a kind of sarcophagus.
Subtle (embedded) traces of the working river. A pub with an ambiguous name. A bird or a mechanism for loading and unloading cargo? Further down The Causeway, a metal sign at the point of aquatic convergence, revealing a small canal, interred in the 1930s. Out on the main (liquid) highway, two vessels work their respective loads downriver against the incoming tide. Aggregates and the city’s waste. To build and dispose. A précis of the onetime veritable smorgasbord of trade that wound its way across the oceans and tributaries.
Overheard. A woman with a French accent talking to a work colleague. ‘If banking doesn’t work for you, then you are the next new tour guide, on military drugs’. A strange assessment of the pathfinder for the evening.
A policeman on patrol, a sleeve of tattoos gripping his automatic weapon, sunglasses wrapped around his vision and offset by a ‘baseball cap’. The stall set out just yards away selling traditional ‘London, England’ (sic) merchandise to tourists (including models of the traditional bobby). How and when (if ever) to update the time honoured global perception to that of the 21st century asymmetric conflict design?
A third world road in a first world city. A ‘Global Logistics’ lorry careers over the aftermath of a perpetual utilities surface war. A sticking plaster for a sticking point. The shared (contested) space. A commuting conduit that acts as a kind of bailey bridge until the next contracted surgery.
The evening light triggering a childhood recollection of absorbing an old tome. Colour plates and vivid illustrations still embedded in the DNA. Casting a glance across the river. The page featuring a basilisk ‘running’ across the surface of a lake. Hard copy outlasting the fleeting thrill of digital.
Passing two men (late 60s) on the riverbank preparing for the night ahead. Setting up camp for a battle of wits with a quarry of elusive and wily carp. A military operation with olive green trolleys bearing (olive green) tents and top of the range tackle. The evolution of hunting, from basic tools for survival, to the financial investment in the pursuit of snaring the species for kudos.
Pedalling west into the early autumn afternoon sun. A journey along part of a cycleway. ‘Lost’ under layers of subsequent surfacing. A geological survey that would reveal 1937. Tarmac, concrete, avenues of trees and telegraph poles…and a sense of (open) space. Before the infilling (backfilling) of the metropolis and its hinterland.