A reader asked about a photo in my recent article about a shrew I met while walking in London. The photo was originally posted to WhatsApp, a great tool that I use to broadcast photos and the odd note to attest to my continuing safe progress, remaining both vertical and mentate. Cold Blooded is another photo from the same wet walk.
I’d spotted an inscribed cross on a fence. It was ‘Too Bad I Died’ while going east along the Thames Estuary between Coldharbour and Purfleet. I was in fact completing my journey around the London Loop.
Another sign I recall was ‘Yo Ho Ho and and bottle of rum’. I’m not sure who had put them up but it was a pyrrat themed series doubtless designed to encourage kids to get out and about. Thinking about kids and Captain Kid perhaps?
The London Loop is the London Outer Orbital Path long-distance walking trail. There’s a fairly long stretch along the Rainham Marshes after passing through the dreary, former industrial landscapes adorned by Tilda rice silos. The borders of the Rainham sections have been decorated with mock headstones and crosses inscribed with mouths, eyes, puns and jokes rather than epitaphs. It’s a strange juxtaposition to the protruding pipes that vent invisible methane from the corpus of the former landfill. The puns are a counterpoint, an interdependent, multi-media, experiential harmony of whiffs of wind borne fetid stench and above, an equally invisible cloud of skylarks filling the air with invisible, melodious song.
It had just stopped lashing rain and I saw no one until I came to buy a coffee and a sandwich in the Lapwing Cafe in the RSPB nature reserve. A place where there seemed to be more people with binoculars than birds to fill their optics. The reserve was created in 2001 after purchase from the Ministry of Defence. Think military training and firing range for decades. It’s a riverside marsh that’s now designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
A guy in the cafe was joking about the risk of treading on UXBs. He said he lived in Thurrock which gets him free admission so he visits a lot. He explained that one of the RSPBs bigger twitches was for the destruction of a mortar round. I checked and it happened in 2013. So it’s true, the Second World War remains underfoot in this SSSI. Something worth considering while hunting for migrant rarities for your lifetime list. Short-eared owl or woodlark or Cetti’s warbler or a lesser-detonated mortar round perhaps.
As an aside, I ended that evening in Foyles on Charring Cross Road where Kevin Barry talked of two aging gangsters’ and melancholy in an excellent conversation about his novel Night Boat to Tangier with Max Porter. What a great read!