The walk was a walk which very nearly never happened. Took the tube from Woodford to Snaresbrook in the middle of the day, sunny May day, a sunshine day with that hot sun beatin’ down on me with my shorts an’ shades. Once out at Snaresbrook it was a straight walk down Wanstead High Street to the other end of it where Wanstead tube station was, yes that’s right, the high street of Wanstead was tube station top and tailed, both Central Line eastbound but on different branches. The walk took me past the high street shops and restaurants of which there were quite a few with seating areas out on the pavement, and on such a beautiful day as this one made perfect sense. Things were relatively quiet and as far as the food scene went I would imagine that early evening would be when things would truly kick into life, punters dropping in on their way back home after finishing off the hot and sweaty tube ride out from the centre of town.
My plan was a simple and that was to walk from Snaresbrook down to Stratford. Fact of the matter was that I had walked the Leytonstone to Stratford leg many times over the last few months, taking as it did about 40-45 minutes, more or less straight down Leytonstone High Road to Maryland and then the Stratford Centre just round the corner from that . However I had not yet as walked from Snaresbrook to Leytonstone so this was the day to check it out as the weather was good and I had time on my hands on this day 24th May 2018. Getting out of the tube at Snaresbrook I had taken a leak in the Men’s on the eastbound platform but now as I got to the end of the high street I realised that I could have done with another one, much to my dismay and which needless to say was more than a little bit worrying. How come I needed another piss so damn quick?
Prostrate trouble visions loomed on the horizon of my consciousness but I pushed them to one side, who wouldn’t have? Probably the case I was living on borrowed time but what the hell, wasn’t up to facing it now. But it got me serious, serious in mind that I might be sick in the piss pipe department. Question for me was that when I got Leytonstone where would I be able to go for one? There would be little in the way of relief before I got there unless I had the opportunity to go public but I knew that was extremely unlikely. I had never seen any public toilets in Leytonstone and that meant I would be in a situation where I would have to chose between going to the Tesco and using the bogs there, or walking into the 24 hour Macdonald’s on the high street, options which quite frankly kinda depressed me. Piss stops, piss stops, piss stops, simple fact of the matter was that lately when I had been out walking the streets there are simply been too many of them.
At the end of Wanstead High Street it was a right turn onto Cambridge Park which ran parallel to the A12 and the Eastern Avenue, ran all the way down to the Green Man roundabout and Leytonstone High Rod the other side of it. The right turn was opposite the water fountain on the edge of George Green and right by The George, a pretty huge pub which I had been in a couple of times over the years but no more than that. Cambridge Park had some big buildings lining it on one side whilst on the other side there was a high brick wall hiding the busy A12, buildings such as a large Belgique Patisserie, an accountants called Tish Press & Co, the Our Mary of Lourdes Roman Catholic church and the St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy next door to it. Further along there was a care home for people with dementia called Chestnuts, a big building which looked empty and deserted, like it had gone bust or something. Got to say that despite my discomfort from needing another piss I had to stop and stare in mild disbelief at such a name. Chestnuts! I mean, sweet Jesus, couldn’t they come up with something better than that? Just seemed so brutally appropriate. I could just imagine the conversation, “Hey fella, how is your mum doing? Oh, not so good, she’s pretty much totally lost it these days in fact and now we’ve had to stick her into Chestnuts.” It was painted in bright red, there were weeds growing through the paving stones in the car park, all of it looking hot, more than a little sick in the bright afternoon sun. Maybe something like The Acorns would have been better, at least then it wouldn’t suffer the fate of ending up being called Chestnutters or something tasteless like that. Anyway, no matter, it did at least serve to distract me from the fact that I needed to take that leak whilst faced with at least another 15 minutes walking before I got to Leytonstone.
I had driven either up or down Cambridge Park quite a few times over the years but this was the first time I had actually walked it and although it was dead straight it seemed to take far longer than what I had expected. It just went on and on. Walking in the hot early afternoon sun, accompanied by the thunderous hum of all the traffic on the A12 on the other side of the wall to the right of me I was beginning to tire. It was therefore with some feeling of relief that I finally reached the Green Man roundabout and the underpasses which ran beneath it where there were a series of paths all connecting up with each other in the middle, quite an extensive series of paths in fact. In the open sunken space which was inside the Green Man but actually quite nicely landscaped, despite the fact it was surrounded by busy roads but because it was sunken, you could hear the traffic but it was not visible. For a split second I did consider going behind one of the bushes and having a slash but it was all a bit too open for that, too open for me at least to ever want to risk it. Typically enough just as the thought crossed my mind a young woman ran past me all kitted out like she was training for a half marathon and the sight of her put me off whipping it out once and for all.
