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 OldÂ 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 leavesÂ 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 youâre 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 wasnât surprised when one day I passed a tubby speedwalking man in his â60s. As is customary in the Vale of Plastic Trees, he smiled at me and I smiled back. Itâs that kind of road. NoÂ London rudeness here. People wear a country smile.
Only on this day the man said something.
He said âHendrixâ and pointed at my dog.
I was sure I’dÂ never seen this guy in my life before. Then again, Iâm no good with remembering faces. Or conversations. Or car keys.
âYes,â I said.
âReally?â he slowed down his walk, coming almost to a halt.
âYou mean my dogâs name?â I was confused.
âHis name his Hendrix?â
âYes,â I said slowly , âThatâs his name.â
He stopped next to me, panting.
âHave I met you before?â I asked.
âI canât believe his name is Hendrix. Thatâs amazing. He looks just like our Hendrix. Looks exactly the same. Same colour.â
âYour dog is called Hendrix?â
âYes, well… except our Hendrix died.â
Fuck me. Iâd bought a reincarnated ghost dog.
âOh,â I said.
âI bought him for my daughter. She loved that dog. He was wonderful. A bit mad. I think Iâve seen your dog before, here on the marshes.â
âI walk here every day.â
âIâve started coming back to it,â he said. âI had a heart-attack last year. It was touch and go. Alright now though. Doing a bit of walking to get fit, yâknow .â
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.
âHENDRIXâ he would say, pointing at my dog.
âYESâ I would say, delighted to know what he was talking about.
Then I stopped seeing him. Perhaps weâve kept missing each other. Perhaps he got fit enough to ditch the exercise. Or â and I hate to say it, but â perhaps heâs walking his Hendrix through the marshes in the sky.