Enter the Marshworld through the Lea Bridge Road Portal and you’ll come upon The Weir. This is the sentry box of the Lea Canal. A goose or swan stands guard on a wooden barrier. Behind it the water eddies and flows over the ledge into the Lea River below.
Much of the canal’s rubbish collects here in a mass of cans, plastic bottles, wrappers and deflated plastic footballs. Go to the marshes any time and you’ll see a plastic football floating in a slick of algae. They’re a repeating pattern. They mark time. Each one is the memory of an aborted game played in a park or back-garden somewhere along the canal.
“To me, Paul, to me!”
“Paul you twat!”
Perhaps Paul is now an old man, slumped drunk in an armchair in front of rolling news, wondering where it all went wrong, thinking of the lost ball. Perhaps he plays for Arsenal and wakes every night in a cold sweat, remembering that day in his mate’s garden. Somehow he knows that ball still exists, covered in swan shit and weeds, festering like his shame.
Perhaps Paul is still a child, only a more cautious one. He skips school sports these days and likes to read poetry instead. His friends still call him a twat.
I don’t know if footballs have a half-life, but if you could pluck one from the water and measure it, you’d peer into the Lea Valley’s ever-present past and hear children’s voices. Time is clutter in the Lea. These balls tick like an atomic clock. And there’s always one in the Weir, gently bobbing against concrete.
Tick! Tick! Tick!
Across from the Weir stands The Princess of Wales pub. You can sit outside with a pint and enjoy the sights and sounds. Buses rumble over the bridge. The pub dog barks from the roof terrace. Canal boats putter by, belching smoke. If you’re lucky you’ll see the Hackney Crap Steamboat come past, its big wheel turning, churning the canal’s rubbish onto a huge tray, the plastic balls and coke cans disappearing into its belly.
As with all bridges in Marshland, messages are painted onto the brick to inform, challenge or even warn marsh users. One bridge bore the slogan “Fuck the Olympics” until government agents came scrubbing with their whitewash. Another still bears this helpful message: “This is a pillar on a bridge that hold up the tracks, it is painted brown”.
And the Lea Valley Road bridge is no different. Currently there’s graffiti on the wall by The Princess of Wales Pub which reads:
“Your safety, our threat”
Wherever you are, this is good information to know. I appreciate the way this message has been posted directly across from the Weir. It says to those entering Marshworld:
“Don’t presume anything. You’re not in London anymore. Got that? Good. Now move on.”