Dee Heddon: A Talking Walk

A Talking Walk

As told by Dee Heddon

I talk about getting lost on my way to the Travelodge. (“How did you manage that?”)

We talk about doing enough walking today without needing to walk to UEL from the Travelodge.

We wonder where everyone is, whether we are in the right place.

We talk about how glorious the weather is. (I worry about getting burnt.)

We talk about whether we’ve brought the right clothes, the right bags, the right shoes, enough water.

We talk about the strange environment of UEL, the noise of the planes, double glazing, purpose-built performance spaces.

We talk about walking and needing the toilet and then some of us go to nearby loos (and buy more water on the way back).

They arrive with a swagger and talk about how long the walk along the river was, how much we missed.

We talk about the plans for the day, what we will do – walk from UEL towards Dartford, buy our lunch on the way, stop walking when we want.

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We talk about how odd and marvellous this airport in the city is and marvel at the planes that soar above our heads.

She talks about how frightening it is, these planes overhead, but her gesture of hands over head speaks louder than words.

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I talk about how I would not want a bridge named after me. What sort of tribute is that – the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge?

He talks about what this place of East London used to be and for whom – industrial, workers, dockers, immigrants, divisions in-between, bustle and business. He has created an audio walking piece for this place.

They drift off, ahead. I talk to her, whom I have not talked to for ages, and it’s good to catch up. We talk about people we know in common.

On the banks of the river, we watch the massive cruise liner pass by and he jokes that they’ve made this stage picture just for our walk. It is impressive.

We talk about – and avoid – the dog shit path beside the fence.

We look for stones on the ‘beach’ or other pieces of treasure that we can pocket and carry.

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We pass graffiti that testifies to the recent murder of L.B. It’s odd to pass graffiti that is so much a temporal marker of the now, the present tense, the tense present of hate crimes, retaliation, vindication. ‘Fuck Islam.’ ‘English and Proud’.  I think about how I am not from here. How far away I am from ‘here’. As is she, and she, and even he. I feel like a flaneur, separated, observing, outside of.

We decide to catch the ferry across the river. We walk on to the ferry and on the ferry. We are still walking. We talk about where the others might be.

She talks about how difficult it is to get work.

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On the other side, he gets a call. He talks to her about where we are and where we will all meet. Waiting, we talk about his PhD and when he’s going to finish it. We all meet at Sainsburys.

It’s only 11am. He shares two boxes of ice creams with us. I talk about how odd it feels to be eating ice cream at 11am in the morning. Like drinking alcohol before noon. (But I enjoy the ice cream.)

We walk through a landscaped military museum grounds. We don’t really talk about it.

Back on the river, now on the other side, he talks about a potential job in Glasgow. I talk about how great Glasgow is, about how he should definitely move there. We talk about house prices, in London and Glasgow. About the education system (Scotland is better of course, and at present if you live in Scotland and study at a Scottish university, then it’s free). We don’t talk about what he knows about this part of London. He’s a historian. Why do we not talk about what he knows about, of this place, and its times and people? We don’t talk about walking and art. Why don’t we talk about walking and art, since this is something I know a bit about?

I have walked this way before – as part of my project, 40 Walks. I do not talk about this. Maybe I feel that, having been here before, I am letting the side down somehow? I recognise some of the features and await the appearance of the beautiful Victorian sewage plant. We go off the built path onto a foot-trodden one which takes us closer the river, through weeds, brambles, scrubby trees. I have even done this bit before too and back then, he told me that he had transplanted a sapling here, in an attempt to save it. I can’t find it. Everything has grown. And I don’t mention this to my fellow walkers. We talk about the rubbish that has floated up, flotsam of these consumer times, confetti plastic.

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He talks about his new job, the job he’s been brought in to do, the job he left.

We talk about how we’ve never met, how odd that is, given how many people we know in common. She talks about what she’s working on, who she’s working with, where she works, where she used to work.