By the time I made it out of the system of underpasses and paths onto Leytonstone High Road I was beginning to sweat, due to the heat of the sun and the need to pee. The Tesco toilets option didn’t appeal to me however as it would mean a schlep through the goddamned car park then once inside the store a walk down a couple of aisles until I got to the bogs. The Macdonald’s didn’t seem any better either as the obvious problem with going in there would be that I would inevitably feel I would have to buy something, but a Big Mac was out of the question and the prospect of a small bag of fries or a Macdonald’s coffee just wasn’t enough to get me to cross over the road. It momentarily passed through my mind that it would be nice, just for once, if a public toilet miraculously appeared as if out of nowhere but I knew all too well that things in London simply didn’t work like that. It rarely cut such favours and if you didn’t plan things then subsequently found yourself in a bit of a sticky situation the big city was all too willing and able to abandon you to your fate.
So I soldiered on and by the time I had walked past a run down and rather shabby Matalan store on the high street I suddenly realised I could go to the tube at Leytonstone as there would be toilets on the platforms. Not only would there be toilets but I knew that more often than not they were actually open, so it suddenly seemed like it was the obvious thing to do. I therefore made the decision to head for the tube by way of crossing over the high road, going down Church Lane and the pavement beggars to soon arrive at the station. After tapping through I walked up the stairs to the eastbound platform but it was only after I had nearly got to the end of it that I realised there were only Women’s toilets on it, that the Men’s were on the westbound across the tracks. By now I was fully concentrated on getting to those bogs as quickly as possible and walking at quite a pace. Needless to say it was with a feeling of great relief when I finally got to them, happy to breath in the sharp nostril cutting stink which permeated the inside of the urinals.
The distraction caused by the need to take that second, unexpected leak nearly put me off continuing my walk down to Stratford, nearly but not quite. On my way down to the tube I had decided that after having that piss I could just head on home, knock the whole thing on the head, go and do some writing after buying a bit of this and that from the Sainsbury’s Local. There was an attitude “Fuck it!” in me, no doubt about that, the decision that is, but after using the Men’s on that westbound platform I felt a whole lot better and was more than happy to continue, to follow through with my original plan to walk from Snaresbrook all the way down to Stratford. The first part had been done and although it had taken longer than expected, probably a good 40 minutes if not more, I was now good to go for the rest of the trek.
Back on Church Lane again and heading to the high road I dropped into a Percy Ingles bakery to pick up a vegetable pasty as I was now feeling a bit peckish. There were a number of Percy Ingles throughout east London, quite a lot in fact, and when I was out walking, feeling hungry, in need of a quick snack, either a Percy Ingles vegetable pasty or cheese slice were good enough for me, just about up to snuff. They were pretty cheap as well, both of them coming in at £1.59 each which I guess is on a par with what you would pay at a Greggs, but in terms of taste they were much nicer. Whilst a vegetable pasty from Greggs was OK their cheese and onion slices were profoundly unpleasant, if not outright disgusting. Not sure what it was about those Greggs cheese and onion slices that made them taste the way they did but I suspect they were ram packed with chemicals so as to prolong their shelf life. By way of contrast the Percy Ingles vegetable pasty was really rather nice, coming as it did with a good crust and tasty filing which even had a sprinkle of oregano in it which in some unknown way slightly elevated it above the run of the mill. On this occasion I made the mistake of biting straight into the vegetable pasty and immediately paid the price big time by burning my tongue. It must have been pulled from a just made batch fresh out of the oven, something I most definitely wasn’t expecting as usually a Percy Ingles pasty was lukewarm at best, easily eatable, this one though was hellish hot and it was as much as I could do not to spit it out due to the pain and shock. Somehow I kept it together and kept it in my mouth, but after I had managed to swallow that first bite I let the pasty slip back into its paper bag so as to cool down for a bit.
Back on the high road it was now simply a question of walking straight on down to Stratford, past such landmarks as Leytonstone High Road over ground station, the war memorial on Harrow Green, Cann Hall Road junction, Henniker Point tower block just before Maryland, then just past Maryland the Cart and Horses at the beginning of The Grove. The Cart and Horses had a sign above its entrance proudly proclaiming it to be the birthplace of Iron Maiden, a British heavy metal group who in terms of popularity were probably on a par with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. There were often posters in the windows of the Cart and Horses advertising upcoming shows, all of which seemed to be at the heavier end of the musical scale, by groups with names such as Mass Atomic, Cenotaph, Triangle of Doom and Devil’s Eye. Chances were that the stage was still the same as when Maiden cut their teeth there back in the late 70s, now nearly 40 years ago. Not far along The Grove from the Cart and Horses was the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church a large building with a priory attached and opposite to that, on the other side of the road, the red brick Central Baptist Church. When walking past them I often wondered how many punters they were now able to pull in, how those figures compared to days gone by, the days when they were first built which by the looks of them must have been some time ago, how they compared to the numbers attending the various mosques there were in that area of East London. Guess it was a bit of a no brainer really.
