Vale of Plastic Trees

February 23, 2011

The Vale of Plastic Trees is a winding copse at the back of the Hackney Marsh Arena. If you read my Old River Lea entry you’ll know why the trees are plastic.

When summer comes to the Vale, natural colour returns and most of this plastic disappears under the foliage. Blooming bushes and shrubs block the marshes from view.

As you stride along the path your eyes fill with nature, but your ears ring with the BLEEP BLEEP of forklift trucks reversing in the warehouse on the other side of the Old River Lea. Walking here is like listening to a radio tuned between two frequencies. Tanoy announcements drift into your daydreams. Bird caws are washed away by cargo trains hauling two miles’ worth carriages. The rustle of leaves merges with the brash noise of the Eurostar.

A single lane road winds through the Vale from the A12 to the Middlesex filter beds. The route is dotted with exercise areas made up of logs and bars. Signs tell you what you’re supposed to do: hurdles, bench presses, pull-ups.

Because of this, the route is a mecca for runners. Not for show-offs, but the secret joggers. The gym-haters who come here among the trees to do their exercise in relative privacy.

I wasn’t surprised when one day I passed a tubby speedwalking man in his ‘60s. As is customary in the Vale of Plastic Trees, he smiled at me and I smiled back. It’s that kind of road. No London rudeness here. People wear a country smile.

Only on this day the man said something.

He said “Hendrix” and pointed at my dog.

I was sure I’d never seen this guy in my life before. Then again, I’m no good with remembering faces. Or conversations. Or car keys.

“Yes,” I said.

“Really?” he slowed down his walk, coming almost to a halt.

“You mean my dog’s name?” I was confused.

“His name his Hendrix?”

“Yes,” I said slowly , “That’s his name.”

“Hendrix?”

He stopped next to me, panting.

“Have I met you before?” I asked.

“I can’t believe his name is Hendrix. That’s amazing. He looks just like our Hendrix. Looks exactly the same. Same colour.”

“Your dog is called Hendrix?”

“Yes, well… except our Hendrix died.”

Fuck me. I’d bought a reincarnated ghost dog.

“Oh,” I said.

“I bought him for my daughter. She loved that dog. He was wonderful. A bit mad. I think I’ve seen your dog before, here on the marshes.”

“I walk here every day.”

“I’ve started coming back to it,” he said. “I had a heart-attack last year. It was touch and go. Alright now though. Doing a bit of walking to get fit, y’know .”

Dead dogs, dying men, come ye to the Vale of Plastic Trees.

So that was how I learned about the other, deader, Hendrix. As I’ve always suspected, the marshes are filled with ghosts.

For a few months I saw the speedwalker, waddling along at a pace.

“HENDRIX” he would say, pointing at my dog.

“YES” I would say, delighted to know what he was talking about.

Then I stopped seeing him. Perhaps we’ve kept missing each other. Perhaps he got fit enough to ditch the exercise. Or – and I hate to say it, but – perhaps he’s walking his Hendrix through the marshes in the sky.

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