We talk about the PhD he has just got. He talks about walking on stage – as in, how walking features in staged performances. I am really interested to hear about his research as it takes a different path to the walking-in-landscape/ environment that I am so familiar with. I make a mental note to follow up some of the references. (I haven’t.)

She mentions her work on walking and architecture, and her new project. We talk about the women’s artist group that she is part of. They get together and talk. I am amazed that I know so many of these women – another network. I will talk to another woman from that network tomorrow, when I go and stay with her.  I wish we had talked more about her architecture and walking project. Why didn’t we talk more about her project? Or about the architecture we pass by.

The tide has gone out. We laugh at the Surrealist image of an iron lodged into the silty mud. We stop at the Running Horses for refreshment and loo break. I order a soda and lime. A pint. I worry about needing the loo. We talk about the lovely lemony shortbread biscuits. I eat them.

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We walk through an industrial estate fringed by houses. We talk about what it would be like to live here. I read the signs aloud. (A bad habit.)

We walk on a path that runs behind the scrap yards. We talk about how spaces of ‘clearing up’ are on the margins of the city, leaving the city ‘clean’, unpolluted.

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I walk alone. I do not talk. I walk alone. I do not talk. I walk alone. I do not talk. I walk alone. I do not talk. I worry about walking alone and not talking.

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I talk to her about her little boy, about her work, about changes in her place of work.

We arrive at the end of the path, and they talk about getting taxis. We talk about how much further there is to walk. They talk about what the walk is like from this point on. She talks about being tired. They talk about phoning taxis. We talk about continuing on. They show us the map of the route. I say: “Don’t tell me, I am not good with maps”. I wonder why I am continuing on. Because I feel alright? Because I am interested? Because, in spite of what I say/write, there is an element of needing to reach the end?

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We walk in single file along the side of the busy, fast road. It makes talking hard. Rather than not talking, we shout at the back in front of us.

I find a few pages from a book. The pages have rhymes on them, with instructions for how to ‘enact’ these rhymes, bringing the body into the telling. The rhymes are about trees and animals. This was why I had to walk this last bit – to find these perfect pages.

We stop and talk about how odd this landscape is. On one side, a pastoral farm scene, replete with horses, on the other, a multiple-lane carriageway. We talk about whether the horses in the paddock notice/mind the noise of the traffic. It is very loud.

There is no pavement upon which to walk. Feet before ours have trodden a thin, dirt track. We feel the pull of the wind as lorries pass by, buffeting us. We talk about this gush, this blast, this force.

We reach a roundabout and look at the map. He is very good at map reading and shows us where we are and where we need to be. She and he talk about how we might get there. She is good at map reading too. We talk about leaving this road, crossing the road to the path that runs above it on the other side.

We meet some young lads. We show them the map and talk about where we are trying to get to. They give us directions.

We walk into a housing estate. Some girls having a party in the garden laugh at us. We are dressed for walking. They are dressed for partying, and for sun. We are out of place. We know where we need to get to, but not how to get there. We talk to a man. He looks a bit uncertain but begins to tell us. Then another man, more confident in his stride, approaches us and tells us without us really having to ask. He reels off some directions. I am not sure we were listening well enough because we are thrown by the fact that he actually pre-empts our final destination, and names it.

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We go through an underpass, which leads right to the Motorway. Surely this is not where we should be? She asks the ‘Crossing Control’ woman. We retrace our steps. We find ourselves looking down on the vast motorway network. About 11 lanes in total. And a view of the bridge, where traffic barely moves. We talk about this site beneath us. It’s quite something. This makes this last bit worthwhile, we tell each other and ourselves, as if to reassure about the choice we made.

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We talk about them: are they there, drinking cool drinks?

We have been doing less talking about other things, and more talking about this walking – about getting, seeing, arriving. Maybe this is what it took?  Or maybe it’s about us being a smaller group, rather than a larger group split up into shifting units? We walk as one, talk as one.

We stage manage our arrival to arrive as one – falling into step with each other, in a single advancing line, crossing the finishing line.

They are not there.

When I see him, later that evening, I say: I am sorry I did not get a chance to talk you.

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