As I walked on past the huge Morrisons supermarket I approached Stratford Shopping Centre from the Broadway side with another church to my left, the imposing St. John’s, looking vast and empty. Going past The Grove, a rough and ready pub on the edge of the Stratford Centre, home, it had to be said, to what always looked to me like serious drinkers, any time of day or night, I saw what I thought was an incredible sight. Standing not far from me, just a matter of yards away, was none other than that original rock and roll pirate, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Needless to say I was absolutely astounded to see him standing there with his shock of grey hair, wearing his trademark bandana, shades, leather jacket, jeans and baseball shoes. He was surrounded by a close knit group of people, men, all quite big whom I took to be his security team. Guess I thought that he must have been doing a film shoot of old haunts for a documentary or something like that. However on closer inspection I saw that all of them apart from Keith were wearing Rolling Stones t-shirts, that it appeared they were deciding whether or not to go into the pub. It was then that I realised on closer inspection that it was not Keith at all but a lookalike, a very good one it had to be said, but a lookalike nonetheless. Just as quickly it then dawned on me that the Stones were due to play a show in Stratford in May at the Olympic Stadium. What I was therefore looking at were a bunch of Stones fans who were obviously in town for the show which must have been that evening. All of a sudden as I looked around the entrance to Stratford Centre I saw there were in fact a whole of a load of people wearing various articles of clothing with the words the Rolling Stones on them, with the famous tongue logo emblazoned everywhere, both front and back. It was, I admit, something of a thrill to see them all, completely unexpected of course as I had totally forgotten that I had read that the Stones were due to play in London as part of the second leg of their No Filter tour.
After that initial sighting of all the fans I carried on through Stratford Shopping Centre in order to cross over into Westfield on the other side of the tracks, on the other side in more ways than one if truth be told. Pretty much on the spur of the moment I decided that I might as well take a walk into the Olympic Park to see if there were any Rolling Stones merchandise stands as all of a sudden I felt like buying myself a bona fide properly endorsed Rolling Stones tour t-shirt. I was caught up in something which I simply hadn’t anticipated but it was a beautiful day and therefore hardly seemed to matter. The main reason for me coming down to Stratford had really just been for the exercise, for the walking, for the accumulation of those steps on my mobile phone, to get a bit of this and that. I had little else to attend to apart from those things, although I did have half a mind to pop into the HMV store in Westfield to see it they had in stock a Twenty One Pilots CD called Vessel. If it was on special offer, going cheap in other words, I might just pick up a copy. For the last week or so I had been seriously getting into their Blurryface album which had some seriously good tunes on it and, remarkably for a rap album, no swearing.
The further I walked into Westfield the more numerous the Stones fans became which was a bit surprising considering it was still only early afternoon and that show time would still be a good few hours away. But then again when things were on such a large scale as a Stones stadium show there were bound to be more than one or two people showing up a good few hours before the event. Guess they were there to soak up the atmosphere, have a drink and a meal, sit in the afternoon sun and catch up on the old times and I can’t say I blamed them for that. The weather was great, Westfield had plenty of places to cater for their needs and therefore it was a perfect setting for a serious bit of pre-show chillin’, slowly taking the pulse of this magical life.
After checking out the HMV where I did indeed find and purchase a copy of Vessel, I made my way out of the Westfield Shopping Centre to walk down The Street which was rammed packed with people in all the bars and restaurants located there. At the end of The Street, with the pub The Cow on the corner, I walked across Westfield Avenue and into the Olympic Park. This was in fact the exact same route I took each time I went down for a swim in the Aquatics Centre, which for the last month or so I had been doing once a week, having just got back into the swing of things after coming back from a trip to India. Not far into the park there was indeed a merchandise stand selling all the Stones kit that you would ever need, a stand with flags with the red tongue logo on a yellow background flying beside it in that warm late May breeze of a beautiful afternoon. There was a healthy crowd of fans queuing up in front of the stand in order to purchase anything from a t-shirt, to a mug, a keychain or a full sleeve sweatshirt, examples of which were all pinned to the large backdrop board behind the serving counter. Piles and piles of product were in boxes inside the stand, there were at least 10 people serving punters and it looked like there were doing very nicely indeed in terms of business. It did not take me long to join the queue, study the various t-shirt designs for sale, deciding when it was my time to be served, to go for a XXL yellow No Filter tour tee with various incarnations of the tongue logo on the front of it and the second leg of the No Filter tour dates listed on the reverse. It was either the yellow or the black and at the last moment I went for the former, duly forking out 30 quid for it. This was not much of a surprise as I had been expecting to pay something in that region as I knew that Stones stuff did not come cheap. It also came in a clear plastic bag again with the Stones tongue logo on it which I have to say was pretty cool. All in all I was pleased with my purchase and I soon stashed the bag away in my small black backpack that I was carrying.
It was then pretty much mission accomplished, a mission which had come up literally from out of nowhere, or at least the end part of it. I was feeling pretty damn good about having done my steps for the day, from having made the foot connection between Snaresbrook and Leytonstone, from getting over my wobbles from having to have almost two pisses in a row, from continuing on from Leytonstone to Stratford, from see who I initially thought was Keith Richards, from finding a copy of Vessel and finally from scoring an officially endorsed Rolling Stones No Filter tour t-shirt. Now it was time to head on back through Westfield, down to the tube and to hit the Central Line eastbound platform for a train to take me home.